Misconceptions, Episode 3: Causes of miscarriage

Author
Kathryn van Beek, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 24 Jun 2020, 12:40PM

Misconceptions, Episode 3: Causes of miscarriage

Author
Kathryn van Beek, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 24 Jun 2020, 12:40PM

Misconception

It happens all the time but we hardly ever talk about it. About one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, leaving many couples struggling with unresolved grief and social isolation. In this 10-part video-based online series, made by Digital Alchemist and funded by NZ On Air, we break down the myths and provide practical help. We hear from well-known NZ personalities - The Hits host and te reo advocate Stacey Morrison, TVNZ presenter and journalist Miriamo Kamo and funeral director Kaiora Tipene from The Casketeers - about their personal experiences and follow the stories of six couples who have been through the trauma of miscarriage.

People often wonder if they have done something to cause their miscarriage, and this can lead to self-criticism.

"I felt like I'd committed a very, very bad crime," says bereaved parent Noriko Kodera. "I felt I had to carry this guilt for the rest of my life."

The language around miscarriage can also contribute to feelings of blame. "You know that term 'she's lost the baby'? I don't think that's a great term," says broadcaster Stacey Morrison. "I was thinking - I know exactly where the baby is, I didn't lose it."

Some people worry that they caused their miscarriage by exerting themselves physically. This was the case for Maryam Alavi, who comes from an Iranian culture where pregnant women are expected to rest.

"One challenge I had was trying to balance within myself what I learned from my country of origin, and what I learned from my new home New Zealand," she says. "Here it's like - you're pregnant, you're not ill. You just go on with your life. When I miscarried, I blamed myself."

Dr Cathy Stephenson says she hopes it's reassuring for women to know that miscarriage is not their fault.

"The vast, vast majority of miscarriages are nature's way of saying this is a foetus or an embryo or a very early baby that was never going to be healthy enough to continue to full term. So it's nothing that they did, it's nothing that their body did, it was just the makeup of the baby in the beginning."

Founder of the Recurrent Miscarriage Clinic at National Women's Hospital, Hilary Liddell agrees, adding that miscarriage is usually caused by chromosomal factors.

"The most common identifiable cause is the egg not dividing when it's fertilised in a chromosomally stable way, so you're getting additional chromosomes or missing chromosomes, which the body then recognises is not right," she says.

Perinatal midwife specialist Debbie Davies says that in rarer cases, miscarriage could be because of the mother having a metabolic disorder, or a cervix that doesn't hold the pregnancy in the womb. A list of these less common causes can be found on the Miscarriage Support website.

There are some risk factors for miscarriage. These may include the parents' age, untreated chronic conditions, uterine or cervical problems, being very underweight or overweight, and the heavy use of alcohol, cigarettes, or illicit drugs.

But even people in peak health suffer miscarriage, and journalist Miriama Kamo says it's important to remember that no one is to blame. "For a woman to feel shame or guilt is unacceptable," she says.

Need support?

  • If you think you may be having a miscarriage, contact your lead maternity carer - this may be a midwife or your GP. Alternatively, call Healthlinefree on 0800 611 116, or visit your local Urgent Medical Centre or hospital
  • Visit the Miscarriage Support websiteor join the Facebook group.
  • Visit the Sands website. Sands supports parents and families who have experienced the death of a baby.
  • Free call or text 1737to talk to a trained counsellor.