No two women—no two families—react to the news of miscarriage the same way. I've had friends who shrugged off the news that the embryo was not developing properly and went on to try again without any visible emotional upset, and I've had loved ones so shattered by their loss that they debated whether or not they could face getting pregnant again.
My personal experience with miscarriage began just a few weeks after I’d tested positive for my second pregnancy. My daughter was about two and a half years old; my husband and I hadn't had any trouble conceiving either time.
I was about 10 weeks along, and I’d just had my first appointment with the midwives I hoped would help me have a HBAC, a home-birth after C-section. And then, I woke up one morning with brown blood in my underwear.
My heart started to pound, and I panicked. I Googled frantically, trying to find out everything I could about what this could mean. I learned more that morning than I ever wanted to know about miscarriage, threatened miscarriage, and how much it hurts to think you might lose someone you haven’t even learned to love yet.
The facts about miscarriage:
- Somewhere between 10-20% of clinically recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage, usually before 12 weeks.
- The March of Dimes estimates that as many as 50% of pregnancies may end in miscarriage, with the vast majority of these occurring before a woman even realizes that she may be pregnant.
- Most miscarriages occur because the embryo is not developing normally. This is almost never because of something that the woman did.
Bleeding in early pregnancy is called threatened miscarriage. In general, if the flow remains light and brownish, the risk remains low, and many women—like me—continue on to have a healthy pregnancy. If the flow becomes reddish, heavy, or you begin to pass clots, contact your provider immediately. Depending on how much you’re bleeding, they may advise you to stay home, or go directly to the emergency room. If they want you to go to the ER, don’t drive yourself. Blood loss can make you dizzy much faster than you think.
What happens after a miscarriage?
The agonizing truth is that one miscarriage is not generally a cause for medical concern or intervention. Doctors often tell women that they should wait until they've had a normal period before they try to get pregnant again, but beyond that, there’s not much advice they can give. This can leave women feeling frightened of going through this experience again, and concerned that there’s nothing they can do to mitigate the risks.
Adding to any grief that women go through, many also experience the “baby blues,” the post-pregnancy end hormone dump that can cause moodiness and irritability as the body adjusts to no longer being pregnant. This can be a toxic storm of emotion, leaving women vulnerable to depression. Sometimes, partners don’t know how to talk to each other in the wake of a loss, and relationships can become strained and difficult.
How to get help:
- Does your employer allow bereavement time for a miscarriage? Many employers do, and you may be able to get some paid time off to grieve privately before you return to work. Ask your HR rep, or consult your employee handbook.
- Were there medical complications to your miscarriage, or are you experiencing grief or depression that is inhibiting your ability to return to work, even after bereavement time? FMLA might be an option, if you've worked at your company for a year, and your employer offers it. Speak to your HR representative to find out more. You may not get paid leave, but your job is generally protected for 3 months, and you may be able to qualify for short or long term disability, depending on your benefits package.
- Does your employer offer an employee assistance program (EAP)? While these programs do not function as long term counsellors, they can be a wonderful stop-gap measure to help someone through a difficult time, until they can get longer-term help. Many times, these programs come with up to three in-person counseling sessions. Again, ask your HR representative, or check your employee handbook.
- Does your insurance plan cover mental health care? If you find that you’re unable to sleep, extremely moody, or find yourself very anxious, it may be worth asking for a recommendation to a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in grief counselling, or in working with couples dealing with infertility or loss. Contact your health insurance plan to ask about coverage and covered providers.
- Only share what you want to share. Sometimes people ask very inappropriate questions, either through curiosity, or just because they don't realize they're being hurtful. It's okay to say “I'm not ready to talk about this yet, but thank you for your concern.” It's okay to get someone you trust to say it for you, if you're not up to it.
My bleeding never got any worse, and it did eventually stop. My midwives eventually diagnosed me with a “friable cervix,” meaning that my cervix was prone to bleeding whenever it was bumped or bothered in any way. I was put on “pelvic rest”—no sex—until the bleeding had stopped for a few weeks, and then it never recurred. I gave birth to a healthy daughter at 41 weeks, but I never rested easy for the rest of that pregnancy.
If you have experienced miscarriage or loss, please reach out for help. It may be an isolating experience, but that doesn’t mean you have to go through it alone.