Pregnancy loss has long been a social taboo in our society. Sure, abortion rights and maternal health care are two of many hot topics of political conversation. But the reality of pregnancy loss, endured by many, is rarely spoken of in public settings.
Yet despite the taboo, pregnancy loss is a common shared experience of many. Spontaneous abortion, also known as miscarriage, is any unintended loss of a pregnancy at earlier than 20 weeks gestation. Pregnancy loss later than 20 weeks is considered a stillbirth. Estimates show that as many as 26% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, and up to 10% of clinically recognized pregnancies (1). (That means, sometimes people lose pregnancies without ever knowing they were pregnant in the first place.) In 2020, over 620,000 legal abortions were reported to the CDC from 49 reporting areas (2). This does not include areas that were not required to report. The numbers from the Guttmacher Institute were even higher for that year, reporting over 930,000 legal abortions. In 2020, around 20% of all pregnancies in the United States ended in abortion (not counting miscarriages) (3).
These are a lot of big numbers, and probably easy to skim over. But the point is–LOTS of people have miscarriages. LOTS of people have abortions. Every year, the numbers go up and down, but if anywhere from 10-25% of pregnant women are miscarrying, and 20-25% are having abortions, that is one out of every 4 or 5 women who you meet day by day. Maybe you yourself have experienced miscarriage, abortion, or both. All this is just to say–this is an important conversation for us to have. We need to talk about it.
Although abortion and miscarriage are not the same, both are real forms of pregnancy loss experienced by countless women around the world. Both come with physical and emotional impacts. Those who have experienced either form of loss deserve a right to grieve, to allow themselves to heal both in body and spirit.
Physical Effects of Abortion and/or Miscarriage
Abortion and miscarriage are both bodily experienced only by the pregnant person involved. Although any termination of pregnancy can have impact beyond the pregnant person in other emotional and relational ways, at the end of the day it is her body that experienced the loss. Understanding the physical impact is an important first step in recovery.
Some physical after-effects of an abortion include:
- Bleeding (lasts, on average, around 14 days)
- Nausea and/or vomiting
When it comes to abortion, most symptoms should resolve within a week. Your menstrual cycle should resume within 4-8 weeks. Pregnancy tests may still read positive up to 4 weeks after the abortion, since your hormones take time to return to their pre-pregnancy levels. If symptoms persist or become severe, do not hesitate to call your doctor.
The most common sign a miscarriage is taking place is vaginal bleeding. Other symptoms can include cramping and pain, discharges of fluid and/or tissue from the vagina, and/or no longer experiencing the symptoms of pregnancy, such as morning sickness or tenderness in the breasts (4). When it comes to miscarriage, length of recovery time can vary, depending on your particular situation. Similar to abortion, your menstrual cycle should take 4-8 weeks to come back, though it may take months to become regular again (5).
Taking Care of Yourself (Physically) After Pregnancy Loss
When you get pregnant, your body begins to change as early as 4 weeks into your pregnancy. Maybe you’ll feel sick in the morning, or just extra tired. You might start gaining weight, peeing more often, feeling tenderness in your breasts, or having emotional ups and downs because of your hormones. Your body has begun the process of creating and sustaining a life–that’s a lot for it to handle!
When that pregnancy terminates, whether from abortion or miscarriage, your body needs time to recover and heal. Various practices can be used to support your body through recovery.
- Even though you are no longer pregnant, the wellness of your body is still super valuable. Practice self-care by drinking lots of clear fluids, eating healthy foods, and getting plenty of rest. Consider adding to your routine a low-intensity physical activity–one that will not cause you stress–to help heal your body. For example, join a yoga class or go for daily walks. Continuing to invest in your body’s health will strengthen your journey towards both physical and emotional healing.
- That said, try to avoid strenuous exercise and lifting heavy objects for at least one week. If you are used to going to the gym every day, this is not the time to stick to your normal routine. Your body just went through a big change, hormonally and physically. You need to give your body grace and let it recover. The time will come when you can do all your normal activities once again.
- Take any antibiotics prescribed for the recommended time. This may seem pretty straightforward, but it’s easy to forget or ignore the advice our medical providers give us. But it’s important to take all the possible steps to care for yourself through this time! Take your medicine. Listen to your doctor. If you are experiencing worse than expected symptoms, call a doctor or medical professional. Advocate for yourself–you know what you’re feeling, and you have the right to the care you need.
- Avoid inserting anything vaginally for at least 2 weeks. This includes having penetrative sex and the use of tampons or menstrual cups. Again, this is just a safe way to give your body grace while it recovers. The time will pass after your pregnancy loss, and your body will be ready to move forward again.
Emotional Effects of Abortion and/or Miscarriage
Both abortion and miscarriage have varying emotional impacts on those who experience them. When it comes to abortion, research suggests that women who have had abortions may be at an increased risk for various mental health challenges. Data has also shown that risk factors, such as pre-existing mental illness, can put women at greater risk of increased mental health problems post-abortion (6). Grief, depression, and even prolonged grief disorder are common among the post-abortive.
Some other common negative feelings include:
- Suicidal thoughts
It is very important that you do not ignore any negative feelings you may be experiencing. Call us at (508) 438-0144, or call the International Abortion Recovery Hotline at (866) 482-5433 to talk about what you are feeling.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 988 for the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You matter, and you are not alone.
When it comes to miscarriage, even an early pregnancy loss can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, anger, and more. One study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2019 found that nearly one third of women demonstrate criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder one month after having miscarried, and around 18% still meet that criteria 9 months later (7). For many women, a miscarriage breaches their sense of trust with their own body. Becoming pregnant leads many women to be extra intentional in caring for their bodies, and for pregnancy loss to follow such care can be deeply confusing. Women may feel angry at their bodies, inadequate, disappointed, frustrated, anxious, depressed, or any other of a wide range of emotions. This can lead to difficulty in a woman reconnecting with her own body even after the miscarriage is over (8).
Taking Care of Yourself (Emotionally) After Pregnancy Loss
We want to offer you a few strategies you can use to care for yourself emotionally after pregnancy loss. These are just a few small steps you can take to support yourself on your journey towards healing.
- Acceptance: It is important to acknowledge the pregnancy and everything that came with it. Maybe you miscarried super early, or maybe you chose to take the abortion pill without even knowing how far along you were. Circumstances such as these can lead a person to deny or reject that their body was ever pregnant. Somehow, that can feel like the easier option. But ultimately, recognizing that the pregnancy was real can help you move forward when you are ready. Recognizing all the complex and confusing emotions you may be feeling provides you a starting point for processing them.
- Find a way to memorialize the pregnancy: This step may look different for everyone, but if you are grieving, it is a step towards healing. Maybe write a letter, hold a small ceremony, or even give a name to the child who was never born. Memorials are used both by those who suffer miscarriage and abortion as a way to validate their experience and honor the pregnancy that was lost.
- Receive Support: You are not alone. Many people have walked this path before you. Support After Abortion is one resource that offers support resources for women and men after an abortion experience. Micarriage Hurts: Hope After Loss offers you a space to seek healing resources and share your story anonymously among other people’s stories.
At Clearway Clinic, we offer individual sessions with a staff member to process your grief, as well as various post-abortion care programs. Even sharing your emotions with a safe person in your life, whether that’s a friend, family member, or partner, can be an aspect of receiving the support you need during this difficult time.
If you are experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and considering your options, schedule an appointment today for a free pregnancy test, ultrasound, and options information. If you are grieving a pregnancy loss, call us at 508-438-0144 to speak to one of our staff members. We are here for you no matter where your pregnancy journey takes you.
Reviewed by Lynn B., BSN, RN
- See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532992/ for more info.
- See https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/data_stats/abortion.htm for more info.
- See https://abort73.com/abortion_facts/us_abortion_statistics/ for more info.
- See https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/miscarriage/symptoms/ for more info.
- See https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/miscarriage/afterwards/#:~:text=It%27s%20common%20to%20feel%20tired,who%20have%20had%20successful%20pregnancies. for more info.
- See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6207970/ for more info.
- See https://www.ajog.org/article/S0002-9378(19)31369-9/fulltext for more info.
- See https://online.nursing.georgetown.edu/blog/emotional-healing-after-miscarriage-guide-women-partners-family-friends/#:~:text=Even%20though%20the%20pregnancy%20will,emotional%20release%2C%20such%20as%20boxing. for more info.