“Miscarriage” is a word that is often only whispered.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t common. Millions of women around us today have experienced pregnancy loss. Our friends and sisters are experiencing them now, and our mothers and grandmothers went through them before us. Yet each generation has dealt with silence surrounding the topic.
Women experiencing miscarriage need information and support. Every woman is different, but many of the basics remain the same.
Here’s what you need to know about miscarriage.
1. Many women experience miscarriage.
Most miscarriages may actually go undetected by the mother. Fifty to 75% of them occur even before a woman has missed her period (called “chemical pregnancy”).
Ten to 25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies will end in miscarriage, and most happen before 13 weeks.
Second-trimester miscarriages happen in 1 to 5% of pregnancies.
While miscarriages may be relatively common, that doesn’t soften the loss. Women who have miscarriages, at least one study shows, are at risk for depression and anxiety. It’s also important for women to keep in mind the physical reality of experiencing miscarriage: The American Psychological Association notes that “pregnancy hormones can continue to cause emotional turbulence” for women who miscarry.
Every woman’s experience of miscarriage is personal to her. As Kate Kripke at Postpartum Progress explains:
“Some women who lose babies through miscarriage are able to move through this loss freely, while others feel deep despair at this loss. There are no ‘shoulds’ in this. No right way to feel. If you feel strong and grounded and ready to move forward after a miscarriage that is totally valid. If you feel deep loss and grief then that, too, is appropriate. No one gets to tell you how you feel except you.”
2. We haven’t been talking enough about miscarriage.
When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, pediatrician and philanthropist Priscilla Chan, announced that they were expecting a baby girl, they also shared that they had experienced three miscarriages along the way.
In their statement, they shared how lonely they felt experiencing repeat miscarriages, noting that many people don’t often discuss the topic:
“Most people don’t discuss miscarriages because you worry your problems will distance you or reflect upon you—as if you’re defective or did something to cause this. In today’s open and connected world, discussing these issues doesn’t distance us; it brings us together. It creates understanding and tolerance, and it gives us hope.”
Speaking up about our miscarriage experiences is one way we can strip away the stigma in our society. Motherly reader Angela, who experienced a miscarriage at 12.5 weeks, said that the more she spoke with friends about her miscarriage, the more she realized how common it was.
“Sharing the experience made the burden of the loss easier,” she told us.
3. Most miscarriages cannot be prevented.
Chromosomal abnormalities are at the root of most miscarriages, the American Pregnancy Association notes. Causes of miscarriage include:
- Hormonal problems, infections or maternal health problems
- Implantation of the egg into the uterine lining does not occur properly
- Maternal age
- Maternal trauma
- Lifestyle (e.g., smoking, drug use, malnutrition, excessive caffeine and exposure to radiation or toxic substances)
Dr. John Zhang, medical director of New Hope Fertility Center in New York City explains that there are many different reasons why women miscarry and that “these reasons could differ from woman to woman and from pregnancy to pregnancy.”
Resolve: The National Infertility Association says that additional potential causes for miscarriages including abnormal hormone levels, cervical issues, infections, environmental factors and immunologic causes. Your doctor can help you identify any underlying issues as you receive medical care for miscarriage.
4. Miscarriage is a process.
If you start bleeding or experience heavy cramping while pregnant, call your doctor. He or she can assess whether you need to be seen immediately. If you are feeling faint or are experiencing heavy bleeding, call 911.
Columbia University’s OB-GYN experts note that doctors usually diagnose a miscarriage with ultrasound, though pregnancy blood tests for the hormone human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) may be used as well. “If the fetus is no longer in the uterus, or there is no longer a fetal heartbeat, miscarriage is diagnosed.”
There are a few ways to remove fetal and pregnancy tissue after a miscarriage is confirmed.
Your doctor may advise you to let the fetal and pregnancy tissue pass naturally if there is no sign of infection, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. This could take up to two weeks or more. You could also take medication that will cause bleeding and possible cramping, diarrhea and nausea, or have a surgical procedure. Procedures include a vacuum aspiration where your health care provider inserts an instrument or suction device into the uterus to remove the tissue, or a dilation and curettage (D&C)—dilation refers to opening the cervix; curettage refers to removing the contents of the uterus.
You will likely bleed for sometime afterward, usually for one to two weeks.
5. Women (and men) may be emotionally affected.
“No matter how often a person miscarries, the news is never an easy thing to accept. From the moment a woman sees a plus sign on a pregnancy test, they connect with the baby they have conceived and begin to dream for their baby’s future,” says Amanda Kern, a blogger and photographer who has written about her three miscarriages.
Many women depend on love and support from their partners and family members when going through the loss of a miscarriage. “My husband could not have been a better source of support, emotionally, mentally or physically,” says Angela, who was 30 at the time of her miscarriage. “And my son, who was around 18 months at the time, made it a little easier.”
Others turn to their faith or trust in a higher power. You might try connecting to whatever gives you a deep source of strength to find purpose in your experience.
Sometimes women need professional support. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a qualified therapist or doctor who can help you work through your experience. Organizations like Resolve offer support in the form of online or in-person groups, along with many different resources.
6. Most women who experience miscarriage can go on to have healthy pregnancies.
The sense of loss after miscarriage is real. Still, there is hope that future pregnancies will be healthy ones. The Mayo Clinic notes:
“Miscarriage is usually a one-time occurrence. Most women who miscarry go on to have healthy pregnancies after a miscarriage.”
7. You might have an easier time getting pregnant again soon after a miscarriage.
New research suggests that while women should give themselves time to heal emotionally and mentally after a miscarriage, they have a great shot at a healthy pregnancy if they try again soon. As a Health.com/CNN report notes:
“Women who conceive within six months of a miscarriage instead of waiting up to a year reduce their risk of another miscarriage by one-third, and they also increase their chances of a healthy and successful pregnancy.”
8. It’s time to lift the stigma.
One Motherly reader says how she’s “grateful to have had that experience in order to help others through it.”
Barbara Collura, president and CEO of Resolve, agrees with the value in sharing your story, even if only with a small network of trusted friends.
“There is not enough awareness or information regarding miscarriage, how common it is and the emotional toll it places on women, couples and families,” she says. “As with many public health issues, we tend to see real awareness and understanding when people share their personal stories. While this is incredibly difficult to do, it helps normalize it and provides greater compassion and understanding.”
One reader tells Motherly that she dealt with her loss with by focusing on the positive. “[I felt] gratitude knowing that pregnancy was possible for me—it really lifted my spirits,” she says.
Dr. Zhang stresses that there is life after miscarriage. “Positivity is so important to success,” he says. “It is critical to look at what we do as a full body, holistic approach—mind, heart, brain, body.”
Miscarriage is common, but it’s always deeply personal. It’s a difference experience and situation from couple to couple, and as Dr. Zhang added, “it’s important to understand you aren’t alone in this.”