“For too long, miscarriages have been minimized and often rejected,” researchers say in a new three-article report that exposes the devastating effects of pregnancy loss.
The UK doesn’t collect data on this scale, but according to The Lancet Series on Miscarriage, around 23 million miscarriages occur globally each year, representing 15% of all pregnancies per year. The number may be higher as many people manage a miscarriage at home alone due to stigma.
Led by Tommy’s National Center for Miscarriage Research, the new study highlights how miscarriages can have long-term psychological effects on men and women, and how more needs to be done to help those affected.
A revision of miscarriage care is needed
Researchers are calling for a major overhaul of miscarriage care in the UK to ensure people like Toni Edwards-Beighton get the help they need.
The 37-year-old mother from Leicester was diagnosed with PTSD after a miscarriage. “When it rained, the water turned blood red as it ran through the planter where our baby was buried. My periods triggered terrible flashbacks every month and I collapsed in front of my GP who diagnosed PTSD. She remembers.
“My next pregnancy was fraught with fear and five years later I still have moments of fear that stem from those three horrific weeks of miscarriage without the care I needed.”
Toni Edwards-Beighton with husband Matt and daughters Phoebe and Willow.
The study shows how pregnancy loss can affect men too. James Chaloner, 33, of Cheltenham, diagnosed with depression after onset, says that grief, coupled with the “excessive stress” of recurrent miscarriage, had an “overwhelming impact”.
“I battled insomnia, night sweats, brain fog, constant nausea, and loss of appetite,” he says. “Physically I was a wreck and mentally I was downcast, but I refused to seek help because of the stigma.”
Chaloner says he became a hermit to the point where he didn’t even want to see a close family. “Eventually I gathered the courage to see a doctor and were prescribed antidepressants,” he says. “They are no substitute for talking about grief, but they have helped me out of a very bleak situation.”
Black women are more likely to have miscarriages
In addition to studying the effects of miscarriages, attempts have been made to learn more about the causes of this miscarriage. Although a direct cause could not be identified, the researchers discovered patterns in the most vulnerable people.
The researchers found associations between age and miscarriage, as well as smoking, higher alcohol consumption, and prolonged stress. These associations were already well established, but the study also uncovered a significant risk for black women, with 40% higher miscarriage rates in this group than their white counterparts.
More research is needed to understand the reasons for this stark contrast, the researchers said, and Tommy’s researchers are investigating whether this could be related to other health problems that more commonly affect black women and can make pregnancy difficult, such as fibroid conditions and autoimmune diseases.
Dartford-based Katie Bonful, 32, had two miscarriages within a year before welcoming her son Maximus.
“As a black mom, it’s devastating that so many of us go through this without knowing why,” she says. “I endured very difficult years, battling depression and suicidal thoughts, and trying to understand why my babies kept dying.”
After two losses, it was “terrifying” to be pregnant again, but it helped having access to extra scans and special care from Tommy. “Everyone should be able to get this support when they need it. You shouldn’t suffer loss before someone helps you,” she says.
A “zip code lottery” of care
The study also looked at the zip code lottery related to support for miscarriages in the UK, as well as inconsistencies in tests and treatments recommended by health care providers.
“Couples may get different opinions from different health professionals, which can make their distress worse,” the researchers wrote. They have set out recommendations that outline what care women and their partners should receive after a miscarriage, with support available after the first occurrence of a miscarriage.
Currently, in some parts of England, people are only eligible for assistance and care after three consecutive miscarriages. Tommy’s has started a petition calling for an end to this demand and for government investment in services.
The Lancet series estimates that miscarriages in the UK cost at least £ 471 million a year when short-term treatment, absenteeism and loss of productivity when women return to work are calculated. Because of this, Tommy’s has called for an end to the “false economy not to invest in miscarriages”.
The study is the first to highlight the lasting effects of miscarriages on long-term maternal physical health, with any loss making them more prone to heart disease and blood clots. A miscarriage itself can also increase the likelihood of further loss in the future, with the risk increasing by about 10% each time.
Someone who has a recurring miscarriage (defined in the UK as three or more in a row) is four times more likely to lose a baby than someone who has never had one, the researchers found.
The risk is lowest for women between the ages of 20 and 29, affecting only 12%. For those over 45, however, it rises dramatically to 37% by 40% and 65%. Older men are more likely to miscarry regardless of the age of their partner, possibly because genetic abnormalities are more common in older sperm.
Miscarriage statistics should be collected routinely.
Given the frequency of miscarriages and their effects on physical and mental health, researchers have requested that national statistics on miscarriages be routinely collected and published, which the UK is already doing for other losses such as stillbirths and newborn deaths.
“We don’t even know exactly how many miscarriages happen in the UK. Without this data, the extent of the problem is hidden and treatment is not prioritized, ”said study author Arri Coomarasamy, director of Tommy’s National Center for Miscarriage Research and professor of gynecology and reproductive medicine at the University of Birmingham.
Jane Brewin, CEO of Tommy, added that the “differences in quality and availability” of miscarriage care across the UK “can lead to lifelong problems for families who have already had an unbearable experience”.
“It shouldn’t matter who you are or where you live, and you shouldn’t have to suffer repeated heartbreaking losses before you get the right help,” she said. “Everyone should be given careful counseling after any miscarriage to reduce the chance of recurrence and provide expert advice to those most at risk.”
HuffPost UK has requested a comment from the NHS in response to the report and will update this article if we receive a response.
Useful websites and helplines:
- sand works to support anyone affected by a baby’s death.
- Tommy is Funding research on miscarriages, stillbirths, and premature births and providing pregnancy health information to parents.
- Saying goodbye provides support to anyone who has suffered the loss of a baby during pregnancy, childbirth or infancy.