Survey shows slow shift in changing attitudes to miscarriage

In 2015 we surveyed more than 6,000 women and birthing people to find out more about their feelings after miscarriage, and whether they were able to get the support and understanding they needed. We found that more than 80% of people who had experienced miscarriage were told by a friend, family member or colleague that “it wasn’t meant to be” - or words to that effect.

Ahead of Baby Loss Awareness Week (9-15 October) we asked the same questions of our community again. Their answers show that attitudes toward miscarriage are starting to change, but much more must be done to improve support for those in need.

8 years ago we published our survey results as part of a campaign called ‘misCOURAGE’, to raise awareness of how misunderstood miscarriage is by the general public, and how these misunderstandings affected those who lost their babies.

At Tommy’s we don't believe that miscarriage has to be “just one of those things”, and in 2015 we opened the UK’s first National Centre for Miscarriage Research. It’s now delivering research breakthroughs and much-needed changes to care. For example, a breakthrough in the use of progesterone as a treatment for bleeding in early pregnancy will save around 8,500 babies’ lives every year.  

A repeat survey of our supporters this year reveals that despite the awareness-raising work of Tommy’s and other pregnancy and baby loss charities, and the increased visibility of miscarriage in the media, there’s still a long way to go before attitudes really change.

Feelings of guilt and failure

61% of respondents in our repeat survey said that they did think attitudes toward, and awareness of, miscarriage had changed in recent years.

But in this latest survey of almost 2,000 people who had experienced one or more miscarriages in the past 8 years, we found that:

  • 78% felt like a failure after miscarriage – the same percentage as in 2015  
  • 71% felt guilty, compared to 77% in 2015 – a fall of just 6%
  • 59% said that they found it difficult or very difficult to talk about their miscarriage – a fall of just 6%
  • 29% - more than a quarter – said they could not talk to their partner, if they had one, for support. This was 35% in 2015

Harmful responses

When they did decide to share what had happened, the majority continued to be met with comments that showed a lack of understanding about the impact of losing a much-wanted baby.

This year’s survey does suggest a small improvement in attitudes, but shows that more should be done to help people understand the impact of miscarriage and to know how to respond and support a friend, family member or colleague:

  • 75% heard “it wasn’t meant to be” compared to 84% in 2015
  • 53% were told “at least it happened early” compared to 57% in 2015 – a comment which minimises the deep emotional trauma many experience after loss at whatever point in pregnancy it occurs
  • 49% were advised to “just try again” compared to 59% in 2015

However, 71% heard “it’s just one of those things” – the same percentage as in 2015.  

This attitude suggests that miscarriage is inevitable, but Tommy’s know this isn’t the case.  

By leading new research, growing evidence and understanding, and translating that research into information, support and care, change is possible: baby loss and pregnancy complications do not have to be “just one of those things”.

Openness in the workplace

A more significant change in the past 8 years appears to be the way in which miscarriage is treated in the workplace.  

  • 68% of people who had a miscarriage in the past 8 years said that they told their boss afterward, compared to just 55% before 2015
  • 40% told their colleagues (Tommy’s did not include ‘colleagues’ as an option in 2015)

Tommy’s has been working hard to influence how businesses develop their pregnancy and loss policies and put them into practice, ensuring that pregnancy loss is better understood and employees and partners get the flexible support they deserve.    

More businesses of all sizes and types are signing up to the charity’s Pregnancy and Parenting at Work training and resource package and the tide is starting to shift on openness and understanding in the workplace for the estimated 200,000 people in the UK who lose a baby through miscarriage each year. 

How can we help? Tommy’s advice

Amina Hatia, Tommy’s Midwifery Manager, says:  

“We know how difficult it is to find the right words or actions to respond when you hear from a loved one, a friend, or perhaps a colleague, that they have had a miscarriage.  

“People instinctively turn to cliches to find a silver lining, but they rarely help. Many people will feel like parents from the second they see the line on a positive test – they don’t want to hear about ‘next time’ or that ‘it wasn’t meant to be’. A new baby or pregnancy does not replace the one who was lost.

“Most importantly, remember that you don’t have to have an answer, or an explanation. Everyone is different and it’s important to let people grieve the way they want to. Sometimes people aren’t looking for advice about what they can do. They just need someone to listen to how they feel.

“You may worry that if you don't know what to say or think then it's best not to say anything, but the simple act of acknowledging someone's loss can really help. Just let them know that you're sorry for what has happened and that you are there for them. Saying sorry and that you are there to listen can be enough.  

“Simply asking ‘how are you doing?’ can mean the world - it can be very difficult to know if someone wants to talk about a painful event. If they don’t want to talk about it, they will let you know, but try not to let this fear stop you from asking.”

Kath Abrahams, Tommy’s Chief Executive, says:  

“Every year, Baby Loss Awareness Week brings our community together to remember their babies. It’s also a chance for us to raise awareness of just how many thousands of people are deeply affected every year, and to keep pushing for much-needed improvements in bereavement care and support.

“Losing a much-wanted child at any stage in pregnancy is one of the most devastating experiences that any family can go through – our survey and the stories we hear from our community show this. We can see that the taboo or silence in discussing baby loss is starting to be broken but we must keep working to ensure that no one feels they need to hide their heartbreak, or that their experience is made worse by a lack of understanding and support.

"Losing a baby may feel incredibly lonely and isolating, and it’s devastating to see from our survey that so many still suffer feelings of guilt or failure. Please remember that you are not alone. Friends and family, doctors and midwives, and all of us at support organisations like Tommy’s are here for you."

Baby loss information and support is available on our website

Find out more from Tommy's about Baby Loss Awareness Week

To speak to a Tommy’s midwife about any aspect of your pregnancy, or if need support and advice following a pregnancy loss, contact the team at [email protected]. You can also call them for free on 0800 014 7800 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm).