Once, this would have surprised me. Not now. Three months after my own miscarriage, I still struggle to see my experience in perspective. There are still days when I feel a shadow over me and a sadness in the pit of my stomach that won’t go away. There are still days when a strange emotion surprises me with its stranglehold.
It’s only after my conversation with Lowrie that I realize this emotion is grief. She, too, was confused, until a counselor demystified what she was going through.
“I thought to grieve you had to have lost something you’d met—like a person that you had talked to—or you could grieve over a baby that maybe you’d held,” she tells me. “I didn’t know anything about grief … I didn’t know whether I should leave that to people who had lost actual people, not a very, very tiny baby that you’ve never met.”
Benjamin agrees: “I used to think, ‘God, people go through so much worse’ … and I’d feel guilty for grieving … But in my head, I had planned when this baby was going to be born. So it was still as upsetting for me.”
Part of this distress comes from that unanswered “Why?” Most women having their first or second miscarriage are told to put it down to one-off, unspecified genetic abnormalities in the fetus. It just wasn’t meant to be. Yes, society likes fate. But women feel better if they get more accurate information, says Ruth Bender-Atik, the national director of the Miscarriage Association. “The reason is that they have an answer, an explanation,” she says, “rather than a huge question mark and a tendency to assume it’s their fault.”
Most women never get an answer, however, even if they are tested for possible explanations, because the science is sorely lacking.
“I think it’s fair to say that miscarriage, despite being so common, despite having physical and psychological consequences to the woman and her partner, despite being a condition that demands quite a lot from the NHS, has not been researched well for a long time,” says Coomarasamy. “But that is changing, I believe.”
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The unspecified genetic abnormalities that are said to underlie most miscarriages have various possible causes. The risk of random genetic faults in the fetus seems to increase with the age of the mother: the chances of having a miscarriage rise from 9 percent aged 20–24 to more than 50 percent for women aged 40 and over. Beyond age, other risk factors associated with miscarriage include obesity, smoking, drug use, and drinking more than two units of alcohol a week or more than a couple of cups of coffee a day.
There are several other potential causes: abnormalities in the womb or cervix, genetic faults inherited from the parents, hormone imbalances, polycystic ovary syndrome, various infections and so on. In the U.K., tests for these possibilities are offered only after three consecutive miscarriages, whereas in many other countries the threshold is two.