Miscarriage is common and widespread – with one in six pregnancies ending before week 20. It occurs most often in the first 12 weeks however.
In Australia, a miscarriage is defined as the end of a pregnancy or death of a baby in utero in the first 20 weeks.
Parents can sometimes be given different options about how to manage a miscarriage, depending on the circumstances and how many weeks they are into the pregnancy.
Miscarriages in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy are called “early miscarriages”. Pregnancy losses between 12 and 20 weeks, which are far less common, are called “late miscarriages”.
Recurrent miscarriages increase the likelihood of medical issues that may require intervention or further investigation. If multiple miscarriages occur, parents often describe increased distress and effects as time goes on. The grief can be cumulative and complex.
Separate to miscarriages, about one in 80 pregnancies are ectopic. An ectopic pregnancy may need prompt medical attention and can occasionally be a life-threatening event for a woman. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilised egg gets stuck outside the uterus and starts to grow, most commonly in a Fallopian tube. An ectopic pregnancy can damage the tube, which may have to be removed. This may affect parents’ future options about fertility and conception.
Despite early pregnancy loss being a common occurrence, particularly in the first 12 weeks, it often has an intense emotional impact. Some parents may experience post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression, even several months after the event. If someone has had prior losses, the grief experience may be even more intense.
The non-carrying partner can be deeply affected. As well as their grief and loss, they may have witnessed a loved one go through significant pain, trauma or medical treatment, which can be upsetting and scary. They may feel helpless and unable to make sense of what happened.
Parents may mourn the absence of a ritualised memorial service or mementoes of their baby, and often struggle with a lack of medical explanation for the loss. Sometimes parents don’t tell other people about a pregnancy in the early stages so, when a loss occurs, it can increase loneliness and isolation. Finding the right supports is important.
Seeking help from a professional experienced with grief and loss can be helpful as the search for meaning and adjustment to a loss can be a long process. Loss can cause relationship strain, and couples counselling can be beneficial.