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What Is a Miscarriage?

A miscarriage is when a pregnancy ends unexpectedly before 20 weeks. Experiencing a miscarriage is fairly common, occurring in 10 to 25 percent of pregnancies. Miscarriage is also referred to as early pregnancy loss, or in medical terms, a spontaneous abortion.

The reasons for miscarriage are not well understood, and many women never receive an answer as to why the pregnancy was lost. But one common cause, which accounts for about half of miscarriages, is that the embryo receives an abnormal number of chromosomes from the egg or sperm. The risk of miscarrying also increases as a woman gets older.

The symptoms of a miscarriage include bleeding, cramping, low back pain, and the release of fluid or tissue. However, not all instances of bleeding are indicative of a miscarriage and some women who miscarry don’t experience noticeable symptoms. Most miscarriages do not require treatment, but a procedure or medication may be necessary if not all of the fetal tissue left the body naturally.

Pregnancy loss can evoke a range of emotions, and couples often feel the loss deeply. Recognizing that those emotions are valid, discussing the experience with loved ones or a therapist, and marking the loss with a meaningful memento or ceremony can all help to process and overcome that sense of grief.

How to Heal from the Grief of a Miscarriage

Pregnancy loss often evokes a deep sense of grief; feelings of guilt, shame, failure, and loneliness are both natural and common. Some develop depression or anxiety.

When parents-to-be discover a pregnancy, they begin to envision life with their future child. They may name the baby, prepare the house for its arrival, or daydream about time the family will spend together. Being forced to let go of those expectations and hopes can be painful.

Medical questions can also contribute to emotional distress. Doctors often cannot provide a definitive explanation for the loss, which can lead to anxiety, self-doubt, and feeling betrayed by one’s body, in addition to the physical toll a miscarriage sometimes takes. Women who miscarry have an elevated risk of miscarrying in a subsequent pregnancy, which can lead to intense anxiety throughout following pregnancies.

Pregnancy loss, despite its prevalence, still seems to be shrouded in silence. A couple may not feel justified sharing the extent of their grief or a friend may believe that it would be rude to inquire, which can compound feelings of loneliness.

Yet sharing the experience can be tremendously helpful. Opening up to loved ones, and even guiding them as to the response or support one needs, can help release loneliness and grief. Friends and family should not shy away from asking about the experience. It won’t make the person feel worse, and she or he will simply decline to discuss it if they prefer. Pregnancy loss support groups, online or in person, are a valuable resource to connect an individual to a community who best understands the experience.

Pregnancy loss is also difficult for the father. Men may experience the same sense of loss and grief but feel like they should appear strong for their partner, silence those emotions, or channel them into work. Discussing the experience, especially if members of a couple grieve differently, can sustain the relationship through the loss.

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