Miscarriage, or the loss of a pregnancy before 20 weeks, is common. Between 10 and 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, and that’s just among women who know they’re pregnant. When you take into account that many losses happen before women even miss their period or take a test, up to half of all pregnancies end in miscarriage.
Yet miscarriage remains surprisingly misunderstood.
In one survey, more than half of adults said they believe it happens in five percent of pregnancies or less.
People also believe, incorrectly, that miscarriages happen because of a stressful life event, contraceptives or even because a pregnant woman lifted something heavy. As a result, women report feeling guilty and ashamed about something that is, in most cases, totally beyond their control. Add in the fact that miscarriage is sad and physically messy ― neither of which our society handles well ― and you’ve got a perfect storm for stigma.
That is why these families are sharing their experiences publicly, to help break the silence and pull back the curtain on a type of loss that is everywhere, but so often overlooked. Here, in honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, are four stories to help families know that they may be in pain, but they are not alone.
“I had two children and was about 10 weeks along with my third pregnancy when I miscarried for the first time. After, I had two more. We have six children now and the breakdown goes: baby, baby, miscarriage, baby, miscarriage, baby, miscarriage, baby, baby. Like a palindrome.
With that first miscarriage, my husband was getting his graduate degree and at school for the day. I was home with the kids.
My 3-year-old and I were playing “Blue’s Clues” together and I took a bathroom break. I saw that I was bleeding. When it didn’t stop, I panicked and called my doctor. I don’t know exactly what I thought they’d say, but I hoped that somehow they could tell me how to stop it.
When they said I should just drink plenty of water and put my feet up, it hit me: There was nothing they could do. I was losing my baby.
I’d actually been scheduled for an ultrasound that day at the high-risk clinic, because there had been some concerns about the baby’s growth at my earlier ultrasounds ― although it never occurred to me that the pregnancy wouldn’t go full-term.
My doctor’s office just told me to keep the appointment and come in. I called my husband and he said he was coming home, but I told him no. I don’t know why, because in retrospect I really could have used his support. I guess I was in shock.
The nurse who weighed me knew what was going on, and she kept babbling about her friend who ‘bled and bled and bled, but the baby was fine.’
She was trying to reassure me, but then they did the ultrasound. There was a fetal sac with nothing inside it. It’s called an anembryonic pregnancy. I hadn’t even pulled my shirt back down when the doctor started talking about when we should schedule a D&C, but I didn’t want anything invasive done if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. I ended up letting nature take its course.
After, I was in such a fog. I started crying at random times. I was just ... sad.
I think my second miscarriage was another anembryonic pregnancy, but it was earlier and we hadn’t even been to the doctor yet. My third miscarriage was different because it seemed like a perfectly healthy, normal pregnancy up until I lost it at around 10 weeks. We’d even gone in and seen a heartbeat on the ultrasound. But I started bleeding, and an ultrasound confirmed that there was no longer a heartbeat.
The day I miscarried, I had plans to have an acquaintance over so our kids could play. She didn’t know I’d been pregnant or that I was actively having a miscarriage.
At one point, the cramping got pretty bad and I excused myself to the bathroom where the clot passed. I wrapped it in toilet paper and put it in the trash beside the toilet. I still feel sad about that.
Would I have felt better with a proper burial? I don’t know. Everything about miscarriage feels so wrong.
A lot of people don’t count a miscarriage as a real loss. They say really insensitive things: ‘I guess it was meant to be’ or ‘At least you have other children.’ Can you imagine saying that to a parent who’d lost a child who was a few days old?
When I called the receptionist at my doctor’s office to inform them of my third miscarriage the receptionist said, ‘Aw, that stinks.’ People trivialize it. Because of that, I think I expected myself to get over it quicker than I did. That expectation really drew out the healing process.
In 2014, I decided I didn’t want to carry my miscarriages around like an awful secret anymore. I started blogging about it. We told our kids. I feel like through the process of talking with others and being open, I moved into acceptance. I believe in an afterlife and I’m not sure how the details will work out, but I think I’m going to meet those souls someday. I guess I feel OK with the wait now.” ― Jenny Evans, 34, Unremarkable Files
”My wife, Jordin, was really nervous on our way to the nine-week ultrasound, but she had been with our first two as well. (We have two little boys: Hayden, who is almost 2 and Casen, who is 3). I honestly didn’t think there was any reason to be worried.
I pulled my phone out to record a video, but the technician asked if I could put it away, because she wanted to make sure everything was alright first. That was the first time I realized it might not be.
The few minutes she spent searching for the heartbeat were agonizing. We were all silent and I could tell Jordin was panicking. She was totally still and staring at the screen, praying.
The technician couldn’t say much. She just told us that at such an early age, it can be difficult to find the heartbeat ― and then she left to get the doctor. Jordin instantly started to cry. She knew.
Later, she told me that she’d been able to recognize our first two babies immediately ― to see their little arms and see them moving around.
We waited for what felt like forever. When the doctor came in, she said, ‘I can tell you that you are, in fact, having a miscarriage.’
We talked for a few minutes after, but we didn’t hear anything she said.
Jordin kept whispering, “I need to get out of here.” The doctor pointed us to a back door and we walked into the parking lot. We had driven separately, but I got in the front seat of her car with her and we just sat there crying and holding each other.
I think we talked a little bit, but not much. No music. We had never experienced grief like that together. We broke up for a little while we were dating in our college, but it was not the same. This was just absolute loss.
What happened next was a total surprise to me, because nobody ever talks about it. I mean, I guess I could’ve deduced that Jordin would still need to deliver the baby, but I hadn’t thought about it.
The doctor gave us three options, which were so uncomfortable to talk about: 1) we could wait for her body to begin contractions; 2) Jordin could take medicine, at home, that would help encourage her body to do it; or 3) we could schedule a D&C to have everything removed in the hospital.
We first tried to do the process totally naturally, but Jordin’s body wasn’t recognizing that the baby was no longer alive. She was still getting morning sickness and growing very normally. It was like a slap in the face every morning.
We tried the medicine, but it only had a very mild effect on her body with minimal cramping and spotting. So we decided to move forward with the D&C. At least Jordin was able to do it with the doctor who delivered our two boys.
I was surprised by how expensive it was. When I set up our health insurance (we are self-employed), I made sure prenatal and postnatal everything was covered, but as soon as we found out there was no heartbeat, everything from that point forward was no longer pregnancy-related. Ultimately, it cost us about $3,000.
When we were at the ultrasound, and Jordin saw the lifeless shape on the screen, she had a distinct feeling that our baby was a girl. We decided to settle on that and call her ‘her’ from then on. We had a name that we loved and that we’d been saving ― Ellie ― and we decided to give it to her. She is, and always will be, a very real part of our family.
I used to think when you miscarry, you just ‘try again,’ but I’m so surprised by how attached I am to Ellie. I don’t want to ‘try again.’ I just want her.” ― Curtis Wiklund, 28
“I miscarried at 19 weeks with what would have been my third child. I had been anxious throughout my entire pregnancy and I constantly felt my belly, thinking it wasn’t growing like it should. I just kept pushing that fear aside until it got to the point where I just knew I couldn’t ignore it. Mothers can be so intuitive.
I went to the doctor’s office alone, because my husband was traveling for work. The doctor put the doppler on my belly and I didn’t hear anything. I knew what silence at 19 weeks meant. It meant my baby was not alive.
In that moment, my whole world stopped. That was it. I called my husband immediately and he flew home straight away.
At first I thought I wanted a D&C because I couldn’t bear the thought of going through labor, but then I changed my mind. I made the decision that afternoon and drove myself to the hospital where they gave me drugs to start my labor. My husband was still flying home (he met me in the hospital that night), and my in-laws were watching our other children.
I was in pain ― I felt everything ― and the midwives kept coming in asking if I wanted pain relief. I wanted to scream at them, ‘I want to feel this! My baby is dead!’ I couldn’t feel my baby move, but I could at least feel him being born.
My husband had arrived by the time I delivered the baby, which I did sitting on the toilet into a little dish the midwife gave me. He was so little, yet so perfectly complete. He had a placenta and umbilical cord. It was all ... perfect.
The recovery after was so different than with my other children. I didn’t have a baby. I didn’t breastfeed. I had given birth, but I was left with nothing at the end.
I decided to write about my experience, because it happens to so many women, and then we are just left with this all on our own. We grieve, we cry and we don’t know what to do with ourselves. No one knows what to say to us. Grief comes back to you in waves, when you least expect it.” ― Meg Nagle, 36, founder of The Milk Meg
“When my husband and I first started trying, I got pregnant really quickly. I had read how common miscarriage is, but I didn’t anticipate there being any issues.
I was kind of like, ‘Well, my mom never had any issues so I won’t either’ ― as though that’s the way these things work. But at six weeks, I started bleeding and I miscarried. It was shocking and horrible.
Maybe six weeks later, I felt ready to start trying again and once again, I got pregnant right away. But then almost the same thing happened, this time around eight weeks.
At that time, I went to a fertility center that was willing to see me after two consecutive pregnancy losses (some require that you have three before they’ll talk to you). They did all the tests on me and my husband and couldn’t find anything wrong with us. It was just bad, bad, bad luck.
We tried again, and again I got pregnant. We had an ultrasound really early on, like six weeks, and there was a heartbeat and embryo growing. But then at 10 weeks, I started bleeding again. That embryo had died.
People talk a lot about the emotional pain, but they don’t necessarily talk about how painful miscarriage can be physically.
They were all a little different. The first one was the simplest, but it was extremely, extremely painful ― like a really bad period. It hurt way more than I expected. I took a lot of Advil.
At a certain point, I had my husband calling the doctor saying, ‘She says her pain is a 10!’ and they told me to go to the hospital, but I never did. Once I passed the clot ― which was like a very large, horrible sac ― I felt better.
The second time, I bled for two weeks. I was still passing these big clots. After that one, I had to have a D&C to remove the remaining clots so I wouldn’t keep contracting all the time. The third one was like the first one except there was an embryo. I freaked out and flushed it down the toilet, which I still feel really guilty about. But what are you supposed to do?
Emotionally, I had to kind of let go of the idea that I had any control. After each one, I’d drink a bottle of wine and smoke a bunch of cigarettes [laughs] but then I’d get this burst of feeling like at least I could put effort into the things I do have control over. I wrote a lot. I got a lot of gigs.
Eventually, I got pregnant with my son. It was actually accidental. He’s 2 now, and I’m seven months pregnant with my second. I’ve actually been pretty positive through both of the pregnancies, because what I’ve learned is that worrying won’t change the outcome.
My best friend just had a miscarriage and when she told me, I thought that maybe I wouldn’t be able to put myself back in that place, but it’s so easy to remember what it’s like to think I can’t talk to people who are pregnant, or I can’t relate at all to people who have babies really easily.
All of it, in my case, is a mystery. There’s never been an explanation for why I had my miscarriages, and then why I was able to have healthy pregnancies.” ― Emily Kaye Lazarro, 31
These accounts have been edited and condensed.