Why do miscarriages happen?
The healing power of a shared experience should not be underestimated and the only way to remove stigma from an issue, is to remove the secrecy.
Sadly, we know that miscarriage occurs in about one in four pregnancies, and we want to help de-stigmatise it. That is why Virtus Health has partnered with a new documentary recently released on Stan, the Misunderstandings of Miscarriage (MuM).
The film follows Australian actress and filmmaker, Tahyna MacManus, on her four-year journey of pregnancy and miscarriage. Tahyna embarks on a quest to shed light on the physical, emotional and psychological impacts of miscarriage and pregnancy loss, as well as the lived experiences of other women in search of support and understanding. You can watch the trailer for the film here.
In the film, Tahyna highlights so many ‘misunderstandings’ of miscarriage and pregnancy loss. And her quest for answers did not end there. Following Tahyna's completion of the film, she continued her journey to know more about miscarriage by getting in contact with some of our fertility experts.
Here, we explore the ever-challenging question of why a miscarriage occurs, and the importance of recognising the role that health professionals play in helping to alleviate the feelings of guilt many women can experience.
Exploring the 'Why' in Miscarriage
The common reasons why
Miscarriages may happen for no apparent reason, however science is starting to help us understand why a miscarriage or re-current miscarriage is happening.
The most common and important factor are the chromosomes of the embryo.
A human cell contains genetic material arranged in dense strands, called chromosomes. Fertilisation combines 22 chromosomes and an X chromosome from the mother’s egg with 22 chromosomes and either an X or Y chromosome from the father’s sperm. An embryo then has 46 chromosomes – if it’s a female, with two X chromosomes, and if it’s a male, with an X and a Y chromosome.
If the cells of an embryo contain the wrong number of chromosomes, or if pieces of chromosomes break off and attach to the ends of other chromosomes, this can result in either miscarriage or failure to implant. In fact, 70% of miscarriages are caused when the baby gets too many or not enough chromosomes.
It’s important for families to realise, that these chromosomal variations occur through no fault of their own. Day to day activities such as going to the gym, having a coffee or two, or going on a flight do not contribute to chromosomal variations or miscarriage.
Other factors why a miscarriage might occur include structural abnormality of the uterus, endocrine problems such as thyroid function and diabetes, or more rarely, autoimmune conditions. And the partner’s sperm is, of course, also very important. If you’ve experienced a miscarriage or are worried about it occurring, these factors can all be explored by a fertility specialist.
Testing following pregnancy loss
If you’ve experienced a pregnancy loss, genetic testing and evaluation is now a lot more accessible than in previous years.
Doctors are able to find out whether the loss occurred due to a random genetic variation, which can be evaluated by testing the tissue of the pregnancy loss. This information can be a huge comfort, since the majority of women who experience pregnancy loss due to too many or too little chromosomes will go on to have a healthy pregnancy.
Testing your partner’s sperm to understand the DNA quality can also shed light on potential reasons why a miscarriage occurred.
While these tests do little to help grief, they can sometimes help bring closure by understanding the cause behind the miscarriage. And of course, if you’ve experienced pregnancy loss and would rather not go through further testing, that’s ok too.
It starts with all of us
The conversation around pregnancy loss starts with all of us, and at Virtus Health, which includes IVFAustralia, Melbourne IVF, Queensland Fertility Group and TasIVF, it is our hope that as health professionals we can open up about this topic.
Kate Munnings, Group CEO for Virtus Health, says it best, “No woman should feel alone when dealing with miscarriage grief; miscarriage grief is real and should be validated, no matter how early in the pregnancy the miscarriage occurred.”
She adds, “The work that our nurses, counsellors and fertility doctors do every day involves supporting women & their families through the highs and lows of their pregnancy journey. We know there is always more we can do to help our patients, whether that be investigating why the miscarriage occurred, providing counselling support, or simply by recognising the importance of the healthcare community using empathetic language.”
Our commitment to destigmatising pregnancy loss
The Misunderstandings of Miscarriage film advocates for miscarriage legislation to change and encourages more organisations to include early pregnancy loss in compassionate leave policies.
Kate says, “The stories told in this documentary are real, raw and very honest. As leaders in providing assisted reproductive services, we should stand with these families and be a part of this important conversation.”
“As a result of partnering with this film, Virtus Health has formalised its compassionate leave policy for all staff, which now includes early pregnancy loss.”
If you would like to speak to us, give us a call. We’re here to listen.