Experience of miscarriage in the UK: qualitative findings from the National Women's Health Study

Soc Sci Med. 2006 Oct;63(7):1934-46. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2006.04.024. Epub 2006 Jun 15.


Miscarriage is the most common adverse outcome in pregnancy. For many women it is a traumatic experience. Previous research has identified shortcomings in the emotional and social support provided for miscarriage sufferers but personal accounts of pregnancy loss remain relatively under-explored. The UK National Women's Health Study (NWHS) is a nationally representative survey of women's reproductive histories. It provided an opportunity to study accounts of miscarriage written in response to an invitation for further comments on the survey questionnaire. In conjunction with quantitative findings from the NWHS, we thematically analysed 172 detailed narratives that facilitated qualitative exploration of a characteristically private event. Analysis of the narratives suggested that few women who had planned their pregnancy were satisfied with fatalistic explanations of miscarriage. Those who were not given medical explanations for their loss engaged in complex searches for meaning, often linked to accounts of their moral deservedness as mothers. The narratives highlighted tensions between biomedical and lay understandings of pregnancy loss. There were reports of inappropriate medicalisation and a perceived lack of emotional support, but also a desire for medical validation of the reality of miscarriage and investigations to identify medical causes. Professionals' reported behaviour played a key role in women's accounts. These findings remind providers that: women do not experience miscarriage as a routine complication; medicalisation is both resisted and desired; and, for some women, more support and information is needed to assist their search for meaning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Spontaneous / psychology*
  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Reproductive History
  • United Kingdom
  • Women's Health