**ATTENTION** 7/17/12 Thank you for visiting this blog post. Please note that I am in the process of writing a guide to help those who have experienced pregnancy loss. You can read about that and more on pregnancy loss by clicking here or the tab above.**
Spontaneous abortions, also called miscarriages, take place before the 20th week of pregnancy. Miscarriages are estimated to occur in up to half of all fertilized eggs, largely before the woman even knows she is pregnant. In known pregnancies, it occurs in approximately 1 out of every 5. It can be a physically and psychologically traumatic experience for women and their partners, with the effects of the experience lasting even beyond the woman’s future live births.
The National Institute of Health list the possible causes of miscarriage as:
- chromosome problems that make it impossible for the baby to develop, usually unrelated to the mother or father’s genes
- Hormone problems
- Physical problems with the mother’s reproductive organs
- Problem with the body’s immune response
- Serious body-wide (systemic) diseases in the mother (such as uncontrolled diabetes)
Risk is increased in women over the age of 35 and in those who’ve experienced previous miscarriages.
The psychological impact of a miscarriage varies and is dependent on several factors, including cultural and religious beliefs, whether or not there are other children, the mental health of the woman, available resources and social support. Commonly, the woman and her partner, experience grief just as is experienced following the death of a close friend or family member. Not only has their child been lost, but also the hopes and dreams they had for the child. Couples often discuss their future children long before they have even conceived. Even as a single, young adult, people build expectations about any children they may have.
Research suggests that the intensity of grief is related to the gestational age at which the miscarriage occurred, with severe grief more likely to be experienced by those who had determined a name for the baby and were purchasing baby items in preparation for the birth. Grief is also a personal experience. “It’s the individual’s perception of the event, as opposed to the actual reality of the events associated with the loss, that has the greatest impact on grief reactions,” says Pamela Geller of Drexel University. The research also suggests that there is an increased risk of developing anxiety, obsessive-compulsive and post traumatic stress disorders following a miscarriage.
Interestingly, research into the psychological impact on male partners suggests that their grief experience comes later than the woman’s, typically when she’s recovering, it can be even more difficult for them and they have less coping skills to overcome the grief. Miscarriage appears to significantly impact 2/3 of marriages, with approximately 1/3 experiencing an improvement in the relationship one year after the miscarriage, and the women in the other third reporting feeling more distant from their partner. The remaining third report their marriage remained the same.
The potential negative effects of miscarriage are compounded by the finding that about 1/3 of health professionals ask women and their partners how they are coping with the miscarriage. Thus, women who may be experiencing significant difficulty are, more often than not, going unnoticed by doctors. Additionally, while parents are trying to cope with the effects of the miscarriage, their other children may be affected; parents may not have the emotional abilities to effectively meet their other children’s needs.
Communication is important following a miscarriage. The partners should acknowledge the loss that has occurred and work together to experience and overcome the grief. If there are older children, discussion should take place about the miscarriage and emotions that they and their parents may experience. Friends of someone who has experienced a miscarriage should approach them just as they would if there was death in the family; visit, send flowers, provide a meal, and offer to listen. Friends should avoid statements such as “It wasn’t meant to be” and “You can try again.” Health care providers should be aware of the potential psychological effects of miscarriage and screen for mental health difficulties in the woman, as well as her partner.
NIH suggests preventing miscarriages by:
- receiving early, comprehensive prenatal care
- avoid environmental hazards (such as x-rays, drugs and alcohol, high levels of caffeine, and infectious diseases)