What did you learn in your sex ed classes at school? Chances are, if you live in the U.S, you learned more about not having sex than having it; Probably the only thing you learned about the hormone cycle was that ovary-bearers have periods. And while you may have been taught how conception happens (and how to avoid it), god forbid you actually learned about what it’s like to be pregnant (without the fear of god being instilled in you). So this leaves all of us adults in a pretty precarious position since ya know, just about all of us do have sex, have a hormonal cycle (yes, every single one of us, not just ovary-bearers!) and every year more than 6 million pregnancies occurs in the U.S alone (1).
Since we never learned about pregnancy, the changes our bodies go through when we’re pregnant can be confusing. It can often make us feel unsure if our bodies are working correctly and that we’re alone in our experiences. One such experience? Miscarriage. Which actually happens in around 1 in 5 known pregnancies (which means they likely happen even more often) (2) and, as our friends over at At The Well (a non-profit that connects women to body, soul, and community through wellness education and Jewish spirituality) remind us, they are even mentioned in the bible! Yet in a recent survey, 55% of respondents believed that miscarriages were “uncommon” (defined as less than six percent of all pregnancies) (3) !!!
So, let’s correct some of those wrongs and walk through it together.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A MISCARRIAGE ANYWAY?
While we are going to break down the nitty gritty below, it’s important to note that the facts don’t equal the experience. And everyone’s experience is very different and equally valid.
A couple of basic facts to get us started:
- A miscarriage is when a pregnant person loses their preganancy before the 20th week of pregnancy (4)
- Approximately 80% of miscarriages take place in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (4)
WHAT'S THE WHOLE 12 WEEK THING?
Maybe you’ve heard of waiting until the 12 week mark before publicly sharing the news about being pregnant. Why is that the unwritten rule? It’s because the likelihood of miscarriage drops after 12 weeks. Waiting until 12 weeks to disclose the pregnancy is very common practice, not just in secular American practice, but in various traditional cultural beliefs as well. In Bulgaria, for the first 12 weeks ovary-bearers are only meant to talk about the pregnancy to their partners, to keep bad spirits away (5), while in traditional Chinese culture it’s believed that talking about the pregnancy before 12 weeks can endanger its stability (6). And in Judaism, the tradition is to not say the baby’s name at all until 8 days after they’re born, when they then celebrate that the child is a healthy human being. In full respect of these practices, the silence can negate the experience of being pregnant in those first few months- and there’s a lot happening physically and emotionally! It can also make it seem like if something does happen, either it’s no big deal since it’s so common in the first 12 weeks anyway, or that the pregnant person must have done something to cause it. And, because no one knew that you were pregnant in the first place, you’re likely moving through your loss alone, without the support that could have been very helpful. It’s no wonder people think miscarriage is so much less common than it actually is!
A lot of couples who experience miscarriage wished that it was talked about more and that they knew more about it before it happened to them (7). This isn’t to say those practices are wrong or that they shouldn’t be followed! It’s just to point out how sharing our own experiences may really help others to cope through their own loss and help them realize they aren’t broken and they aren’t alone.
What is the physical experience of having a miscarriage?
While this is varied and depends on how far along you are in your pregnancy, there are a handful of things that often happen. One of these is vaginal bleeding, which can range from light spotting, brownish discharge, heavy bleeding or bright red blood with clots and may come and go over several days. Another common experience is a discharge of fluid and tissue from your vagina and you may also experience pain and cramps in your lower tummy. After a miscarriage you’ll stop having the symptoms of pregnancy like feeling sick and tender breasts (8).
Those are some of the physical symptoms of a miscarriage. However, both physically and emotionally, everyone experiences a miscarriage differently and there is no right way to process it.
Here are some experiences that might offer helpful perspectives:
-Some share that while people had talked about the emotional pain, they were taken aback by the physical pain of their miscarriage.
-Some felt pressure from their community to emotionally recover more quickly than they were ready, and this pressure stalled their healing process.
-Some felt they interally put pressure on themselves to recover after experiencing a miscarriage at 6 weeks because it was ‘such an early miscarriage’, they shouldn’t have been upset, and so tried to push their emotions away.
-Some received support from those around them, like one person who felt comforted by their community and was glad to have told them of the pregnancy before 12 weeks.
-Then there are people who had a miscarriage on a Friday and went to work on Monday, where they listened to their colleagues chat, all the while holdong on to their secret and feeling like they where ‘dying inside.’
-Others share that it was the weeks following the miscarriage that were the hardest. The feeling of their body no longer growing and changing to support their pregnancy.
Just remember, whatever you feel, know that it is valid, there is no wrong way to feel after a miscarraige. The most important thing is that you are kind to yourself and take good care of yourself – in whatever form works best for you.
JUST BECAUSE IT’S COMMON, DOESN’T MEAN IT’S EASY
Research has shown that people who have experienced miscarriages and their partners wished that there was more knowledge about miscarriage and that discussion should be encouraged (7). And that’s not surprising when you look at the data. One study showed that 40% of women* said miscarriages affected their relationships with friends and family and 1/3 said it impacted their working life (12). While in another study, 41% of respondents who had a miscarriage felt alone (13). With such an impact on your life, combined with the feeling of isolation, not talking about your miscarriage can often have a detrimental effect on your mental health as it can make it difficult to mourn. When people normally experience a loss, they are able to openly go through the grieving process, but with miscarriages, because your wider community might not even know of your loss, it can contribute to the experience of distress (14). This leaves people mourning alone, socially isolated, and unable to openly go through their rituals of loss.
Many people turn to spirituality in times of hardship and this can be an important part of a holistic grieving process. We asked our friends at At The Well, a non-profit focusing on the intersection of women’s health, wellness, and spirituality, how they’re reinterpreting ancient practices for spiritual support and we loved their suggestions for healing.
A mikvah is a pool of water (nowadays it normally it looks like a big bathtub) in which you enter and submerge yourself entirely naked for a ritual of cleansing.
Traditionally, the mikvah was used for married, Jewish women to move them from ‘impurity’ to ‘purity’ after their periods (not so cool, we know). But in modern times this practice is often used by anyone seeking spiritual cleanliness and holiness during a transition point in their life and is thought to be a powerful practice of transformation. Going through the loss of a miscarriage can be emotionally and physically demanding and you could find solace in the ritual of intentionally immersing yourself in water, like in the spiritual mikvah. Don’t have a giant holy pool? No prob. Immerse yourself in the ocean, a lake, a bathtub any body of water that speaks to you. As At the Well founder Sarah Waxman shares, what makes a seemingly everyday event or happening (e.g going into the bath) a spiritual event is simply the intention behind it. What makes it a ritual is simply marking the event in some way, may that be by praying, speaking aloud, playing music, using a physical object like a candle etc. You can create your own rituals around immersing yourself, may that be with loved ones or solo, with tarot cards, poetry readings, singing, music…you do you.
Of course, having a community to support you through is also key. We’d be remiss in not mentioning one of the core offerings of At The Well is that they help facilitate ‘Well Circles’ across the whole world! Well Circles are groups of 6-12 friends who commit to meet every month to story-tell, support each other, and share spiritual experiences. While they use Judaism as a framework (just as yoga uses the vedic religion) you don’t need to be Jewish to attend! The Circles help people create a spiritual connection to the body, and are a space to witness others’ truths by listening from a place of deep, intentional listening rather than problem solving. This creates an open, caring space where you can share your experience, openly mourn, and often connect with those who might have experienced something similar. Find them here and check out their book on cycles here.
So what can we do? Let’s continue to normalize miscarriages, to talk about our own experiences, if we feel comfortable doing so, so that they can be learnings for others. And most importantly, you likely have many people in your life that have experienced loss. Remember, extend love and kindness, a warm meal, or even organize a “mikvah”! instead of putting expectations on them to heal at a certain pace or in a certain way.
* Language used in the study
Written By: Martha Michaud
All content found on this Website, including: text, images, audio, or other formats, was created for informational purposes only. The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
(1) Bardos, Jonah, Daniel Hercz, Jenna Friedenthal, Stacey A Missmer, and Zev Williams. “A National Survey on Public Perceptions of Miscarriage.” Obstetrics and gynecology. U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4443861/.
(2) Gibson, Allison. “What No One Tells You About Having A Miscarriage.” What Does An Early Miscarriage Feel Like Personal Story, April 24, 2017. Accessed September 26, 2019. https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/what-no-one-tells-you-about-having-a-miscarriage.
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