Miscarriage is a topic that no one really wants to talk about. It’s scary and awkward at best and painful and emotionally draining at best. It’s also something that nearly every woman who has been pregnant has thought about, but because the idea of it, the possibility of it actually happening is so overwhelmingly terrifying, many of us never utter a word about it out loud. For someone, it’s such a taboo topic that we fail to even discuss it with our obstetricians. The fact is though, that knowledge is empowering, and even if there is absolutely nothing we can do to avoid miscarriage (true), it can help to understand it.
When I myself experienced an early miscarriage before ultimately getting pregnant with my first child, I learned that many women that I know, have also suffered pregnancy loss. Interestingly, no one seems to ever utter a word about it until it actually happens, and even then, we tend to just barely graze the surface. Now, years later, I try to be as open as possible about my own experience because I know that when I finally realized that I wasn’t alone, it actually did help me heal.
Considering that a lot of the stigma around miscarriage is related to women feeling somehow at fault when they lose a pregnancy and therefore keep quiet to avoid judgement and blame, it seems that simply opening up about it and informing ourselves about the facts, could actually go a long way to erasing some of the shame and confusion associated with miscarriage. While it’s not healthy for pregnant women to dwell on the possibility of a miscarriage, it may actually be beneficial, comforting even, to at least be aware of the basic facts, so here are some things every woman who is pregnant or considering getting pregnant should know about miscarriage.
What is Miscarriage?
The National Center for Biotechnoloy Information (NCBI) defines miscarriage as the spontaneous loss of a pregnancy prior to 20 weeks gestation, while the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) defines miscarriage as pregnancy loss during the first trimester (the first thirteen weeks).
Miscarriage is Common
And be common, we mean that it actually occurs a lot more often than many might think it does. According to NCBI, as many as 26 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. So that’s actually more than one in four pregnancies. Now, think about all of the women in your own life and realize that at least one of them has probably suffered a miscarriage.
That Includes Clinically Identified Pregnancies
It gets a little tricky here, but that 26 percent is an estimate for all pregnancies, which includes pregnancies that have been clinically recognized. That means pregnancies that have been confirmed via ultra-sound or by finding pregnancy tissue after a loss not just by a blood or urine test. Miscarriage occurs in up to 10 percent of clinically recognized pregnancies.
The Numbers Could Be Even Higher
Because many pregnancies are not recognized until well after a missed period, the actual number of miscarriages occurring could be quite a bit higher. Losses that happen in the first two to four weeks after conception are likely to go completely unnoticed, and will often look and feel exactly like a regular period.
Many Miscarriages Are Unexplained
Many miscarriages—including those experienced by women who have recurring miscarriages—go unexplained, at least in part because the vast majority of losses occur within the first trimester and it is not common practice to investigate these losses because they are so common and typically only have minimal physical effects on the mother.
There Are Many Possible Causes
There are a number of possible causes of miscarriage, with the vast majority being unavoidable. In most cases there is absolutely nothing a mother could have done to prevent a miscarriage. By far, the most common cause of miscarriage is genetic abnormalities, but other underlying health conditions such as thyroid disease, diabetes, infections, hormonal imbalances and immune disorders can all be factors. Of course, drug and alcohol use can also lead to miscarriage. Women should however know that while trace amounts of alcohol can reach the fetus via the yolk sac very early in pregnancy, the fetus does not share a blood supply with the mother until around 10 weeks gestation, so those cocktails you had on your birthday before you knew you were pregnant or even your coffee habit, shouldn’t be blamed for a miscarriage.
Latinas Are Under-Represented in the Data
A 2011 study that was presented at the Western Institute of Nursing Annual Communicating Nursing Research Conference suggests that because many Latinas living in the United States are not citizens and census data is not commonly collected on those women, a higher percentage of Latinas than is reported by physicians may be experiencing miscarriages in the U.S. “Due to the lack of research on Latina miscarriages, it is nearly impossible for a health care provider to understand this population’s miscarriage experience. Providers additionally may not know the best coping mechanisms for this population of women or be able to provide culturally sensitive care during and after pregnancy loss,” read the report.
Sex Does Not Cause Miscarriage
Many women fear that having sex—or riding a bike, or exercising or any number of normal activities—caused their miscarriage, but this just isn’t true. While it’s rare, there are some physical traumas that can lead to miscarriage, however regular sexual activity or any other kind of moderate physical exertion cannot cause miscarriage. So no, you didn’t DO anything wrong.
Many Women Hide Their Miscarriages
As devastating a thought as it is, many women do not share their miscarriages with anyone. Reportedly, nearly half of women who experience a miscarriage don’t tell family, friends or even their partners about it, which means they are left to grieve alone, which can undoubtedly lead to feelings of isolation and depression.
The Need for Emotional Recovery is Real
For many women—often even those who lost unplanned pregnancies—miscarriage is an intensely emotional experience, and may even present physical challenges. Recovering both emotionally and physically takes time and effort, which can be challenging, especially for women who are expected to continue working and parenting while recovering from a miscarriage. Very little formal support is offered for women who experience miscarriages. However, progress is being made in some areas. In March 2021, New Zealand became the first country to legalize paid leave after a miscarriage.
Most Women Can Still Have Babies
The vast majority of women who experience a single miscarriage, go on to have perfectly healthy pregnancies. A single miscarriage is not an indicator of infertility if a the woman’s menstrual cycles are otherwise normal. The odds are even in a mother’s favor after two miscarriages. Rainbow babies are common and should be celebrated.