Early pregnancy loss deserves empathy and sensitivity

Early pregnancy loss is common, but it can be an isolating experience for couples.
Early pregnancy loss is common, but it can be an isolating experience for couples.

This past summer, Mark Zuckerberg announced that he and his wife Priscilla Chan were expecting a baby. At this time, he also revealed that Chan had suffered three miscarriages prior to this pregnancy. They had been afraid to discuss their losses at first, at least partially out of fear that others would judge them. Zuckerberg went on to say that once they did tell friends about their miscarriages, they found that miscarriages were much more common than they'd thought.

According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, early pregnancy loss occurs in about 10% of known pregnancies. Additionally, most pregnancy losses will occur during the first trimester of pregnancy. About half of these losses are due to genetic abnormalities in the fetus.

Despite these facts, many women and their partners do exactly as Zuckerberg and Chan did; they keep silent after they experience a miscarriage. Couples often blame themselves for the loss and question what they could have done differently to prevent the miscarriage.  

Many of my patients have shared their experiences of early pregnancy loss with me. Often these patients don't share their experience outside of a medical setting, fearing that people will blame them for the loss. Other patients fear callous reactions, which are all too common. Unfortunately, the news of a miscarriage is often met with hurtful responses like these:

“Oh don't worry. You have a healthy child already.”

“It was early; it's not like you were attached to a baby or something.”

“It just wasn't meant to be.”

“At least you know you can get pregnant.”

“Well, no one even knew you were pregnant, so it's no big deal.”

For most women, even an early pregnancy loss is a very big deal. Women and their partners will often grieve the loss of a baby, of parenthood, and of hopes and dreams for that child, no matter how early the loss occurs or if they have other children. It can be a very isolating experience.

Most couples facing any pregnancy or infant loss usually don't want advice or well-intended platitudes. They want acknowledgement of their baby, of their experience, and of their true loss and grief. They long for a listening ear, someone who asks about their baby rather than someone who tells them to get over it.

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month, and October 15th is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. It is my hope that by opening up about their pregnancy losses, Zuckerberg and Chan will start a more open, sensitive, and empathetic dialogue about this painful topic.

Robyn Carlisle, MSN, CNM, works as a full-scope midwife in Philadelphia. 

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