Let’s talk miscarriages

There are a number of reasons why miscarriages are unfortunately not discussed more in our society. Many women who have one feel as if it’s too personal to discuss and simply prefer to keep such sensitive, medical information private. Some are very distraught over the loss, and talking about it makes it all the more painful. They may feel like their bodies betrayed them, that the one thing they were evolutionarily meant to do, they failed at, and they feel guilty for what happened. No matter how many times they tell themselves that it’s natural and happens all the time, there are times when no amount of logic can overcome such feelings.

Miscarriages are indeed quite common. Studies show that up to 70% of all fertilized eggs will miscarry, although most of those occur before a woman even knows she’s pregnant. Most often it’s a chromosomal abnormality that wouldn’t produce a viable human anyways. The biggest risk is in the first trimester; the earlier the pregnancy, the higher the risk. As I outlined in Part 1: Biology, there are many steps to get from ovulation to baby, and any hiccup along the way can easily derail the process. This is one reason most women choose not to announce their pregnancies until the 2nd trimester. By then, the odds of miscarriage have gone down to acceptable levels and the fetus is developed enough to test for abnormalities. These tests are typically done around weeks 11-13, and then results will take a week or so to come back.

Miscarriage affects every woman differently. Many don’t even know it happened. Some are relieved, some are devastated, some are upset by the inconvenience of having to wait to try and conceive again. These are all perfectly normal and acceptable reactions to have. It depends on whether the woman has been trying to conceive and for how long, how far along the pregnancy was, and generally what the woman’s personality is. That’s part of a woman’s right to choose, to choose how and even if she grieves over her miscarriage.

The pro-life movement is not opposed to miscarriage. That would be not only ridiculous from a numbers perspective but inhumane as well. Most miscarriages are unavoidable, just nature’s way of saying “Sorry, this isn’t a good one after all.” They won’t condemn a woman whose body naturally aborts an embryo or fetus in the first trimester, but they will condemn women who choose for themselves to abort in the exact same time frame. So it seems as though the act in and of itself isn’t objectionable, but women making decisions for themselves are.

For those who do choose to grieve their miscarriage, that alone is hard enough. But to make matters worse, we’re constantly being told that women who lost their pregnancies at the same stage due to choosing abortion are evil criminals, destroying the fabric of society, that innocent babies are being killed, but their loss was ok simply because it was “natural.” Loss is loss. Whether it was an intentional loss or not, it is entirely hypocritical to have a different set of standards for the exact same function simply due to the mechanics of how it happened. If an embryo truly is life no matter what, then its loss should be treated the same no matter how it happened. Which means condemning a natural process, making women who miscarry feel even worse, feel like their bodies betrayed them, and feel even more guilty than they already do. Is that what we really want?

Do’s and Don’t’s

There’s already enough guilt thrown at pregnant women from the day they get that positive test. Once pregnant, there’s a laundry list of things that you suddenly cannot do and things you cannot eat or drink. If you do, you’re told, you’re putting your child directly at risk and you could be a murderer. That cup of coffee you so badly want? A ham sandwich? Don’t even think about seafood. Don’t overexert yourself. Make sure you get enough sleep or else. No pressure.

Most of these warnings come from the interpretation of one study from years ago that shows a slight correlation (not causation) between these things and miscarriage or deformity of the fetus. Emily Oster outlined many of these fantastically in her book Expecting Better: Why Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong – And What You Really Need to Know. For example, there is a correlation between women who drink a lot of caffeine (and I mean like, 5+ cups a day) and early miscarriage. However, many women don’t have the stomach for coffee and caffeinated drinks in their 1st trimester because of morning sickness. While the purpose of morning sickness is still relatively an evolutionary mystery (or just a huge joke by Mother Nature), it is agreed that morning sickness is a sign of a healthy pregnancy and lower rates of miscarriage in general. Therefore, those who aren’t sick already have a higher incidence of miscarriage, and the fact that they happen to be able to stomach coffee may have nothing to do with it at all.

Instead of telling pregnant women this though, there is often a blanket ban of coffee for the entire pregnancy. Not just the 1st trimester when the correlation with miscarriage is actually observed, but all 9 months. Just in case. And if you think that’s ridiculous, you’re asked, “Is it worth the risk? Is that cup of coffee really worth the life of your child?” Of course not, that’s preposterous, but it’s a goddamn cup of coffee, not a heroin injection.

You don’t even have to be pregnant to be guilted into caring about your theoretical unborn child. The CDC recently came out with a warning against drinking any alcohol if you’re not using birth control. Because you could become pregnant, you should always act as if you are, just in case. (And let’s be real, if serious fetal abnormalities were caused every time alcohol was involved in baby making, we’d be A LOT worse off as a species.) Even as evidence condemning light drinking during actual pregnancy is coming under more and more scrutiny, women are constantly being told that “no amount of alcohol has been proven to be safe.” Women are asked, “Do you really NEED that drink?” As if only an insatiable lush would want a glass of wine with at their anniversary dinner, or their friend’s wedding, or even just after a hard day. No amount of Tylonel has been proven safe for pregnancy either using the standards for scientific proof, but doctors recommend it for pregnant women as a safe pain reliever.

It’s easy to see the guilt women face when a miscarriage does happen. Maybe it was that beer I had before I knew I was pregnant. Maybe it was that heavy box I lifted. Maybe it was the stress of worrying about all the things I could do wrong.

Equating abortion to the death of a baby makes little sense biologically but also makes women who miscarry feel unnecessarily shamed. The misinformation and scare tactics only cause undue stress and don’t actually inform us of what real risks are. If we really want to cherish pregnancy and giving birth, then we need to cherish the women who do so and help make their lives easier, comfortable, and guilt free.