Survey results: How we react to miscarriages, and how to provide better support
Understanding the role of other people after pregnancy loss
Miscarriages are unfortunately incredibly common. Around 10-20% of known pregnancies end in a miscarriage, but the number could be much higher when we consider undetected pregnancies (even as many as 26%).
In spite of how common it is and that is not necessarily medically complicated (there’s a big difference between different types of miscarriages), the emotional impact is not well-understood. For example, did you know one in three women develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after early pregnancy loss?
How difficult an experience is for someone is decided not only by what happens, but also the understanding and support they receive from people in their life. Unfortunately, our survey shows that most people suffering a miscarriage do not get the support they need. We hope that these insights can help us learn what is and isn’t helpful to someone who has had a miscarriage, and improve the support we give.
The survey: Tilly and Sands
Tilly partnered with Sands, the UK's leading pregnancy and baby loss charity, to better understand the impact of pregnancy loss on mental and physical well-being.
We ran a survey aimed at those who have experienced losing a baby in pregnancy, during labor, or shortly after birth - to gather their insights on public attitudes towards pregnancy loss, how it is understood and dealt with in society, the available support for those who experience it, and the necessary improvements required to better support those affected.
Let’s look at the results of the survey, and identify some key takeaways.
Stigma and misconceptions around miscarriages
Despite how common miscarriages are, 78% of those surveyed did not believe, prior to experiencing pregnancy loss, that it could happen to them.
This points to a general lack of understanding around miscarriages in society, and the fact that pregnancy loss is not discussed enough for people to have realistic expectations.
Indeed, 96% of those surveyed do not believe that, growing up, they received sufficient education on the frequency or reality of pregnancy loss. People are often surprised to hear how often miscarriages occur, making it a shock to people experiencing it and those around them.
96% of those surveyed consider pregnancy loss a taboo subject in society, as is demonstrated by the lack of discussion and education.
In fact, 58% of respondents were shocked to learn that friends and family members around them had in fact also gone through pregnancy loss, but had not revealed the news to them before they shared the experience. So many experiences of pregnancy loss are kept in the dark, with people suffering in silence. Many stories about miscarriages are only told when someone else dares to talk about it, making space for the truth to be shared.
Telling friends and family about pregnancy loss
It is a common convention to not announce a pregnancy until after the first trimester, but have you ever wondered why that is?
The survey showed that almost half (44%) of those surveyed agreed with the convention not to announce a pregnancy before 12 weeks because of the high risk of miscarriage prior to this point.
That convention indicates that many people don’t want to have to tell their friends and families that they’ve experienced a miscarriage; in fact, just under one quarter (23%) of those surveyed did not tell any of their friends and family members of their early pregnancy loss.
There could be a lot of reasons for that, but the survey helped us understand a few of them.
4 in 5 (86%) of those surveyed said they had been told inappropriate or unsympathetic things regarding their pregnancy loss by those closest to them. Knowing that, it’s understandable that people might not want to share what they’re going through. Some of those comments include:
- You can “always try again” or “When will you have another?” (20% of people surveyed have been told/asked this)
- “Everything happens for a reason.” (10% of those surveyed)
- “At least it wasn’t a baby.”
- “Can I have your maternity clothes as you won’t need them now?”
Comments and questions like those can be incredibly painful for someone who has experienced pregnancy loss.
Additionally, 45% of those surveyed felt that, after pregnancy loss, parents with children excluded them from social events or otherwise distanced them. Choosing to avoid social events with children is understandable for someone who has experienced a miscarriage, but it’s important that it’s their choice. Being excluded from the events by those hosting them can be painful and isolating for the person who is struggling.
Feeling supported by loved ones after experiencing a miscarriage
The survey also explored how supported people feel after a miscarriage. Unfortunately, a major takeaway from the survey is that:
4 in 5 of those who experience pregnancy loss feel loved ones move on from providing support too soon.
Indeed, 83% of respondents said that the sympathy and support they initially received lasted for a shorter time than they needed. This could be due to how little the general public knows about miscarriages, and their struggle to understand what the experience feels like.
In fact, one in five (19%) of those surveyed reported feeling entirely isolated, with no friends or family members seeming to understand their grief. Isolation can amplify the difficult feelings you are already experiencing, so this lack of understanding from loved ones can deepen the pain and hinder the healing process.
Support from other sources after pregnancy loss
Some of the ways people surveyed sought support outside of friends and family include:
- Therapy support offered by a healthcare provider (38% of survey respondents)
- A therapist found on one's own accord (24%)
- Support groups (17%)
- Online forums (3%)
In many cases, any support received needs to be accessed independently. 65% of those surveyed do not believe they received enough support from the healthcare system, which is likely only addressing the physical aspects of pregnancy loss.
When it comes to employment, the survey pointed to challenges many people face in the workplace.
Although 87% of those surveyed did tell their employer of their pregnancy loss, and 68% believe their employer responded appropriately, that leaves one in seven who did not inform their employer of the news, and nearly one in three of those surveyed who do not believe their employer responded appropriately.
One respondent even shared that their employer told them, “Others in management returned the day after, some (you) need more time. Draw a line under it and move on.”
In general, 81% of those surveyed do not believe their partner had ample support, which points to an overall challenge for people who have experienced miscarriages to get the help they need.
What can we do?
Infertility and pregnancy loss are incredibly difficult experiences, and social isolation and a lack of support can amplify the pain, and make it harder for the person to heal.
As we see in the survey, many people who have experienced pregnancy loss feel that it is taboo to discuss, something to keep silent, and that they have to go through it alone.
As individuals and as a society, we can make the effort to learn more about miscarriages and dare to talk about infertility and pregnancy loss. If someone we know shares their experience with us, we can listen with empathy and check in with how they’re doing regularly. Ask people how they would like to feel supported, and don’t assume that the healing happens quickly. Here are fe tips that may be helpful: How to support someone after a miscarriage.
As friends, family and colleagues, we cannot take the pain of miscarriages away. But we can be there for the people going through pregnancy loss, and help them know that they’re not alone.
About the author
Maya Maria Brown, M.A., is an infertility mental health expert. She has a master’s in Counseling Psychology, and has worked with individuals and couples on infertility and relationships. She also has personal experience with infertility and is currently in treatment.
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