Friday, October 05, 2007

The heartbreak of miscarriage needs support

More than 12 years ago, I naively told a young woman who was experiencing a miscarriage everything would be all right. Her reply was a curt “No, it won’t.”

While I felt bad about that exchange, it wasn’t until three years later when I experienced the first of my own three miscarriages that I understood how she felt.

Expecting a child is supposed to be one of the most joyous times in a couple’s life. Yet unfortunately, this joy turns to sorrow for many as the pregnancy ends suddenly and unexpectedly.

Losing a baby through a miscarriage can be devastating time for couples looking to grow their family. Even though magazines and other media outlets have started discussing this sensitive subject, most people are unaware of the commonality of miscarriages.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), up to one-half of all pregnancies end in a miscarriage each year, usually during the first few weeks of pregnancy.

Technically a miscarriage is any pregnancy loss that occurs before 20 weeks gestational age, which is approximately up to the fifth month. The ACOG agrees that many women who lose a pregnancy do not even know they are pregnant, while others notice cramping, bleeding, and perhaps other symptoms.

Most researchers agree that approximately 20 to 25 percent of all pregnancies end up as known miscarriages, while an equal amount are considered silent miscarriages -- when the woman doesn’t even know she is pregnant.

A number of problems can cause a miscarriage, but the ACOG and other researchers agree that there are still a good deal of mysteries surrounding miscarriages and the reasons behind the loss.

The most common cause is a chromosomal abnormality where the genetic material involved does not fuse together appropriately. This accounts for about one-half of all miscarriages, and is most commonly a random event that is, essentially, bad luck.

Variations of causes include hormonal situations or chances when something simply doesn’t go together the way it should. The technical terms for these instances include antiphospholipid syndrome, hereditary thrombophilias, luteal phase defect and abnormal blood flow to the uterus.

In this technological age, doctors and researchers are finding answers and treatments for many of these causes, ranging from bed rest to hormone therapies to baby aspirin.

However, despite the advances the medical field is making in the area of miscarriages, most doctors won’t investigate the cause of a miscarriage until a woman has lost at least two consecutive pregnancies.

The ACOG estimates that 50 to 75 percent of the 50,000 women who experience recurrent miscarriages each year – those who have had two or more consecutive early losses – will not be able to find out what caused them.

Sadly, once the miscarriage process begins there is little that can be done to stop it. This leads to a loss of control on part of the woman and her partner. How can something like this happen? What did we do wrong? These are questions that many couples start to ask when a miscarriage takes place.

Comforting a couple that has gone through a miscarriage is an extremely sensitive matter. In most cases, the man and the woman will experience different senses of loss and react in different manners. This can lead to upsetting situations among the couple, thus leaving them in even more need of outside support.

Simply letting the woman know that you are sorry to hear of her loss is the kindest thing that can be done. Lend an ear or a shoulder and let her know that you are available to help or listen is another good suggestion. For many women experiencing a miscarriage, the feelings of loneliness and seclusion dominate her thoughts and heart. Just knowing someone is available to listen or even sit quietly can be a comfort.

Unfortunately, most people feel awkward when faced with a friend in emotional pain, and we feel obligated to say something else. Sadly, what we attempt to say in these sensitive situations may not come across right, and we may instead say something that can be hurtful during this time. Unless one has gone through a similar situation, one can never know the extreme sense of loss after a miscarriage.

The bright light is there is about a 90 percent chance that the next pregnancy following a miscarriage will be normal. And, those who have recurrent pregnancy losses can often be successfully treated so that they are able to carry a baby to full term.

During the sad times, however, the best any woman can do is know that she is not alone. There are other women in our neighborhoods, communities and even in our own families who have had similar experiences, and who are more than willing to lend a shoulder for support.

There are no words to explain the deep sense of loss or despair a woman feels after losing a child at any stage or age. Today, I have two healthy and wonderfully happy children. The losses we experienced are behind us, yet the support for those like us will go on.



Anonymous said...

I just wanted to let you know that I have been reading your blog since I started mine, several months ago. Although I had not had a recent m/c at that point (my last one was 17 yrs ago), I did enjoy reading the things that you found out.

Currently I am experiencing my 2nd m/c, (after trying for 19 months), and now your posts bring me comfort. I still enjoy reading them, it's just that now I have a different reason for it.

Anyway, just wanted to say thanks and keep up the good work.

Catherine McDiarmid-Watt said...

Mrs. B - I am so sorry about the loss of your precious baby - this can be such a difficult journey.

It is nice to know that my blog has offered you comfort. I hope that you will soon have a baby safely in your arms.