Up to one in four known pregnancies end in miscarriage, according to the Mayo Clinic, yet many women suffer alone. Miscarriage is typically considered “taboo” in our culture. And that’s a real shame. To endure those early (and weird) pregnancy symptoms, hear your baby’s first heartbeat, or even seen your baby via ultrasound, only to have that child taken from you is among the most devastating experiences a person can endure.
And it takes time to heal.
But there is hope. Most women who experience pregnancy loss will go on to have a healthy, full-term baby. In this post, we’ll talk about ways you can heal naturally (both physically and emotionally) and the truth about getting pregnant after miscarriage.
Life After Miscarriage
You are not alone, even though it may feel that way. The truth is pregnancy loss is not often discussed openly. Many women don’t announce that they’re expecting until the second trimester, and so many never disclose a loss to people other than very close friends and family. Some women may choose not to share the news at all.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Organizations like I Had A Miscarriage and Return to Zero Center for Healing are shedding light on this hidden, yet very common experience.
What Causes Miscarriage?
Miscarriage happens most often when chromosomal abnormalities are present. That simply means that the genetic material combined in a way where the baby could not survive. There is no fault to be had, and it’s generally a one-time thing that has nothing to do with the parents’ health.
If a woman experiences recurring miscarriages (more than two), she may ask for—or be offered—genetic counseling to see if there is a genetic abnormality causing the miscarriages.
Other less common causes of miscarriage include:
- Bacterial infections: An infection can cause the uterus to become inflamed so that an embryo can’t implant.
- Untreated disease in the mother: Thyroid and diabetes are two major factors in miscarriages and should be investigated.
- Hormone imbalance: The hormones that trigger uterine lining development can fail, making implantation impossible.
- Immune system responses: The immune system normally sees sperm as an invader, but when the egg is implanted, it calms down. Sometimes the body doesn’t calm down, though, and attacks the embryo.
- Uterine abnormalities or cervical incompetence: Both are physical problems in the mother that should be discussed with your healthcare provider.
- Lifestyle choices, like nicotine and alcohol use: Obviously it’s best to stay away from nicotine, alcohol, and drugs while pregnant or when trying to conceive.
Can I Find Out the Reason for My Miscarriage?
In a late miscarriage, the hospital may offer an autopsy, which can help pinpoint what went wrong. This is reassuring to some families, because if there is a reason it happened, there is usually some kind of treatment to prevent future losses. However, an autopsy won’t necessarily tell you anything, as miscarriages are usually a one-off chromosomal issue that is unrelated to either parents’ health or their ability to conceive in the future. In the case of genetic issues in the parents, however, it can help couples prepare for conception in the future.
How to Heal Emotionally
It’s beyond difficult to have seen your baby on an ultrasound machine or heard his heartbeat—and have planned the life you would have shared together—and then watch it disappear suddendly.
No matter when in the process you experience pregnancy loss, you have a right to grieve. You will likely feel sadness and helplessness. But other feelings may surprise you. You may be upset with your body because it “failed” you or you may find yourself feeling jealous and angry with friends who are pregnant or parenting little ones.
“Don’t be sad, you’ll have a successful pregnancy next time,” is advice many people may give you. And while it’s true that you will likely go on to have a successful pregnancy, trying to shut down the feelings of grief right now is probably not the best course of action. If you don’t move through the feelings of grief now and let yourself really feel them, they could linger even longer.
The important thing is to really feel the emotions you are having. The process will bring a sense of peace. And know that although it may be hard right now, you will feel better over time.
Also keep in mind that grief can manifest physically by causing sleeplessness, fatigue, headaches, loss of appetite, weakness, feelings of heaviness, aches, pains, or other stress-related symptoms. If you are experiencing these symptoms, excessive depression, or the desire to harm yourself, speak with your doctor right away. You will get through this.
Tips to Help You Cope With Pregnancy Loss:
- Take some time for yourself. Let grandparents watch older kids, or let your partner know you need some time alone or with him. Time may not heal, but it sure helps.
- Feel what you’re feeling. All feelings you have after a loss are valid, even if your emotions surprise you or they’re not what you think you “should” be feeling. Whatever they are, know that they are exactly right for you in this moment.
- Talk about it. Talk with your partner, parents, friends, or a professional. Many hospitals or community centers have grief counseling groups; it may be helpful to talk with others who understand what you’re going through.
- Journal about it. You can find journals on Amazon and Etsy that will guide you in the process. Writing about your feelings can be therapeutic as you navigate through this difficult time.
- Read a book about pregnancy loss. Reading about others who have had a similar experience can help you with your journey. How did others cope with the loss and sadness? Their experience can guide you.
- Say goodbye to the guilt. Don’t get down on yourself as if you’ve done something to cause your miscarriage or stillbirth. In the vast majority of cases, the miscarriage is due to an issue with the embryo or implantation that is out of your control.
- Know that your partner will grieve too. Recognize that your partner will have their own grief process and that it may not be the same as yours.
- Name the baby if you want, even if you don’t know the sex. Some women will choose a name that the baby represents to her, or something that she wants to associate the baby with (like joy).
- Consider a ceremony or special way to remember baby. A memorial ceremony or some intentional process with your partner or loved ones is a special way to observe the loss and can provide some closure. Some women choose to donate to charity or plant a tree in baby’s memory. Some women may choose to curate a special memory box, wear a personalized necklace, or hire a photographer to take special photos a stillborn baby.
- Seek out support groups. Find online groups of women who have experienced a similar loss. You will find comfort in knowing you’re not alone. Find a support group near you.
- Pray or meditate. Prayer and meditation are invaluable to provide comfort, help you find peace, and provide spiritual strength.
- Avoid things you’re not ready for. For now, passing on baby showers and first birthday parties is understandable. It’s okay to take care of you.
- Lean on others for support. Don’t hesitate to ask others for their help and support during this difficult time. It’s understandable if you aren’t feeling up to making meals or need assistance with errands or housework. Friends, family, and neighbors will understand and gladly pitch in to help in whatever ways you need.
- Give yourself time. Grief is a process that is different for everyone. Take the steps and the time you need to move through the stages, allowing yourself to heal emotionally. Healing cannot and should not be rushed, so give yourself the time you need.
How to Heal Physically
Everyone heals differently. Some women may experience physical discomfort for just a few days; others may experience physical discomfort and signs of miscarriage for a month or more. Here are some physical symptoms you may experience after miscarriage:
- Bleeding or spotting
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- Breast discomfort, including engorgement or leaking milk
Although pregnancy hormones may remain in the blood for as long as two months after a miscarriage, you should expect a normal period within three to six weeks. (source) During the healing process, your healthcare provider will recommend refraining from sex or using tampons.
You can help your body heal by giving yourself the gift of time and self care. Get plenty of rest, hydrate, eat a balanced diet, and let yourself grieve. A clear and healthy mind makes for a healthy body.
Can I Prevent Miscarriage in the Future?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a universal way to prevent miscarriage. Most miscarriages are due to an abnormal chromosome lineup, which can’t be controlled. For miscarriages due to underlying causes, like disease or genetic issues, your doctor can recommend next steps after a diagnosis. Here are some issues your healthcare provider may need to rule out or address:
Cervical or uterine abnormalities: These can almost always be addressed so that a future pregnancy can occur. For example, an incompetent cervix can be stitched so that it won’t dilate too early.
Immunological issues: The science is still new here, but steroid treatment can often help in this area.
Underlying disease: PCOS, thyroid disease, and diabetes are a few conditions that increase the risk of miscarriage. Getting these diseases under control can help improve chances of a full-term pregnancy.
Clotting disorder: Your healthcare provider may recommend a low-dose aspirin or blood thinner.
Bacterial infections – Balancing the body’s bacteria with probiotics, as well as balancing the acidity/alkalinity of your body, can help. Avoiding high-contaminant foods, like lunch meat, and practicing good hygiene will help too. Your doctor may have other suggestions for avoiding infection.
Possible MTHFR mutation: Though much is still unknown about the correlation between the these gene mutation and miscarriage, your healthcare provider may prescribe aspirin, vitamins, or blood thinners. (source)
Getting Pregnant After Miscarriage
The majority of mamas who experience miscarriage or stillbirth will go on to deliver perfectly healthy children. Most healthcare professionals will now tell you that once you have had a regular period and are feeling up for it, you may try again almost right away.
In fact, getting pregnant after miscarriage is so common that there’s a name for children born after a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss—they’re called rainbow babies, since they bring about a sense of hope and solace after the storm.
If you choose to become pregnant again, know that you may still experience waves of grief, fear, guilt, or even anger. Connecting with other moms of rainbow babies can be hugely helpful during this time. Check out the nonprofit organization Pregnancy After Loss Support (PALS). Or connect with Hope Mommies or M.E.N.D. (Mommies Experiencing Neonatal Death), which are Christian organizations with local chapters for in-person support.