I was 4 weeks into my second pregnancy and all indications were…I had miscarried. I imagined the worst…I had lost a child. After a long thorough sonogram it was discovered that I probably did loose one embryo sac, but there was another one! I was relieved but at the same time saddened. I could have had twins but it just wasn’t meant to be. Five 1/2 months later my son was born.
During my pregnancy, a friend of our families had miscarried for a second time. She was distraught, felt cheated, and no longer wanted to try having children. She felt she could not endure losing a child again. She had lost both children after just 12 weeks of gestation.
Miscarriages, sometimes called spontaneous abortions, unfortunately are very common. Statistics show that 1 out of every 6 known pregnancies fail within the first 20 weeks of gestation. More than that fail within the first two to three weeks of pregnancy without the mother even knowing she was pregnant.
Yet interestingly enough, considering the factors and what goes on in the mothers womb…it’s hard to believe that women can even stay pregnant at all! I became interested several years ago in why women miscarry when I almost lost my second child. Why could i have children, and my friend could not? It seemed so unfair. Some women seem to be fertile myrtle’s, if you will, yet others have difficulties, miscarry or often can’t conceive at all.
I came across an article in a discover magazine several years ago about miscarriages that intrigued me. This article, entitled “The Hostile Womb,” answered so many questions for me about miscarriages and why miscarriages are more likely to occur in some women than others. It was written from the view of an immunologist, someone who studies the immune system. To summarize, the immunologists point of view, immunologists believe that “the mothers immune system regards the fetus as a mass of foreign tissue…an invader that must be attacked and killed.” This is one reason why so many women miscarry.
Allow me to paint a picture
Did you know that it’s a war zone in there? It’s literally a war zone in a mother’s womb. A woman who becomes pregnant is bombarded with millions of what her body recognizes as foreign cells, that in any other scenario the body would reject immediately to protect itself. Yet, five out of six times the mother’s body cooperates, with the fetus, to prevent her immune system from attacking the fetus. Nine months later a child is born.
The process that occurs is this:
The fetus literally protects itself from its mother by surrounding itself with a layer of tissue called a trophoblast. This trophoblast is key to a successful pregnancy. The mother’s body produces blocking antibodies when it detects this trophoblast to fend off her own killer cells and other immune system cells. These blocking antibodies are called “suppressor cells.” These cells vastly improve chances of not losing the fetus because they help dampen this hostile immune reaction that is occurring in her body. This scenario happens in most pregnancies.
Yet what about those women who do miscarry often, or, not seem to conceive at all? The immunologists feel that the suppressor cells are critical for a successful pregnancy. It’s important to remember that “these suppressor cells, produced in the mother are in answer to a signal from the trophoblast, and the absence of those signals play a crucial role in miscarriage.” It is on this trophoblast that a special group of cells originate from…the father…and serve as signals to the mother saying “protect me.” So, if the mother gets this message, her body produces the blocking antigen or antibody suppressor cells and a successful pregnancy begins. If the mother doesn’t get the message, she has a much higher chance of having a miscarriage.
So why would some women’s bodies do the right thing, by developing suppressor cells…and some not? The immunologists feel the key lies with the fathers antigens that are part of the surface of the trophoblast. If the mother’s body recognizes these antigen bodies as foreign she will develop the appropriate suppressor cells. Yet, if these antigens are too much like her own her body does not recognize them as foreign and will not develop the appropriate immune response. Thus she is more likely to miscarry.
Several studies and tests have been done with this viewpoint that lends credence to the immunologists theory. Women who have had miscarriage after miscarriage agreed to take part in a study. Determining that these particular women had similar immune system markers or antigens as their husbands, the go ahead to participate in the study was given. The women were supplied with either white blood cells, donor trophoblast tissue, or other types of antibodies from people who had an immune system that was vastly different from their own. The women were given these infusions before pregnancy and during pregnancy until the doctors felt safe the pregnancy would continue on its own. 80% of the women who went through this process carried their children to term. “By immunizing the mother with donor tissue that provides the missing signals, doctors can stimulate her to respond protectively.”
I’ve been greatly encouraged to find out how successful this immunologist study has continued to be. What I learned from this article I wanted to share with others because I feel it is important. Women who are having problems can also be encouraged with the testing and studies that these immunologists have done. This is, of course, not the cure for all miscarriages but can provide the answer for some. It provides yet another option thousands of women may benefit from, to have a happy healthy pregnancy.
To end, my friend has a healthy little boy now and became pregnant again. The only difference – she had a new husband!