A miscarriage can be a frightening, sad, and painful experience for those who have experienced one.
Along with the grief and physical trauma, the loss of a pregnancy can also be an isolating and confusing time, since it’s still not discussed as openly as it should be. As a result, there are a lot of misconceptions out there about miscarriage — misconceptions that can make people who have endured one feel worse, that they’re at fault, or alone.
Here are five common misconceptions about miscarriage:
1. It’s over with a gush of blood
In the movies and on TV, miscarriages are often depicted as a dramatic gush of blood (usually after a stressful event, or working too much, or lifting heavy things, which are also misconceptions, but we’ll get to that later), and then the pregnancy is just ... gone. But that is often not the reality, and miscarriage can be a lot more complicated and traumatic than people realize.
While some miscarriages do start and finish with cramping and blood, others have no symptoms at all and are only detected at ultrasounds. These are called missed or silent miscarriages, and can be a total shock to women who had no idea anything was amiss. In many of these cases, the fetus has died or not developed properly, but the woman hasn’t yet expelled the tissue.
There are also incomplete miscarriages, where some but not all of the pregnancy tissue has been shed. Depending on her situation, those who have experienced early missed or incomplete miscarriages will usually be offered the choice of medication or surgery to complete the process.
Other, more rare types of miscarriages, such as ectopic and molar pregnancies, can also show very few symptoms early on. These types of miscarriages usually require medical and surgical management to keep the patient safe.
2. Bleeding during pregnancy means you’re having a miscarriage
Just as not all miscarriages start and end with bleeding, not all bleeding during pregnancy means you’re having a miscarriage.
Up to 25 per cent of women experience light vaginal bleeding in the first trimester, but only half of those women will go on to have a miscarriage, according to HealthLink B.C. The health agency also notes that light bleeding or spotting can occur during implantation.
Bleeding in the second and third trimesters could mean there’s a problem, but may not indicate a miscarriage, HealthLink B.C. adds.
While not “normal,” even some heavier bleeding during pregnancy may not signal a miscarriage. For instance, some women develop a subchorionic hematoma, which is bleeding under one of the membranes that surrounds the embryo. This is a common cause of vaginal bleeding in early pregnancy, according to My Health Alberta, and most expectant people go on to have a healthy baby.
(But anyone who experiences vaginal bleeding during pregnancy should consult a medical professional).
3. Miscarriages happen because the expectant mother did something wrong
A recent study notes that about 60 per cent of miscarriages happen because of a chromosomal abnormality. In other words, it had nothing to do with anything the mother did or didn’t do. Other common causes include structural abnormalities in the uterus, blood coagulation disorders, endocrine disorders, and auto-immune disorders.
Note that the list doesn’t mention anything about putting in too many hours at work. Yet that same study found that 76 per cent of those surveyed believed a stressful event was a cause of miscarriage, and 64 per cent thought lifting a heavy object could cause one. Multiple studies have pointed out that neither of these are true.
It’s so important to dispel this myth because just over 40 per cent of those who experienced a miscarriage in that study thought they’d done something wrong.
4. You can stop or prevent a miscarriage
If you’re showing signs of a miscarriage, you might think that there are ways to stop it, such as bed rest. But the truth is, most miscarriages cannot be prevented since most causes are out of anyone’s control.
“The factors that lead to most miscarriages are unavoidable. These issues include chromosomal abnormalities and fetus development problems,” HealthLine notes.
However, there are some risk factors you can avoid for a healthier overall pregnancy, such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and drug use, according to Health Line. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and getting a good sleep can also improve your pregnancy health (but don’t guarantee you won’t miscarry).
5. Miscarriage is rare
You may feel completely alone during a miscarriage, but the sad fact is that they’re common — especially early on in pregnancy.
An estimated one in four pregnancies ends in a miscarriage (loss before 20 weeks). The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada estimates they occur in 15 to 20 per cent of pregnancies, most commonly during the first eight weeks.
While it’s a club no one wants to join, you are not alone if you experience pregnancy loss. If you’re struggling, here are some places you can find support:
For a full list of resources and support networks across Canada, visit the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day website.
Also on HuffPost: