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What Is It Like To Have A Miscarriage? How Does It Change You?

Closeup of a woman's midsection with her partner's hands wrapped around her and gently holding her belly. She's wearing a cream colored nightgown with small dots in dark hues, and on her left hand is a wedding ring.
(Stock photo by John Looy
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Miscarriages are incredibly common. Research suggests as many as 26% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, most of them within the first trimester. Many people have a miscarriage before they even know they're pregnant.

But miscarriages have long been shrouded in secrecy. In fact, fear of miscarriage is one of the reasons behind what's known as the "12-week" rule: not disclosing you're pregnant until after the first trimester. Some argue for doing away with that unofficial rule because it isolates pregnant people and the isolation and emotional pain can get worse with miscarriage.

Although psychologist Jessica Zucker has specialized in maternal and reproductive mental health for over a decade, she said it wasn’t until she had her own second-trimester miscarriage that she gained a deeper understanding of the challenges surrounding the issue.

“It invariably impacted my career in a very meaningful and important way,” Zucker says. “I turned back to the research and found that a majority of women are reporting feeling a sense of self blame, guilt, and even these feelings of body failure in the aftermath of miscarriage.”

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The circumstances of Zucker’s miscarriage were particularly uncommon and traumatic. She said she felt very isolated, just as her patients had often talked about, because our culture does not have the framework for talking about this experience and supporting those who have been through it.

“I found it most helpful when people simply said, ‘How are you doing? I'm here for you,’ or followed up a week later, a month later, or even maybe a year later,” Zucker says. “Checking in authentically how I was doing without trying to ‘fix’ anything, without trying to change anything, without trying to skirt around this important topic.”

One person who called into LAist-89.3's AirTalk program said she experienced multiple miscarriages and nobody ever thought her husband could have anything to do with it — doctors often inadvertently blame women and their bodies, not realizing that sperm can also contribute to miscarriage risk.

Less helpful comments from friends and family are unfortunately common, Zucker says, like anything that begins with “at least”— at least you were early on in the pregnancy, at least you can get pregnant. It’s also common to hear platitudes that are meant to be comforting but instead minimize the experience of loss.

“We don't want to project our own belief systems, we really just need to be present,” Zucker says. “And I think in our culture, it's very difficult for people to embrace grief the way that we need to.”

The difficulty of discussing grief, and the shame around miscarriage, can lead to silence. People don’t always realize how common the experience is, and often feel that something is wrong with them. Some even start to fantasize that they had a hand in what happened — as if they didn’t want the baby enough, or wanted it too much.

“If we just were able to articulate our pain, our losses, our experiences, more comfortably out loud, my sense is that the shame could dissipate,” Zucker says. “And of course, the stigma as well.”

Even the practice of not sharing pregnancy news until after the first trimester can deepen the silence, as it is meant to prevent women and their partners from having to share news of a miscarriage. Another caller to AirTalk said when she had a miscarriage and told her sister, her sister revealed that her mother and grandmother had both had miscarriages — nobody had talked about it within the family.

Zucker says that while it makes sense for women to want privacy around this experience, it’s important that the desire for privacy doesn’t become a feeling of secrecy or shame.

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“It’s honestly robbing women and families of getting the support they might need, whether they have a miscarriage or not,” Zucker says. “So why not sort of relish the joy of being pregnant and sharing that? And why not open up the dialogue in case things go badly?”

Grief knows no timeline and can continue for years and decades. So breaking the silence can be incredibly powerful, Zucker says, whether it is through spiritual community or through conversations with loved ones.

“I think people are so hungry to commune in the aftermath of loss, whether they know it or not,” Zucker says. “Having an opportunity to actually memorialize [the loss] can really facilitate the healing process and can make people feel validated, less alone, acknowledged in their grief.”

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Women's Health Series Miscarriages
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