Miscarriage is not a rare phenomenon in Australia; chances are, somebody you know has been touched by it.
Yet it remains a topic that’s rarely discussed in public. To help raise awareness, we’ve worked with SANDS — a miscarriage, stillbirth and newborn death support service — to share some important facts, information, and recommendations about pregnancy loss.
This week marks the start of Never Forgotten: Mamamia’s Pregnancy Loss Awareness Week.
1. It’s more common than you might realise
As many as one in four identified pregnancies end in miscarriage before 20 weeks. However, it’s likely this rate is much higher because some women experience early miscarriages without having realised they were pregnant.
According to SANDS’ Chair, Lyndy Bowden, pregnancy loss impacts on more than 100,000 local families per year.
2. There’s no “safe zone” for pregnancy loss
It’s common, and often expected, for women to wait 12 weeks before announcing their pregnancy. However, Bowden says this isn’t a “magic” or “safe” number.
“It’s hard to say this, but in reality babies can die at any gestation, be it six weeks or 40 weeks or 42 weeks, or two weeks after they’re born. Unfortunately, there is no ‘safe’ period,” she explains.
“You tell people when you need to; do what’s right for you. Remember that if you tell people of your early pregnancy, they can celebrate this beautiful new life with you. If you do go on to experience a miscarriage, then they will be the people who can then turn around and support you.”
Rebecca Sparrow reflects on the loss of her beloved daughter, Georgie. Post continues below.
3. Symptoms aren’t always present
“We tend to think of miscarriage as we see it on TV – the woman grabbing her tummy, being in excruciating pain or finding blood. But there would be a higher incidence of mums who have no signs or symptoms,” Bowen explains.
“It can be really hard, and the first time they find out is they’ve probably gone for a scan and it’ll be then they see there’s no heartbeat. For other mums there can be spotting or cramping, but then again that doesn’t mean you’re going to miscarry.”
Some mothers say they could feel something wasn’t right prior to having a miscarriage. If this is the case, Bowen recommends acting on those instincts. “Trust what you’re feeling … go to the doctor and get it checked out. It doesn’t matter how many times. Don’t worry about what people say,” she says.
4. There usually won't be a clear cause
Miscarriages occur when a pregnancy isn't developing properly. For some parents, genetics or medical factors can come into play.
Sativa, a SANDS parent phone operator who has endured a number of miscarriages, eventually learned she had a health condition that hinders her absorption of folate and vitamin B, which then affected her pregnancies. "My body was fighting the pregnancy because I had high inflammation ... I ended up having a breakdown because I was depleted of nutrients in my body," she recalls.
However, Bowen says in most cases there won't be a clear cause of miscarriage — and despite this, mothers can begin to feel unwarranted guilt or blame over the circumstances.
"As mothers, we feel we are the protectors of this baby, because we are carrying them inside us ... So if there's no explanation, we think it must be something we did or thought, even. We can be so, so hard on ourselves," Bowen — who herself has experienced miscarriages — explains.
However, she adds, there is nothing to suggest that what a mother does or doesn't do during pregnancy contributes to pregnancy loss. "There's no solid evidence that talks about exercising, stress, working, not exercising, or even having sex during pregnancy causes a miscarriage." (Post continues after gallery.)
5. Practicalities differ for every woman
In terms of procedure, every woman or couple is unique and will have different requirements depending on the gestation of the pregnancy. Although parents will often seek medical attention after a miscarriage has occurred, some won't for personal reasons.
As a rule of thumb, Bowen says some women will undergo dilatation and currettage (a "D and C"), a procedure to remove tissue from the uterus. Where a miscarriage is classed as late-term, a mother might be required to deliver the baby.
"Generally, at 16 weeks babies are small but fully formed, and so [mothers] will have to go through childbirth. It can seem quite harsh, but many parents talk about how it creates such beautiful memories of such tragic circumstances," Bowen explains.
"By law you're not required to have a funeral or register the baby unless the baby's 20 weeks, but you do have the right to have a funeral for your baby if you want," she adds.
6. It's not uncommon for pregnancy symptoms to continue
During pregnancy, a number of bodily processes and associated side-effects occur; following a miscarriage, some of these can linger.
"You still have the rising HCG [hormone] in your blood, you still have the tingly breath... They’re physical reminders of that loss," Sativa explains.
She recalls undergoing weekly blood tests until her HCG levels had returned to normal, and experiencing some bleeding as her cycle re-adjusted. "It can be quite traumatic if you’re bleeding a lot. I had one [experience] where I had a lot of blood loss and I bled in the chair in the waiting room," she says.
7. It's okay to acknowledge the baby.
Both Lyndy Bowen and Sativa say it's vital to acknowledge that miscarriage represents the death of a baby, regardless of his or her gestational age.
"Parents put so much love and hope into this journey that when it happens, they're shattered and feel their hope is lost. Where people say it was 'just a little blob', or it 'wasn't really a baby', for parents it is their baby, their future," Bowen says.
This week as part of Never Forgotten: Mamamia's Pregnancy Loss Awareness Week we're remembering the babies we've lost. Post continues below.
Sativa named every one of her children, even though they were "very early" pregnancies. "I needed to do that ... even if it’s a one off miscarriage it’s still a big shock," she says.
"I’ve learned not to brush it off as a minor thing. For my husband and I, we wanted a pregnancy. That was the most important thing to us, beginning our family... a lot of people around me at that time were having successful pregnancies, so it was really important to count [ours]."
8. It's okay to call yourself a parent
"Even if your baby's not here, you are still a parent. You're still a mum or a dad, and it's okay if you want to say you're a mum or a dad," Bowen says.
"You don't have to feel guilty, you shouldn't have to explain yourself. It's okay."
9. There is no 'right' way to grieve
Just as every experience of pregnancy loss is unique, everyone grieves in a different way. That doesn't mean your way is wrong.
"Generally, whatever you're feeling is what other bereaved parents have felt. You are normal. That's one of the biggest things we need to say to people who have had a miscarriage; you are normal," Bowen says.
Grief also takes on different forms within wider networks. "There’s the grandparents, the sisters and brothers, the nieces and nephews ... and within that family structure, there’s expectations and dreams of those children. So there’s not only the personal grief of the woman, but also the grief of the husband or the partner, and their joint grief," Sativa says. (Post continues after gallery.)
10. Support is not 'one size fits all'
For individuals, couples and families who experience miscarriage in Australia, there are support services available. What's important is finding the kind of support that suits a parent's needs, whether that be counselling, services like SANDS, social media groups, or a combination.
Sativa says finding a support network was crucial in her acknowledging her loss, and beginning a healing process that helped her not carry fear into subsequent pregnancies.
"I don’t think I understood that I needed help with the grieving process. Depending on where you miscarry in your pregnancy, you might think it’s not a big thing, you think you can just get on with life," she recalls.
"Some people can, and that’s how they grieve, but for me I needed help. So I started attending a monthly meeting and that was amazing. I actually felt like I was human again."
If this has post raised any issues for you or if you would like to speak with someone, please contact the Sands Australia 24 hour support line on 1300 072 637.