Many people don’t realize that the majority of miscarriages, about 70%, are caused by chromosomal irregularities. Other common causes, according to the Mayo Clinic, include uncontrolled diabetes, hormonal problems, infections, thyroid disease and problems with the cervix or uterus.
These causes, however, don’t seem to sway guilt from the minds of those who suffer miscarriages. According to a new survey by Ava Science, two-thirds of women blame themselves for their miscarriage. The survey also found that about three-quarters of women are ready to immediately try to conceive again but 50% are told by a medical professional that they should wait a few cycles.
“Many women think they did something wrong to cause their pregnancies to fail, but chromosomal abnormalities are the most common cause of miscarriages and are not preventable,” Dr. Jane Frederick, a reproductive endocrinologist in Orange County, California, told MedTruth.
“It’s a taboo subject for many people as they believe that miscarriages are uncommon.”
“Medical conditions, such as thyroid disease or untreated high blood pressure, lifestyle factors, such as smoking, and environmental hazards, such as lead paint exposure, can also contribute to miscarriage,” explained Lindsay Meisel, Ava Science chief science editor and head of content.
Experts estimate that about 10 to 20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriages, Frederick said.
(A miscarriage is when fetal loss occurs before the 20th week of pregnancy.)
According to Meisel, outdated facts lead health care providers to offer incorrect information to their patients, such as guidance regarding the advisability of trying to conceive again immediately following miscarriage.
“There used to be a belief that it was safer to wait a few cycles after a miscarriage before trying to conceive again, but recent evidence has shown that for most miscarriages, there is no benefit to waiting,” Meisel said. “Pregnancies conceived within the first six months after miscarriage are more likely to be carried full term.”
“Most of the time, medical professionals tell patients to wait because of their emotional health,” Meisel said. “Increasing awareness around the research and continuing education can help close this gap.”
Thirty-five-year-old Autumn from New Hampshire was 11 weeks pregnant and just about to tell her parents the news when she went in for a checkup after some spotting occurred.
“I found out that the fetal growth stopped at six weeks. I had had a miscarriage. That’s what that’s called. I had no idea that was even a possibility,” Autumn said. “I was heartbroken.”
Autumn found herself at the “bottom of the bottle of alcohol pretty quick” after the loss of her baby. She struggles with the stigma of miscarriage and wishes she could be more open about her loss. Since her miscarriage, she hasn’t tried to conceive.
“I haven’t tracked or planned but also haven’t taken birth control,” she said.
Autumn’s husband wasn’t sure he wanted a child so she describes her pregnancy as “riddled with pain.”
“It’s so hard and awkward because we are told as a society not to announce until the second trimester because of the risk of miscarriage,” Autumn said. “But then the Catch-22 of not having told anyone leaves you alone with the grief.”
Meisel said that one issue with pregnancy has to do with “announcing pregnancies before the end of the first trimester, which is when most miscarriages occur.”
“Of course, no one needs to share her pregnancy news before she’s ready,” she said, “but a lot of women really do want to share early, and stop themselves from doing so because of the social stigma. This creates the false impression that miscarriages are uncommon, which fosters shame and misinformation.”
Lily is 28 and currently lives in Los Angeles. She was 26 when she had a miscarriage near the end of her first trimester. While traveling to New Orleans, she had a traumatic experience which all began with an incredibly high fever.
“After a day of high temperatures of more than 104 degrees I immediately went to the hospital when I started experiencing back pain. At the time, I was just worried about my illness and hadn’t realized that it would lead to a miscarriage as well. I remember emotionally not being too upset and focusing on my health, but was in the hospital for several days recovering,” she said. “The next two weeks were a blur, and I felt very depressed.”
“Ultimately, the miscarriage ended up feeling simultaneously like the best and worst thing to happen to me. It was an awful experience — I had just started to get excited and tell people about the pregnancy, and my partner and I were really looking forward to starting a family. At the same time, my partner and I have since split up, and I am thankful in a way that things happened the way that they did. I have not sought therapy since my miscarriage,” Lily said.
Lily’s doctor in New Orleans offered Lily and her then partner very general advice.
“[It was] mostly information about spotting and how feelings of depression are normal. She advised us on counseling,” Lily recalled.
The 28-year-old shares openly about her miscarriage with family and friends.
“I am always surprised by the amount of times that my women friends and family reply with, ‘me too’ or have responded by sharing their miscarriage experience,” she said.
According to Dr. Frederick, the stages of miscarriage grief include:
- The right to mourn
- Protection of yourself
- Seeking professional help
- Connecting to a pregnancy loss community
“Chances are you will feel many different emotions after your loss, including denial, guilt, anger, depression, envy, and yearning,” Frederick said.
Sharon, 51, from Wisconsin, had her first miscarriage when she was 25 years old and 10 weeks pregnant. In the middle of the night, Sharon took her baby to the hospital for testing. Through the duration of that visit, the nursing staff was very quiet. They never spoke to Sharon about her miscarriage, and her doctor advised her to try again.
“I was fortunate to have a very supportive spouse and I believed that I could get pregnant again. I was definitely sad and felt an emptiness that I didn’t know how to explain,” she said.
According to Ava Science, 96% of people feel anxiety about getting pregnant again after a miscarriage.
Since that first miscarriage, Sharon has been pregnant seven times and has had two children. Sharon’s miscarriage affected every pregnancy she had afterward.
“Throughout my second pregnancy I was scared. I didn’t eat or use anything synthetic. I did everything my doctor suggested almost to the point of paranoia. I never had therapy and no counseling was ever offered. My spouse and I dealt with it on our own as a couple,” she said.
“I had complications after my second child was born. Although I could conceive I never carried to full term again having three additional miscarriages. After my last miscarriage I decided, as much as I wanted more children, the emotional and hormonal changes were too much. I was never depressed and I think the losses made me a better, more attentive mother,” she said.
Miscarriages don’t equate to infertility, which is another common misconception.
Dr. Ruth Lathi told Live Science that a “35-year-old woman who had three miscarriages in a row still has a 70% chance of a successful pregnancy.”
Sharon speaks about her losses often.
“I started writing about it and had many conversations with my mother. I loved being pregnant when I had full-term experiences. I wasn’t screaming from the rooftops about my loss but when someone I knew had a miscarriage I was willing to listen and share my journey,” she said.
Misconceptions About Miscarriage
A 2015 study in Obstetrics and Gynecology found that more than half of people think miscarriages are rare. Cisgender men were more than twice as likely to find it rare. Half of the female-identifying people in the study who had experience with a miscarriage said that they felt guilt and isolation.
Misconceptions about miscarriages hurt reproductive education and they also hurt society. Talking about miscarrying — the grief, the feelings afterward, the recovery — can contribute to eradicating myths that too often accompany this significant loss.
By Carah Wertheimer
Carah Wertheimer is a freelance writer based in Boulder, Colorado. Her areas of specialization include food, health, environment, social justice and community reporting. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, The Denver Post, The Daily Beast, the Boulder Daily Camera, Boulder Weekly and other publications.