When Tessa Stephens was 30-weeks pregnant with her son, Jude, she went for a routine check-up. As the nurse took her blood pressure, she became silent. The nurse said Stephens blood pressure was high, but chalked it up to first-time-mom stress. But the midwife was worried so she sent Stephens to the hospital. After loads of tests, including blood work looking for pre-eclampsia, doctors said Stephens and Jude were fine and sent her home.
As she and her husband, Daryl, ate lunch, Stephens began experiencing severe cramps. They rushed back to the hospital and doctors attached Stephens to a fetal monitor. That’s when Stephens’ life changed forever.
“Jude no longer had a heartbeat,” she told TODAY Parents. “I started screaming, ‘No don’t tell me that!'"
Stephens had pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome, which prevents blood from clotting. On August 11, 2016, she delivered Jude, who was stillborn, but Stephens’ health still was in crisis. Her liver and kidney were failing, her brain swelled, her blood pressure was extremely high, and she lost her sight. After two weeks, she regained her sight and her health improved enough to return home.
While she physically felt better, she was grappling with Jude’s loss. Stephens searched for stories like hers, but found few. That’s when she stumbled on an Instagram account “I Had a Miscarriage.”
“I found a lot of comfort in it. No one really likes to talk about miscarriage and stillbirth and here was a whole page talking about loss,” said Stephens, 26 of Warren, Michigan.
Jessica Zucker started I Had a Miscarriage as part of ongoing advocacy about miscarriages and stillbirths. In 2012, she experienced a second trimester miscarriage and shared her story in 2014 to try to help others with similar experiences.
"Miscarriage is so shrouded in silence and stigma and shame,” Zucker said. “It behooves us to try to have this conversation.”
In 2015, she launched a collection of pregnancy and infant loss cards and started the Instagram account as a place where she could write about grief and motherhood after loss. Zucker hopes that by talking about miscarriage — which affects 15 to 20 percent of all pregnancies, often for no known reasons — women won’t feel ashamed or guilty.
“Miscarriage is not a disease and pregnancy loss is not going away. It just feels all the more important to me that we address it and we become comfortable talking about something uncomfortable,” she said.
The account also created a community for women who experienced pregnancy and infant loss, which remains powerful for many who often feel so alone.
“The isolation is so ubiquitous,” she said. “People have found each other this way.”
Zucker encourages women to share and feels overwhelmed by the number of women who submitted photos and stories.
“The Instagram account is such a safe place where they know what they are going to get back is a lot of love and a lot of support,” she said. “My healing from my 16-week miscarriage came so much through writing.”
After reading other women’s stories, Stephens realized she wasn’t alone and in June, she shared Jude’s story.
“I didn’t feel it would be scary or I would be judged,” Stephens said. “The more you talk about it, the more healing it becomes.”
Honoring Jude's memory gives Stephens strength as she marks the year anniversary of his death.
“It is so empowering and it makes me feel his memory will always live on,” she said.
This story was first published in 2017.