What is a miscarriage?
A miscarriage is the term used to define a loss of a pregnancy during the first 24 weeks (this is the case in the UK, in other countries the time period may be different). Miscarriages are much more common than most people realise, with about one in every four pregnancies ending in miscarriage. Recurrent miscarriages (losing three or more pregnancies in a row) are much less common, affecting one in 100 women.
How the mother and partner respond to a miscarriage is of course dependent on many factors. It can be an extremely upsetting event, and both the mother and partner may need support to help them move forward in their lives.
What are the symptoms of a miscarriage?
The most common symptom of a miscarriage is vaginal bleeding. This may be accompanied by painful symptoms often described like bad period pains in the lower stomach, such as cramps. Contact your GP if you have any of these symptoms while pregnant, especially if the pain is severe. (Pain could even be caused by an ectopic pregnancy, where the baby forms outside of the womb which can be very dangerous.)
These symptoms do not necessarily mean you are having or have had a miscarriage, as bleeding and cramps in the first trimester are not uncommon.
If you are experiencing symptoms associated with miscarriage, you will most likely be sent to the hospital to have an ultrasound, which will confirm whether or not this is the case.
What causes a miscarriage?
There are various reasons that a woman might have a miscarriage. Usually it is not caused by anything the mother has done, but it is thought that around half of early miscarriages are caused by abnormal chromosomes in the baby, which can affect the baby’s development. Immune or hormonal problems may account for other miscarriages but many causes remain unknown.
The impact of having a miscarriage
Miscarriage is a personal experience and women can feel its impact in many ways – there is no right or wrong way to respond to a miscarriage.
However, it can for many women be an emotionally and physically draining event.
The emotional impact of a miscarriage might be felt immediately, or you might find that you experience a period of shock or denial. It is natural to feel grief as you come to terms with the loss of your pregnancy, and possibility of a new family.
You may feel tired, suffer a loss of appetite, and experience difficulty sleeping. You may even experience feelings of guilt and anger. You may also feel resentful towards friends and family who have had successful pregnancies. All of these feelings are entirely natural and common, though each person will experience this bereavement in an individual way.
The partner of the baby may also be suffering after the loss of the pregnancy, however their feelings often go unaddressed as they might feel that are not necessarily entitled to be struggling with the loss in the same way as the mother. Of course this is not true, and if you are a partner who has experienced a miscarriage, it is important that you speak out and seek support if/when you need it.
You may want to arrange a remembrance service for your baby and some hospitals even offer this service. This can of course also be done privately and many families find it to be a helpful process.
How can therapy help support those who have had a miscarriage?
Any therapist or counsellor who has experience in working with bereavement or even depression and anxiety should be able to support you at this time. There are also therapists who specialise in this area, and welldoing.org can help you search this. They will provide a space where you can talk through any feelings you may have about your miscarriage without judgement or expectations. Being able to communicate with someone not personally involved in the situation can often be an immense relief, as you may have some feelings that you find difficult to share with loved ones. For example, you may feel resentful of friends’ support when they have had successful pregnancies, or angry at a partner who feels differently to you.
Relationship counselling can be a support to those whose relationship has been affected by a miscarriage.
It is common that partners grieve at different paces and in different ways, and it may help to have a safe space for both to work this through. An experienced, professional relationship counsellor can facilitate better communication and maybe even help you to help each other through this challenging time.
Last updated 5 May 2016