Trigger warning: this post offers a global, multicultural perspective on loss and miscarriage, an experience that’s deeply personal and yet, universal. This post shares the author’s personal experience and is the second post in a two-part mini-series. If you are currently struggling with loss, please make use of the resources shared here and in the first post.
When it comes to loss and miscarriage, we are all different. We are complex beings with distinct languages and a lifetime of input and specific experience. But pain is pain. And pregnancy loss is complex — emotionally, hormonally, physically, and spiritually. The loss of a baby, at any stage, can make any one of us come undone. We might need tender, sincere consoling, not to mention time off from work, safe conditions, and the right to follow-up with a healthcare practitioner. This post offers both information and resources that might help when dealing with such a devastating and personal loss.
You Are Not Alone
Determining exact numbers related to pregnancy loss is quite difficult. Pregnancy loss figures are not systematically recorded, even in developed countries. That means we do not have exact calculations for the extent of loss women and families experience in any given nation. Worldwide numbers are essentially non-existent. In addition, several organizations acknowledge that the numbers we do have are underestimates.
Getting a Sense of the Devastation
The March of Dimes, a longstanding US nonprofit organization devoted to healthy mothers and babies, estimates a miscarriage rate of 10-15% among women who knew they were pregnant. Other sources say that 12-15% of women have experienced a loss of a baby. However, this number increases substantially if we consider conceptions. According to several journals including one from UCLA, an estimated “12-15% of all clinically recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage; however, it is estimated that at least 30-60% of all conceptions will end within the first 12 weeks of gestation.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledges that pregnancy loss is defined in different ways according to nation and culture. “Miscarriage” is the term commonly used to describe the loss of a baby before 28 weeks of pregnancy. Babies who stop living at 28 weeks or later are considered “stillbirths.” How the loss is perceived can then vary quite widely according to where the woman is in her pregnancy. In turn, the physical and emotional response to this loss can influence how the woman grieves and recovers.
The Problem of Underreporting
According to the WHO, “Every year, nearly 2 million babies are stillborn, and many of these deaths are preventable.” However, the WHO also notes that both miscarriages and stillbirths are frequently unreported. The March of Dimes agrees. Importantly, the profound sense of loss, anxiety, and blame may be equally strong, regardless of when the loss of the baby occurs.
After dealing with my own two pregnancy losses, I am convinced that the number is higher. There is sadness that prevents women from speaking out. We are told that it is so common, so routine. In fact, many doctors or friends may even shrug it off and say, “There’s always next time.”
Reducing the Stigma
Often, there is a perception that women and couples who were earlier in pregnancies will grieve less. As a result, many people who wish to become parents may not feel like they have adequate justification for sharing their sad news or even reporting the loss to their doctor. In some parts of the world, miscarriage is believed to be a sign of a curse or witchcraft. If a woman is in a state or country where it is illegal to end a pregnancy, a miscarriage can land her in jail. Women would surely stifle their grief and medical needs if it were dangerous to experience loss. Nevertheless, studies like this one, from the American Psychological Association, clearly affirm the need for understanding and high-quality care.
Even in developed countries, support is lacking. In the US, women don’t have the understanding, time off, or medical benefits that allow them the proper environment to disclose their loss. NPR (US National Public Radio) reports that miscarriage, “which occurs in about a quarter of all pregnancies, is the most common form of loss of a pregnancy. And yet, there are no national (US) laws that mandate sick leave for workers, let alone specific protections for people dealing with a miscarriage.”
All over the world, women may be grieving, bleeding through work, “toughing it out” silently, or suffering because they are too afraid or too distressed to speak. Even in the kindest conditions, the loss of a baby and the end of a pregnancy is traumatic.
There Is Hope
Despite such unimaginable loss, there is hope. Here are some things that helped me.
Sharing Can Be Valuable
For me, sharing my experience in writing and in-person with close friends has been positive. Not everyone has the “perfect” words, and even close family and friends can disappoint us with their reactions. Still, not expending the energy to bottle up my loss or hide my emotions has been helpful, overall.
What comforts me may not console my friend. However, there are some universal touchstones or places where we can go for healing. We can lean on the sturdy rocks of our relationships and our spirituality and faith. We can learn to breathe again. Other things that were helpful to me and other people I talked with are:
- creative expression like writing, art, and music
- being in nature
- physical movement, like walking or swimming, when able
- eating healthy, nutritious food
Perhaps you will find that a combination is best for you. It’s also important to remember that your healing might happen all at once, but it could also happen in waves or spurts over a long period of time.
Dealing with Body Image Issues
Like any trauma or difficult experience, certain events or triggers may cause further anger or sadness. In some cultures, it is quite common to look at a woman’s body and make comments or remarks about weight loss or gain. I have been congratulated, close to ten times at this point, for being pregnant when I wasn’t or even after suffering a miscarriage. It feels pretty lousy, especially if loss is involved. Just this week, I was asked again if I was pregnant. The sadness returns. No matter how much I exercise or lose weight, I seem to carry the loss inside my body.
Avoiding the Blame Game
Well-meaning people might tell you to stay indoors while pregnant (especially during Covid-19), lift nothing heavier than a plate (even if you have other children at home who need picking up), etc. It can be tough not to internalize this. It’s as if we are solely responsible for keeping our baby alive in utero. It’s as if we are fully in control. The stigma of loss adds to these intense feelings of guilt.
During my first pregnancy with my daughter, who is now eleven years old, a well-meaning neighbor told my husband (twice) that it was bad for me to bicycle as a pregnant woman. A midwife told me not to eat any cold fruit. Another suggested that I wrap my belly in cotton cloth and cover my ankles with thick socks in sweltering August. Yet another told me that reading was unwise.
Remembering the Truth
According to the Mayo Clinic, most miscarriages happen because the fetus is not developing healthily — not because of anything the woman did or did not do. However, a significant percentage of Americans still believe stressful events (76%) or lifting heavy objects (64%) cause miscarriage. In Japan, it is common for gyms to cancel a woman’s membership when she is pregnant or disallow expectant mothers from using swimming pools. The fears are great. If miscarriage or stillbirth does occur, it can feel like we, the mothers, inadvertently caused it by failing to adhere to, or perfectly meet, old wives’ tales, cultural norms, or these calls to “be careful.”
A woman’s cultural environment and where she lives exerts a large influence on how she experiences her pregnancy. It also affects how she experiences pregnancy loss. Wherever you are, it is my sincerest wish that you have access to the most optimal care — care that reaches your deepest grief, allows you to express our pain, and offers warm hugs.
This website includes information about pregnancy loss, stories about others’ experiences, opportunities to write your own story, and a support line. For those within the UK, there are also Zoom and in-person groups that you may join. It’s an amazing resource that can help a woman connect with her grief and, ultimately, with a sense of hope.
In this anthology, writers explore their grief, loss, and hope following a miscarriage. Anthologies like these allow readers to grieve privately while finding some solace. They can also inspire a reader to respond with her own writing.
If you would like to read some of my writing, please check out these links.
Orinoco Flow originally published in Compound Butter
I Miscarried and Everyone Wants Me to Focus on Gratitude published in Zibby Ownes’ Moms Don’t Have Time to Grieve
Perhaps you have an idea or experience that can help? What resources do you suggest? What has provided help for you or someone you care about?
Latest posts by Melissa Uchiyama (see all)
- When Loss and Miscarriage are Multicultural: They Span the Globe Part 2 - June 13, 2022
- When Loss and Miscarriage are Multicultural: They Span the Globe Part I - May 23, 2022
- Travel With Kids to Israel: Tips for Families - October 26, 2018