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Reframing the term "miscarriage"

Updated: Feb 2

Over the last several years of working with fertility patients, there have been those who achieved pregnancy, but for one reason or another the pregnancy didn’t survive. Failure of a pregnancy at any stage is difficult, frustrating, saddening, and can be traumatic for one or both partners. Grief is a common emotional process that results when a pregnancy fails and is one that should be given the same grace as if one had lost any other loved one. Along with grief may also come feelings of guilt and shame, particularly for the person who had been carrying the pregnancy.

The medical term and commonly used word “miscarriage” adds to this guilt and shame by defining the spontaneous discontinuation of pregnancy as improper handling by the person doing the carrying (literally mis-carry). In other words, the term inherently implies fault of the mother-to-be and is therefore prone to creating a sense of guilt and shame.

Over the last several years there has been a growing use of the term "failed pregnancy" by individual practitioners, in professional organizations, and even among social media support groups. The term “failed pregnancy” recognizes that there are many factors beyond the body and control of the mother-to-be that can result in an embryo or fetus that doesn't survive the process of pregnancy.

This rise in usage of the term “failed pregnancy” reflects a greater cultural shift towards a view of pregnancy that considers a multitude of factors beyond the body and control of the mother-to-be. We are moving towards a society that doesn't expect to lay fault and blame upon the mother-to-be should complications arise. We are learning to leave space to support the person whose pregnancy failed and encourage healing rather than accepting and normalizing guilt and shame as their expected responsibility.

In the wake of such an event, patients need support from many different angles: emotional support, physical support, medical support, social support, and for some, spiritual support. As individuals recover from a failed pregnancy, an acupuncturist can be an important part of their overall care team, including their OB/GYN as well as a therapist, family, friends, and / or a spiritual counselor. Chinese Medicine has been supporting those confronting failed pregnancy for thousands of years - from using acupuncture for assistance with rebalancing hormones, to the use of herbal remedies to assist with the immediate medical need of complete uterine tissue expulsion. An acupuncture treatment is also a safe space to feel one’s emotions and get perspective on one’s situation.

A failed pregnancy can affect more than just the physical; it can ripple into one's sense of self and relationships on many layers. While the grief may always be a part of your story, know that you have the power to author the next chapter with compassion. Give yourself, and your partner if applicable, grace to mourn and rebuild identity without shame. Surround yourself with trusted community and let your clinical support guide you back to whole-body balance in gentle timing. From emotional processing to physical recovery, take the needed steps with self-compassion. If considering conceiving again, give yourself plenty of time to heal so that hope may be restored. Acupuncture provides a unique space to renew perspective and create receptivity so that when the time comes, you feel centered in every way to try again. You deserve to be heard, healed, and empowered to determine your way forward after loss.

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Image by Artem Kovalev

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