Do We Really Need To Keep Early Pregnancies A Big Secret?

In 2012, Jessica Zucker had a miscarriage when she was 16 weeks pregnant. It was shocking, and traumatic, and something she endured almost entirely alone. That’s how it goes for many people who experience a loss before they’ve even told anyone they were pregnant, and often that’s by design: People are urged not to share pregnancy news until they’re “out of the woods” of that first trimester, but why?

In her campaign #IHadAMiscarriage, which Dr. Zucker, a psychologist, launched in 2014, she aims to end the silence around miscarriage and pregnancy loss, both so people going through it feel able to get the support they need, and to decrease the stigma this silence carries with it. This year, she tells Refinery29 that she wants to challenge the notion that “keeping our good news a secret just in case it becomes bad news” is helpful to anyone.

“It’s so embedded in our culture to not talk about grief and avoid it at all costs; it’s saying you should stay silent about your joy because if it becomes grief you shouldn’t share it,” she says. She had technically been “out of the woods” when her pregnancy loss happened, and she was grateful for the support system she had around her to talk through what it was like. For anyone staring at a fresh pregnancy test and trying to concoct the "right" time to announce, she says don't wait if you don't want to: “Share your news if you want to. Enjoy the joy; but know we need to feel supported whether it’s in the joy, or if you find out you’re having a miscarriage.”

Every year on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day, October 15, she releases a new chapter in the project. First came the hashtag and an Instagram account of the same name, where she sought to “replace silence with storytelling.” Next came a line of greeting cards for those enduring miscarriage (because, Dr. Zucker says, not knowing what to say is a terrible reason to say nothing at all), then T-shirts and pins celebrating parenting after loss.

This year, she wanted to offer something for free that anyone can access, and so she tapped illustrator Kimothy Joy to craft posters that will be available for download from both of their online shops, starting on October 15. And the theme? It’s “Out of the Woods.”

Ahead, get a first look at the artwork, and see what Dr. Zucker and Kimothy Joy (who drops a bombshell of her own!) have to say about the "right time" to announce a pregnancy.

Illustrated by Kimothy Joy.
Explain the "out of the woods" theme of this chapter.

Jessica Zucker: “Research has found that a majority of women report feeling a sense of shame, self-blame and guilt following loss. We wonder if these feelings might dissipate if there was a sea change in culture as it relates to the way we talk about joy and grief. More specifically, I can't help but wonder if women would report feeling less isolated and alone in the aftermath of loss had they felt more comfortable sharing their pregnancy news earlier on in the process.

"Since approximately 80% of miscarriages occur within the first trimester, healthcare providers are informing their patients of this very real possibility. This is important and needed information. However, if we look a little bit deeper into what this statement implies, we notice that what this means is 'Don't share your good news in case it becomes bad news, so that you won't have to share your bad news.’ Don't we deserve loving support through the journey of pregnancy regardless of its outcome?”

Kimothy, talk about how you expressed the theme in your art.

Kimothy Joy: “I wanted to express the underlying 'out of the woods' theme in this art series in a few different ways. All the women in this series are nude, conveying that the entire experience of being pregnant, regardless of the outcome, is incredibly vulnerable. I also wanted to show a quiet solitude — the combination of isolation that one can feel especially in the beginning as well as the private intimacy of the entire process. Pregnancy is a deeply personal journey that should be recognized and respected as such.”
Illustrated by Kimothy Joy.
What connects you, personally, to this chapter?

KJ: “Well, first and foremost, I’m pregnant! 13 weeks along. So the concepts that we’re discussing are very real to me at the moment. I’m in the thick of it and am sure I will have more to say about the situation as I move through it and can reflect on it. But for now, I’m being a careful, diligent observer of the entire process...of how others react to me and my news, the advice they choose to impart, as well as my own emotions and expectations.

“The hesitation I felt at the very beginning when I shared the news to my close circle of friends was telling — there was this unspoken rule of not sharing ‘too soon’ that I felt as if I was breaking each time I shared. But for me, personally, I’ve been astonished that women can go so long and keep quiet about it when your mind, body, emotions, are on this whirlwind rollercoaster ride. Yet women go through their daily, normal routines keeping this joyous news to themselves. I do not judge if a woman chooses to keep her pregnancy private in the beginning, or any stage. That is her choice. Yet I think there’s a productive conversation to be had as to why these beliefs are commonplace, and it’s beneficial to question why we’ve constructed these generalized timelines and parameters for our emotions.”

JZ: “I am drawn to addressing the ways in which culture impacts women's experiences in the aftermath of pregnancy loss and amidst grief. Investigating the ‘out of the woods’ notion seemed like a natural next step for the #IHadAMiscarriage campaign as we work to upend the silence, stigma, and shame that swirls around these topics. Why is culture so afraid of talking about out-of-order loss? Why can't we invite women to share their pregnancy news when they desire?

“Personally, I can't imagine the intense isolation I would have felt had I not revealed my pregnancy news prior to my pregnancy loss.”
What do you think has to change about the way we think and talk about early pregnancy?

JZ: “Culture has to digest the fact that miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss are a part of the pregnancy landscape. Unfortunately, there is no cure for these pregnancy outcomes. So the sooner we begin supporting women, the sooner we disband the ubiquitous reported feelings of shame, isolation, alienation, self-blame, guilt, and so on... If more women were open about their bad news, women wouldn't report feeling so surprised by their losses and the fact that so many people they know have actually been there, too, but hadn't told anyone.”

KJ: “Each day that I wake, I look down at my emerging baby bump and still ask myself, Wait, what? Is this really happening? So like I said, I’m immersed in the experience of it at the moment so it’s difficult to reflect.

“Generally speaking, what I notice missing about the way we converse about early pregnancy is the lack of respect for the individual woman and her personal journey, which is why my favorite image from this series is 'Honor the Journey.' Bystanders and allies of pregnant women can create space for her to decide on how she wants to proceed and — instead of insisting on the way things ‘should’ be done or reacting in astonishment when she chooses to do things on her own terms — they can respond with understanding and acceptance. That’s what it comes down to: respecting the individual's choices and journey, taking the time to listen to them, and offering insight when asked.

“I really appreciate my partner’s empathic response to my news. Our pregnancy was unplanned, yet we’re elated to have our baby and grow our family. When I first told him I was pregnant, he was quiet in disbelief, then he carefully, respectfully asked how I wanted to proceed and how I was feeling about it all. He created a safe space for me to share freely whether or not I wanted to move forward with the pregnancy. And that moment was very important to me.”
Illustrated by Kimothy Joy.
Kimothy, much of your work focuses on empowering women and girls — what do you see as the feminist angle of this project?

KJ: “Respecting and being empathetic to each woman’s journey in pregnancy, regardless of the outcome. Respecting a woman’s body and choices is a fundamental feminist, human rights value.

"Another aspect of my work that I prioritize is to help women feel connected to one another. The antithesis of that is women feeling unseen, unheard, or isolated in their journey, which happens all too often. I want to create safe, honest dialogue online and offline where women support women. Not only that, where our greater society supports and respects women.”

What do you hope people get from, and do with, these images?

KJ: “My hope is that by questioning this societal norm of waiting to come 'out of the woods,' more women will feel comfortable sharing their news on their own timeline, without shame or hesitation, when they’re ready (whenever that may be). There is no set, universal timeframe for the experience of grief or joy. And you can experience both emotions in tandem. I hope these images spark honest and respectful conversation around the topic and women have a safe forum to openly share and connect with one another.”

JZ: "My hope is that people feel a sense of empowerment and resonance upon seeing these illustrations. I hope they create a source of support and a way to potentially educate others about the nuances of pregnancy and loss and grief. In rethinking how culture addresses pregnancy loss we can construct new pathways of support for women and families. These illustrations reveal the poignancy of grief and joy, hope, and vulnerability. When we endeavor to create life, we leave ourselves open to possibilities we shudder to imagine. However, with community and conversation in place, we can carry these potentially painful experiences together.”

To download this artwork to keep, visit Dr. Zucker and Kimothy Joy's online shops starting on October 15. For more stories about our many paths to, through, and away from parenthood, head over to Mothership.
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