The causes of miscarriage are common enough that they affect approximately 15 to 20 percent of pregnancies. But despite the fact that miscarriage occurs relatively often, expectant parents still have difficulty discussing pregnancy loss. It’s understandable that men and women would prefer to keep quiet. Because the fact is that while miscarriage bleeding and pain is traumatic, so is losing the dream of having a child. However, the reluctance to talk can make it difficult to understand miscarriage causes or how to cope when a miscarriage occurs.
What are the Causes of Miscarriages?
Miscarriages can happen for a number of reasons. In nearly every case parents can be assured it is not their fault. Sure, there are things women can do to stay healthy and reduce the risk of many potential complications with the pregnancy, the birth or the child, but it’s not as easy to prevent or predict a miscarriage.
“Unfortunately, there is not much a person can do to change their risk for miscarriages,” explains Erin O’Toole of Family Forecast, a board-certified prenatal genetic counselor. “Of course, there are the known risky pregnancy behaviors such as consuming alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and using other drugs, but outside of these recommendations, there is not much to add.”
- It’s more common than most think – 15 to 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage.
- It’s usually the end of a non-viable pregnancy – most miscarriages are due to an abnormal number of chromosomes in the pregnancy.
- Exercise good judgment – other than minimizing known risk behaviors like using drugs or alcohol, there are not many options to preventing miscarriages.
- Talk about it – women may blame themselves for the miscarriage, and their partners need to reassure them. Couples should check in regularly with each other – not just for the first few weeks after.
- The right therapist can help – parents can seek counseling if they want to, but they should see an expert. Not every therapist knows how to help people process this loss.
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The vast majority occur in the first trimester, some before women even realize they are pregnant. Very often, women experience it alone and see a doctor afterward. This is not just a great burden; it also makes it hard to identify specific causes.
“Most miscarriages are due to an abnormal number of chromosomes in the pregnancy,” says O’Toole. “Having an extra or missing chromosome often causes very serious problems.”
If a mother is under a doctor’s care when she miscarries, she may undergo a procedure called a dilation and curettage, or a D & C. In that case, it is possible for healthcare providers to conduct chromosomal testing.
“If the testing shows an abnormality, most of the time this is a random event and can give the parents closure that there was nothing anyone could have done to cause or prevent this from happening,” says O’Toole. “Rarely, an abnormality is detected that does make the health care providers concerned about the couple’s risk for miscarriage in the future, and additional tests may be performed.”
How to Cope With a Miscarriage
“Often, miscarriages do not discriminate,” says Crystal Clancy, a therapist who specializes in reproductive/perinatal mental health. “Parents can do everything ‘right’ and still experience a miscarriage – and go on to have a successful pregnancy.”
Clancy is the Executive Director of Community Engagement for Pregnancy and Postpartum Support Minnesota and has ample experience helping families through the pain of a miscarriage. Her advice is simple and direct – talk about it.
“Couples often avoid talking about it, or checking in beyond the first few weeks after the loss,” explains Clancy. “The woman may feel completely different about the loss than her partner, and that is OK. Everyone grieves differently.”
The emotional trauma can extend well past a few weeks. The original due date, seeing others who are pregnant or celebrating their new babies, and even the return of the menstrual period can be very difficult for women.
Women often blame themselves for a miscarriage. Their partners need to remind them this wasn’t their fault, and they didn’t do anything wrong. Another pregnancy is likely to trigger some anxiety in both mothers and fathers. A therapist can help both parents cope – if they have the right expertise.
“I highly recommend finding a therapist who is experienced in perinatal mental health and pregnancy loss,’ suggests Clancy. “I have heard many stories about clients meeting with therapists not adequately trained in this area, and caused extra distress as a result due to incorrect information or minimization of what the clients are experiencing. It is important to find someone who can sit with you during this journey, whether that is a therapist, a support group, or a friend who has been there.”