You've probably seen or heard the word at some point. In a news article, or a tv show, or a blog post. But what exactly is a miscarriage?
In short, it is a pregnancy that didn't work the way it's supposed to for some reason. According to WebMD (and most resources on pregnancy loss) a miscarriage is the loss of a baby before the 20th week of pregnancy. Most miscarriages happen within the first trimester (the first 13- to 14-week period). Many miscarriages happen when the fetus is so small you wouldn't even be able to see it when it passes from the body. The American Pregnancy Association says, "Studies reveal that anywhere from 10-25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies will end in miscarriage. Chemical pregnancies [in which the miscarriage happens around the time a woman would miss her first period] may account for 50-75% of all miscarriages."
So you might ask, what's the big deal? How and/or why would that even affect a person emotionally? It's not even really a baby, right?
While you are absolutely welcome to think whatever you want to think about what a fetus is or isn't, the fact remains that a pregnancy -- whether wanted or unwanted, planned or unplanned -- deeply affects both the physiology and psyche of a woman.
Lots of hormones are involved in pregnancy. The first hormone to be released into a woman's system after conception is hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin). This is the hormone detected in home pregnancy tests. The higher the levels of the hormone in your blood, the more likely you are to get a positive result.
But the hCG is just the first piece of the hormone puzzle. It signals the increased production of both estrogen and progesterone, both of which contribute to the development of the placenta and the fetus throughout the pregnancy. The rapid increase of estrogen levels in the first trimester may contribute to the tell-tale "morning sickness" (which can happen at any time of day, or perhaps even not at all). Progesterone helps loosen muscles and ligaments and is the hormone responsible for increasing the size of the uterus.
All these hormones work together to create both physical and psychological or emotional changes in the mother, changes that are beyond her control. She may find herself more prone to mood swings, fits of crying for no reason, or unexplained joy.
And if she suffers a miscarriage, then all those hormones go crazy-weird. The levels drop and may throw her off even more than normal. Not to mention the deep grief she may feel at the loss of this child, at the opportunity to be a mother. If she was looking forward to the pregnancy, then now she has to face the reality that for some reason, this pregnancy didn't work, and she will have to go through a period of recovery before she can try again.
But even with trying again for another child, there comes a whole new set of emotions. What if there's something wrong with my body? What if I will never be able to carry a child full-term? What if... what if... what if...? Worry and anxiety can fall heavy on a woman during and after a miscarriage, and depression can become a constant companion.
Many women don't even talk about the miscarriage. There's a line of thought that says that a woman shouldn't even announce her pregnancy until after about 12 weeks, because at that point the chances of a miscarriage decrease significantly. I can see a certain point to this. However, if she does end up miscarrying before she announces the pregnancy, then she suffers in silence. (It is for this reason that any time I have found out I was pregnant, I announced it to my family early -- usually between weeks 5 and 8 of the pregnancy. I have just found that personally I would rather have my family there to support me in the aftermath.)
If you are suffering from a recent (or current) miscarriage, I would encourage you to talk to someone. Reach out. Even if it's a close friend. Find someone you can confide in, who will listen to you without interrupting, someone who will let you just cry without explanation if necessary. The emotions you feel are real. You do not have to be ashamed of them. Honor your grief.
If you'd like to read some personal stories of the journey through miscarriage, check out the following blogs:
Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Loss Blog Directory (Though apparently not kept up since 2010, the directory still exists with many blogs listed. I cannot guarantee that every link will still be active.)