Spotting, Miscarriage, Grief

Life is precious, fragile and best lived in the moment


Every week, a few women email to ask if their early-pregnancy spotting or discharge means they’re going to miscarry. They’re terrified and looking for reassurance and a guarantee that everything will be OK with their pregnancies. I have plenty of reassurance to offer and I wish I could offer that guarantee, but the best I can do is tell my readers that probably, everything will be OK.

Between 10 percent and 25 percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, and most happen before a woman knows she’s pregnant, according to the American Pregnancy Association. They usually occur before 13 weeks, and we don’t know why they happen in most cases. Best theories say it’s because of some sort of genetic or developmental anomaly, hormonal problems, implantation problems or environmental conditions that have a bad effect on the pregnancy. Is it because of something mom did, such as getting pregnant after a few drinks? Is it because she’s stressed out or having negative thoughts? Almost certainly not. Think about how many starving women living in war-torn countries carry babies to full term. Most of us will never know that kind of stress. Drug addicts and alcoholics often carry babies to term, as do mentally ill women. Miscarriage is an equal-opportunity tragedy and it happens to many, many women regardless of how well they take care of themselves or don’t.

Does spotting mean a miscarriage is on the way? Not usually. Instead, it indicates implantation or cervical irritation or simply residual discharge leftover from your last period. Most of the time, it’s no big deal…physically. Emotionally and mentally, however, spotting and discharge are tumultuous and strike fear into every newly pregnant mother. Can you do anything to make sure that spotting doesn’t turn into a miscarriage? Probably not. Do let your doctor or midwife know and make an appointment for a consultation. They might recommend you avoid having sex until the spotting passes, but other than that, if you’re still in your first trimester, there’s not a lot you can do.

That leads me to the subject of grief and the tentative hold we have on any life. I recently attended a book reading of Emily Rapp’s new release, The Still Point of The Turning World (Penguin Group). It’s a memoir of her experience raising and losing her son with Tay-Sachs disease, a fatal genetic disorder. Among the topics she discussed was how her experience awakened in her a realization that life and death walk hand-in-hand for everyone, but most of us don’t realize it. I suspect that pregnant women understand this intimate relationship more clearly than ever before in their lives. In many countries, mothers face the deaths of their newborns and children with alarming frequency and they understand the fragility of life better than most of us do. Here in the U.S., we live with safety nets that prevent most, but not all, tragedies. It’s not until we face a crisis like some spotting, a serious illness, accident or death that most of us really get it. Life is precious, fragile and best lived in the moment because no one knows how long it will last.

Maybe that’s the lesson from miscarriage and grief. None of us know how long a life will last, whether it’s the one inside of us, the one in the crib or the obnoxious teenager down the hall. Its value isn’t measured in time. It is valuable simply because it is. If you can find a way to stay present, love the child inside of you or in front of you for however long you have them, then you’ve been the mother they needed.

Not to end with too much sadness, let me boost the reassurance factor here. Spotting and discharge don’t always mean miscarriage. The odds that you will carry your pregnancy to term are very, very good.

Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Ore., with her husband and children. And co-author of, The Complete Illustrated Birthing Companion: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating the Best Birthing Plan for a Safe, Less Painful, and Successful Delivery for You and Your Baby. Got a question for Jeanne? Email it to and it may be answered in a future blog post.

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