Comparing Miscarriage and Stillbirth

I was seven months pregnant when I lost my first child. The doctors hurriedly pulled him from my stomach but they found no heartbeat, no breath. He was declared stillborn.

My second pregnancy ended quickly. I barely made it to the eight week mark when the doctors confirmed what my body had already told me – it was over. They told me I had “experienced a miscarriage.”

When you look at their definitions on paper, a miscarriage and a stillbirth are essentially the same thing. Both involve the loss of a beautiful baby in utero. A miscarriage occurs before 20 weeks of pregnancy, a stillbirth occurs after 20 weeks.* Both types of loss involve the pain of losing a child; and both leave a mother with empty arms and crushed dreams.

And yet, there’s no denying that these are two very different experiences.

Miscarriages Stillbirth
Miscarriages occur at a stage when the baby is incapable of surviving outside of the womb. (Before 20 weeks gestation). Miscarriages often occur before a woman even knows she’s pregnant. Stillbirth occurs after 20 weeks gestation. (Often times, this means it occurs at a stage in the pregnancy when the baby is capable of surviving outside of the womb.)
Approximately 1 out of every 6 pregnancies (of women who know that they are pregnant) end in miscarriage.* Approximately 1 in 200 pregnancies end in stillbirth.*
Most miscarriages are due to fetus abnormality (chromosomal or otherwise). You may never know for sure “why” you miscarried. After a stillbirth, the baby may require an autopsy to discover or confirm why the loss occurred.
While all women’s experiences and situations are slightly different, you may experience more “warning signs” with a miscarriage – bleeding, cramping, and back pain. A potential warning sign for stillbirth is the decrease of fetal movement.
Depending on when a miscarriage occurs, you may not recognize the baby or even see him. Due to its gestation, the baby will be larger and more developed when born. You may choose to hold him.
Most likely, you will not have a grave or physical location at which to mourn. Your baby may be buried or cremated. You may have an urn, ashes, or a grave site to visit and mourn at.

 

While the physical differences between a miscarriage and a stillbirth are easy to see, the emotional differences will never fit into the same neat, little tables. The way we mourn is not only unique to each mother, it’s also unique to each loss. 

After my miscarriage, I felt numb. I wondered why I didn’t grieve this child the way I had grieved after my stillbirth. I wasn’t able to mourn this loss as deeply as I’d mourned Landon, and that bothered me.

Miscarrying at 8 weeks, I hadn’t felt my little one move or kick. We didn’t know the gender of the baby and there were no ultrasound photos or lists of baby names tacked to the fridge. No one except my husband knew that I was expecting; I had no nausea and I wasn’t yet showing. To top it all off, I was so busy chasing a toddler around the house that I barely had time to “feel” pregnant.

There is no doubt that, for me, losing Landon at 31 weeks was a much heavier blow than my first trimester loss. The grieving process following the stillbirth was much longer and more challenging for me to work through.

But just because I didn’t feel the same intensity of grief after my miscarriage, doesn’t mean that I loved this baby any less or wanted it any less. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have the right to grieve this loss too. 

I didn’t know this little one as well as I knew my son. I didn’t feel her move or watch her dance on an ultrasound machine. But I still lost someone very, very special to me.

Because no matter how far along you are, the loss of a child is still the loss of a child.

I think it’s natural for us to want to compare the two types of loss. We wonder why one mama grieves harder than another or why one type of loss hurts for longer. We question whether we should be grieving more and whether we’re a “bad mom” for not grieving as long as someone else. We try to comfort ourselves or others by thinking, “at least I lost this baby early on…”

But there is no “at least” in this situation; one type of loss is not “better” than the other.

It’s not fair to compare our loss and subsequent grief to another mama’s; just as it’s not fair to compare our miscarriages to our stillbirths.

Loss is loss.

I will no longer let myself feel guilty for the fact that I mourned my miscarried babe for a shorter period of time than I mourned the one who was stillborn. I love them both, and I grieve them both as I need to.

Each baby is unique and each mama deserves the right to mourn her child as she feels best. We should not negate the impact of a loss by comparing our grief to that of another loss. Loss is scary, painful, and scarring but each loss is different. One loss cannot be compared to another beyond the fact that there is no pain like the death of a child.

It’s time for us to stop comparing our grief; because no matter whether we’ve experienced a miscarriage or a stillbirth, loss hurts.

At four weeks or at forty, a loss is a loss.

 


(*Statistics from www.healthlinkbc.ca)

SixDifferencesbetweenmiscarriageandstillbirth

6 Comments

  1. Heather Brazell says:

    I lost my daughter at 35 weeks back in 2012 and I do not believe that one of the warning signs is loss of movement. The reason for this is because my doc informed me that she had passed a day to a week before but mostly a week.. when i felt her move just the night before.

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  2. Hi Heather,

    I’m so very, very sorry to hear about the loss of your precious, little girl.

    After I lost my son, Landon, I often wondered whether there was anything I could have done to prevent his death. I worried that I should have gone to the hospital earlier or that I should have known just how distressed he was. In reality, there was very little I could have done, and I knew that I could not continually carry guilt over that. While I was very thankful to have noticed the reduction in movements when I did, you’re right in saying that not all women experience warning signs or changes within their pregnancy. There is no “one answer fits all” when it comes to health.

    Pregnancy loss is such a difficult and sensitive subject to discuss as it is a different experience for all of us. However, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists does suggest that, “A significant reduction or sudden alteration in fetal movement is a potentially important clinical sign.” The decrease in movement is not a definite diagnosis, simply a sign that there may be potential changes to your baby’s well-being

    Many health organizations (including the American Pregnancy Association) recommend counting kicks. Since the number of movements will vary depending on the time of day, or the mother’s level of activity, a mother should familiarize herself with what is normal for her baby. The RCOG says that, “The majority of women (approximately 70%) who perceive a reduction in fetal movements will have a normal outcome to their pregnancy.” However, any woman who is experiencing a reduction in usual movements should contact their health provider.

    In regards to the above post, I’ve re-read the original statement in the table and realize that it may be easily misunderstood. I have since changed the table to read, “A potential warning sign for stillbirth is the decrease of fetal movement.” (I am by no means saying that this is everyone’s experience, nor that the decrease in movement is a diagnosis for stillbirth.)

    Thank you for your feedback, and for sharing a bit of your experience. I know that it isn’t always an easy subject to talk about.

    Thinking of you and your little one,
    Liz

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  3. Christina says:

    I’ve had miscarriages, seven years of trying and invasive procedures, and so was sort of in a permanent state of anxiety throughout my pregnancy, last year; I’m 44, and there wouldn’t be another chance. I never could figure out how to count or identify their individual kicks, reliably. It’s especially tough with twins, and I marvel at mothers who are able to distinguish between the kicks of babies A and B. My two made it safely here, but I still find myself quietly missing their older siblings who didn’t get that far, and it grieves me to read your story, and those of the mothers who comment. But these are such therapeutic tears. Sharing them is so very helpful. Thank you, Liz, for speaking up, speaking about all of your little ones. I, at least, now feel as though my own feelings are valid.

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    • Christina, thank you so much for sharing a little bit of your story. What a miracle your babies are! I’m always in awe of the twin pregnancies that end happily, I think it’s easy for people to forget just how incredible it really is. As I rejoice with you, my heart also grieves with you over the loss of your missing little ones. I know how our living children bring such great joy to our heartache, but they never replace the ones we lost nor do we forget them. Thank you for your kind words of encouragement, and for reaching out with your own story. It;s such a beautiful thing to grieve together.

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  4. Thank you for writing this. After 4 rounds of DEIVF we finally got pregnant, saw the heartbeat, and at 9 weeks lost our only baby. We tried twice more and it failed and along with that saw our two year wait for a little girl from Ethiopia end suddenly as the country closed their doors this spring. No one acknowledged our loss and several even pulled the “at least you know you can get pregnant now” as if after all we’ve been through I should somehow feel good that my baby died inside me, and others who, despite knowing how IVF hormones have wrecked me physically and emotionally for years, don’t understand why we “gave up”…as if it’s guaranteed you’ll get pregnant if you just keep trying (not to mention spending your entire savings, retirement, etc.).

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    • Oh the insensitive things people say when they’re trying to be “helpful.” Gah. I’m sorry that you’ve had to go through these losses with such a lack of support or understanding from those around you. Even with the abundance of women who have experienced infertility, loss, and recurrent loss, people still have this misconception that “eventually you’ll get to keep a baby if you try hard enough.” While we all wish this was true, it just isn’t. And it hurts. Thank you for sharing this with such honesty. These are the types of stories that women (and society) need to hear! I am grieving with you over the loss of your little baby, and over the loss of your failed adoption. These losses are so very real and so very worthy of being grieved. You may not hold a baby in your arms but you are still a mother.

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