Pregnancy loss can be a topic that is misunderstood, and many are surprised to learn how prevalent a shared experience it is.
We are on a quest to bring this topic to light, alongside our partnership with a new documentary exclusively available on Stan, the Misunderstandings of Miscarriage. In the film, Australian actress and filmmaker Tahyna Macmanus brings viewers alongside her journey of pregnancy and miscarriage, as well as the lived experiences of other women in search of support and understanding.
After the film was made, Tahyna continued on her quest to understand more about pregnancy loss, and spoke to some of Virtus Health’s fertility experts.
Here, we talk about a few of the common myths around miscarriage. Did I do something to cause it? Do miscarriages run in families? Can we find out why a miscarriage occurred?
Myth 1: Miscarriages are rare.
It is commonly understood that as women get older, the chances of falling pregnant decreases. But what may be less talked about, is the increased risk of pregnancy loss as a woman ages.
Up to one in five pregnancies will end in miscarriage for women under the age of 35. And as women get older, this number increases. This is why many women over 40 turn to fertility treatment to help them conceive.
While these numbers can be understood on a logical level, on an emotional level it can be difficult to separate these figures from the feelings of autonomy over a pregnancy, and the strong emotional ties that come with being pregnant. Which brings us to myth two.
Myth 2: I caused this.
Women and couples can often feel that they did something to cause the pregnancy loss, whether that be diet-related, exercise habits, or feeling as though stress affected the health of the pregnancy. This is not true.
The truth is, once a healthy embryo implants in the uterus, there’s really not much anyone can do to disrupt that pregnancy.
One of the most common reasons why pregnancy loss occurs is due to chromosomal variations in the embryo. Dr. Joe Sgroi, fertility specialist at Melbourne IVF, explains the way chromosomes interact in the development of an embryo by comparing it to volumes of encyclopaedias on a bookshelf.
‘We’ve all got a pair of 22 chromosomes, and then we have our sex chromosomes. Imagine you’ve got this bookshelf with two Volume 1’s, two Volume 2’s, all the way through until you hit 22. When you create an embryo, it’s like taking one Volume 1 from the mum’s side, and one Volume 1 from the dad’s side, with all these books flying off the shelves to repopulate a brand new bookshelf for the baby.’
Joe explains, ‘The vast majority of miscarriages or early pregnancy losses are a result of the number of chromosomes created in the embryo being incorrect.
So where there’s either an additional chromosome or a subtraction of a chromosome. This can happen with any of the one through 22 chromosomes. Any abnormality results in miscarriage, and that’s totally sporadic.’
Chromosomal variation occurs randomly. And while there are some controllable lifestyle factors that can decrease the potential for miscarriage, such as smoking, drug use and obesity, there are no specific actions you can take to prevent the random chromosomal variation that sometimes occurs.
Understanding that pregnancy loss happens through no fault of your own is important. We know that it can be difficult to cope with the stress of the unknown when you are pregnant, and at IVFAustralia, Melbourne IVF, Queensland Fertility Group, and TasIVF we have a Miscarriage Care Program for couples who have experienced the distress of miscarriage.
Our Miscarriage Care Program includes:
- Initial testing to investigate any cause for the miscarriage, particularly if it has happened more than once
- Specialised care during the next pregnancy, including blood tests, hormonal and ultrasound monitoring to provide reassurance throughout the first stages of pregnancy
Myth 3: Miscarriages run in families.
It may seem as though miscarriages run in families, since it is a common experience. Sadly, we know that pregnancy loss occurs in one in four pregnancies, which means it may be a shared experience for someone in your family - your sister, your aunt, your mother, your grandmother.
But as Dr. Joe Sgroi explained, the vast majority of pregnancy loss occurs due to sporadic chromosomal variations.
That being said, later miscarriages are more often caused by other issues. If your mother or sister have experienced a number of miscarriages, that doesn’t necessarily mean you will also experience this.
But some chromosomal issues that we carry in ourselves can contribute to a higher rate of an unhealthy embryo, and some problems can be passed down. There are tests available, such as karyotype tests, which can be conducted on both the male and female to look for any of these hereditary problems.
Couples that have experienced recurrent miscarriages should consider seeing a fertility specialist to discuss their unique situation, undergo an assessment and have a treatment plan tailored for them.
Need to talk? We’re here to listen.
Our counselling team is here for you. Counselling is free of charge to patients of IVFAustralia, Melbourne IVF, Queensland Fertility Group, and TasIVF, and it is available at all clinics. If you would like to access support from our counselling team, please contact us to book an appointment.
There are also a number of support groups and resources available including: