The elation that comes with a positive pregnancy test when trying to conceive is often euphoric followed closely by the joyful excitement that surrounds planning for a new baby. But for women who have experienced a miscarriage, this news often comes with a whisper of doubt and fear of another potential loss. According to the American Pregnancy Association, around 25 percent of pregnancies result in a miscarriage. With this high rate—one in four—one would suspect women are miscarrying everywhere, and it would be more normalized, but most couples suffer in silence, and it is not uncommon for women to feel shame on top of the grief that goes along with it.
There is no protocol for dealing with a miscarriage.
There are no guidelines for grieving this loss. And in our culture, most women think of pregnancy as something they created and therefore a miscarriage is something they "created" and then "lost." It can elicit philosophical questions like "Is something wrong with me?" "Why me?" "Am I being punished?" "What did I do wrong?" "Can I carry to term?" These questions, along with hormones dropping and trying to renormalize, can create quite a bit of emotional suffering.
While I was getting my degree in Chinese medicine, we learned of a different belief system regarding miscarriage that was rooted in the ancient Buddhist philosophy. They believed that the souls of our potential children hang out with the parents and wait for the right moment to "jump in" and activate a pregnancy. This was their explanation for the spark of life and why some cycles work and some don’t. If something goes wrong with the "vessel" or physical form of the fetus once a pregnancy is established, the soul jumps out and waits for another opportunity. I find this way of thinking as a much kinder one that can offer some relief to women grieving a miscarriage, especially if she is open to other religious or philosophical systems.
The majority of miscarriages cannot be controlled or prevented.
We now know that the majority of miscarriages are due to genetic abnormalities in the embryo, meaning the fate of that fetus was determined at fertilization and would never become a healthy baby. A much smaller percentage of miscarriages can be prevented if a problem is detected with blood clotting in the mother or occasionally an immune disorder. Infections in the uterus, hormone imbalances, uterine abnormalities, and tubal disorders can also play a role and be treated. But the majority of miscarriages cannot be controlled or prevented. Many women blame themselves, creating unnecessary suffering, and it is my hope that with more awareness about miscarriage, this self-blame and suffering will be reduced.
Miscarriage is so common that most OB/GYNs won’t do any additional testing until a woman has had two or three of them. However, by that point, the emotional roller coaster for the potential parents can be quite intense, resulting in stresses on a physical and psychological level. Patients often come to me for acupuncture and Chinese herbs, both of which can offer emotional support but may also help correct some of the mild abnormalities that are associated with miscarriage, such as hormone imbalances and mild clotting or immune issues. If a woman has already had several miscarriages, I prefer to work collaboratively with a miscarriage specialist physician, supporting my patient with acupuncture, herbs (if appropriate and approved by her doctor), and dietary advice, while she undergoes testing and treatments directed by her doctor. In some cases, artificial reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization (IVF) with embryo biopsy can be quite helpful in controlling the quality of the chromosomal makeup of the embryos that make it to the uterus. When combined with acupuncture, IVF results can be even better.