Miscarriage is yet another thing that happens to women that no one seems to want to talk about. It’s a topic that causes a lot of pain, discomfort, and sometimes even guilt or relief. The word alone is enough to make people squirm in their seats and shift their eyes downwards, unsure of how to delicately handle such a fragile topic.
However, miscarriages happen. In fact, between 10 and 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, with 80 percent of them occurring in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. And still, so few people want to discuss them. With miscarriages being so common, you need to be aware that it could happen to you. Being armed with factual information before you become pregnant can help you stay in control of your reproductive health and help with the grieving process if it does happen.
What is a Miscarriage?
A miscarriage is defined as the spontaneous loss of a fetus before it has the potential to survive outside of your womb. In the U.S., this is defined at 20 weeks and, medically, is referred to as a “spontaneous abortion.” But the word abortion often holds the connotation that the end of the pregnancy was intentional, which is not the case with a miscarriage.
Some women who have miscarriages very early in their pregnancy may never even know they were pregnant and would probably think they just got their period. Sometimes miscarriages require nothing but painkillers to treat any cramping and loved ones to comfort them, but other women (usually those who are further into their first trimester) may need to have the fetus surgically removed from their uterus (called dilation and curettage).
Symptoms of a Miscarriage
If you do become pregnant, it’s not helpful to you or your baby to constantly worry about miscarrying. While thoughts alone won’t prevent (or cause) a miscarriage, there is a lot of power in your mind and stressing yourself out over if it’s going to happen is not healthy. However, knowing what the symptoms are can help you put your mind at ease.
The most common symptoms of a miscarriage include:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Back pains
- White or pink vaginal discharge
- Vaginal spotting
- Passing tissue or clots
These symptoms shouldn’t be ignored. You’ll want to see your doctor immediately. There is nothing that can be done to stop a miscarriage once it has started but your doctor can help make sure you don’t hemorrhage or get an infection.
Why Does a Miscarriage Happen?
“Why?” is one of the first questions women ask themselves after having a miscarriage. They are often worried that they did something to cause it. But it’s extremely unlikely that anything you do will cause a miscarriage. According to the American Pregnancy Association, the most common cause of a miscarriage is a chromosomal abnormality, which is usually due to a damaged egg or sperm cell.
While it’s impossible for you or your doctor to tell the exact cause of a miscarriage, there are a few reasons, aside from chromosomal abnormality, that they occur:
- Hormonal factors, which could cause the lining of your uterus to be too thin and make it difficult for a fertilized egg to implant
- Your age. Women over 40 are far more likely to have a miscarriage.
- Lifestyle factors like smoking, drug use, or exposure to toxic substances
- Maternal trauma like a car accident or fall
Understanding that a miscarriage is not your fault is key. Working out too much, having sex, or having a cup of coffee have all been blamed as potential causes but these things are untrue. There’s nothing you can do to cause a miscarriage, so if this happens to you, know that you’re not to blame.
Can You Prevent a Miscarriage?
In short, no. Since chromosomal abnormalities are largely at fault for the unwanted termination of an early pregnancy, there’s not much that can be done to prevent it. That being said, being as healthy as possible before you get pregnant can help to create a supportive environment for conception. Keeping your weight in a healthy range through regular exercise and a balanced diet, managing your stress levels, and taking folic acid can do nothing but help.
What to do if you (or Someone you Know) has a Miscarriage
Having a miscarriage can be traumatic and both mothers and fathers can be affected by the loss. Know that grieving is normal and ok. Even though you never got to hold your baby, the bond was there and it’s perfectly healthy to feel sad or empty after this kind of loss. In the unfortunate circumstance that you or someone you love has a miscarriage, there are many ways of getting support:
- Join a miscarriage support group
- Talk to a friend or close family member about your experience
- Write about it in a journal
- Speak with your doctor or a therapist
- Call the Planned Parenthood Hotline for support — (800) 230-PLAN
Reaching out for support can make your experience much easier to deal with and provide you with invaluable resources. It’s also important to be gentle with yourself—physically and emotionally—while you recover from your loss.
Talking about miscarriage often feels heavy and sad, understandably. Like with any other taboo topic, having the uncomfortable conversation is necessary. By being open, you’re allowing others to support you and to receive support when they need it. And the more you know about miscarriage before you get pregnant, the more likely you will be to spot and address any potential signs early on and get support if you need it.
Photo Credit: Daria Shevtsova, pexels.com