October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month – an issue that is close to our hearts and at the core of our mission at Elizabeth Ministry. All month on our blog and through Facebook and Twitter, we will be posting blogs and reflections from moms and dads around the country about their experiences with miscarriage and stillbirth. Our hope is that anyone who is grieving the loss of a baby will know that they are not alone – that there are other mothers and fathers struggling with emptiness, overwhelmed by sorrow, finding hope, and overcoming anxiety.
We want to lift up anyone who experiences this loss, share our suggestions and ideas, and offer you our prayers. Most importantly, we want to encourage you to reach out – face to face (or screen name to screen name) and connect with other people.
Stefanie Hernet, is a certified nurse midwife who serves on the front line of face-to-face care with families suffering a miscarriage or stillbirth. We sat down with Stefanie this week to talk with her about the numbers and statistics behind miscarriage, the warning signs and symptoms, and how her own experience with a miscarriage has helped shape the way she cares for the mothers and fathers in her clinic.
So many women are worried about miscarriage early in pregnancy. How common are they really?
The rate of miscarriage in women who know they are pregnant is about 15-20%. The number of fertilized eggs that are lost before the woman even knows she’s pregnant is estimated to be about 50%
What causes miscarriages?
We often don’t know what causes a miscarriage. Many are caused by a chromosomal abnormality that make it impossible for the baby to develop. Other possible causes include drug and alcohol abuse, exposure to environmental toxins, infection, obesity, problems with the body’s immune response, and hormonal abnormalities
What about the risk factors? Are there certain women who have more reason to be concerned than others?
One of the largest risks is history of miscarriages, also, women over the age of 35 have a higher risk. Chronic conditions such as uncontrolled diabetes and uterine abnormalities put a woman at greater risk for miscarriage
So, what should a pregnant women be on the watch for? What are the warning signs/symptoms that a miscarriage is imminent?
Unfortunately, the early signs of miscarriage can also be the early signs of pregnancy. The low back pain, or cramping and even spotting that are signs of an early miscarriage can be perfectly normal in early pregnancy. Sharp abdominal pain, heave vaginal bleeding, and the passage of clots or tissue are usually signs that a miscarriage has started. Most women don’t know that a miscarriage is coming until it starts. Many women know they’ve had a miscarriage well before they come in to see me – they just “know.”
What should a mother do if she suspects she’s having a miscarriage?
Call your provider with any of these symptoms. We can do an ultrasound to see if there is a live pregnancy in the uterus. Unfortunately, once a miscarriage has started, there is nothing we can do to stop it. I always want to evaluate the woman and make sure she has completed the miscarriage and that she isn’t bleeding too much. Plus, having a miscarriage is often frightening and emotional. If you call and come in, I can help offer some comfort, and I can answer any questions you might have.
Can you tell a little bit about your experience with your miscarriage? How has that affected the way you interact with your patients?
I miscarried my second pregnancy at about 5 1/2 weeks along. I had a positive home pregnancy test, and 1 week later had cramping and bleeding like a period. I called my midwife and had an ultrasound that showed I had already passed the baby. While it was certainly a difficult experience, I felt very fortunate to not have any complications.
I have found that my experience can be very useful for women who are experiencing a miscarriage of their own. It helps them to know that I really do know what it feels like. I’m careful not to reveal my own story unless my patients ask or I feel like I can offer some comfort to them. More than anything, my own loss has helped me know what to say and what not to say.
What changes for a woman who finds out she’s pregnant after having a miscarriage? How are things different?
Women who become pregnant again are often very fearful that the same thing will happen. I know that I was much more worried during my pregnancy after my miscarriage. We monitor them more closely so we can give reassurance that things are progressing as they should.
Emotionally things can be difficult as well. Some women feel guilty for moving on and others see it as a bit of closure. There are often mixed emotions at the time of birth as well. They are thrilled for the baby they have, but mourn the loss all over again.
What advice can you give a woman who is pregnant again after a miscarriage?
Remember that each pregnancy is different. Just because you had a miscarriage the last time, doesn’t mean it will happen again. Know that it’s normal to be fearful and anxious, but also that it’s ok to enjoy this pregnancy and all of the excitement it brings. Please do not use the Internet as a source of information – it will only cause you more anxiety, and you cannot always trust those source. Instead, call your provider! We are here to answer and address any questions or concerns you may have.
Stefanie Hernet, is a certified nurse midwife with Affinity Medical Group. She serves patients in Oshkosh and Neenah, WI. She a wife and the mother to 4 children ages 7, 4, 1, and the baby lost to miscarriage.
Elizabeth Ministry encourages hospitals, birth centers, and OB clinics to carry a Miscarriage Delivery Aid that they can give out to women who know they are having or will have a miscarriage. These Delivery Aids help maintain reverence for the body of each little one and help the mother deliver the child with as much dignity as circumstances allow. If you know of a hospital, clinic, or birth center that would be interested in carrying our Miscarriage Delivery Aids, please contact us!