What Most People Don’t Know About Miscarriages

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Miscarriage leaves many couples feeling heartbroken and guilty, and they wrongly blame themselves. (Photo: iStock)

Lifting a heavy object, taking birth control pills, getting into an argument — none of these factors have anything to do with causing a miscarriage, a heartbreaking experience that ends a million pregnancies each year.

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But that’s not what the respondents of a new survey believed. The survey, part of study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, sought to uncover what adults knew about miscarriage — as well as the misconceptions surrounding the event that help keep it under wraps, while so many other aspects of pregnancy are discussed out in the open.

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“Because miscarriage isn’t talked about, couples who experience it are surprised to learn how common it is, and that they aren’t to blame,” study coauthor Dr. Zev Williams, reproductive endocrinologist and director of the program for Early and Recurrent Pregnancy Loss at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, tells Yahoo Parenting.

“In fact, miscarriage is a woman’s body sensing that something is wrong, that the baby can’t be brought to term and survive, and therefore ends the pregnancy,” says Williams. “There’s this ancient thinking about miscarriage that persists because it’s not discussed, and we set out to do the study to find out just how much this secrecy has promoted myths about it.”

Among the findings: Over half of the 1,000 male and female respondents thought that miscarriage was much rarer than it really is, occurring in less than six percent of pregnancies. The real rate is much higher, with 20 to 25 percent of pregnancies ending in miscarriage, says Williams.

“The number might be as high as 50 percent, if the early weeks of pregnancy are counted, even though many women still don’t know they are pregnant at that point,” says Williams.

And while 74 percent were correct in that genetic or medical problems (such as chromosomal damage or structural abnormalities to the embryo or fetus) are the main cause of miscarriages, ending about 60 percent of pregnancies, the survey respondents wrongly believed that other factors led to pregnancy loss as well. 

Twenty-two percent mistakenly thought that using drugs or drinking were the main causes of miscarriage, when in fact they’re only contributing factors. And 76 percent believed that a stressful event could be a trigger.

A past abortion, previously using an IUD for birth control, coming down with sexually transmitted disease at some point, and not wanting the baby in the first place were also cited as miscarriage triggers — though none of these has an effect in any way, says Williams.

All of the myths swirling around miscarriage contribute to something else: women who miscarry and their partners feeling guilty, isolated, and alone. Fifteen percent of the survey respondents had experienced a miscarriage or had a partner who lost a baby, 47 percent of them reported feeling guilty, 41 percent felt they had done something wrong, 41 percent reported feeling alone, and 28 percent reported feeling ashamed. Less than half felt that their doctor gave them the emotional support they needed to deal with it.

That’s something Williams and his colleagues want to change, concluding that if healthcare professionals recognized how heartbreaking miscarriage was and offered more emotional support, couples wouldn’t feel so isolated and guilty, and more people would share their own miscarriage experience — thus bringing it out in the open.

“I hear women all the time who blame themselves — they think that having a Venti coffee or even having sex caused their miscarriage, and I counsel them that it was probably something beyond their control,” Alyssa Dweck, ob-gyn in Westchester, New York and coauthor of V Is for Vagina, tells Yahoo Parenting. The good news, she says, is that most women who experience miscarriage can expect to bring a baby to term in the future.

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