Miscarriages are difficult to talk about. Through much of my own life, it's never been fully explained to me. Not the why or how often it happens; just that it seems to. In my family, it's talked about as if it's a dark secret — even years after the fact. It was something you whispered to one another in passing as if it was some kind of juicy gossip, and that's all. No further explanation as to the cause. As I got older and my friends started to have families of their own, I began to notice being told before the “big announcement” was privileged information, trusted only to close friends and family. I remember one of them being quite serious when she said to me, “We don't want to jinx it by telling everyone so soon.”
It's the thing that must not be named, and its secrecy only makes things worse.
Because miscarriage is given such little explanation as to why it happens, myths have grown about it within our society. It wasn't until a recent study that talked about it that I became aware that miscarriages affect 15 to 20 percent of pregnancies and often occur as a result of genetic factors — something outside of the mother's control. However, this study, published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, shows that many people have some interesting ideas as to what causes miscarriages and why they happen.
The study was led by Jonah Bardos of Mount Sinai Medical Center. Along with his team of researchers, they built a 33-item survey asking over 1,000 people about their perceptions on miscarriages.
Zev Williams, a director of the Program for Early and Recurrent Pregnancy Loss, explained the importance of this research in a press release:
"Miscarriage is a traditionally taboo subject that is rarely discussed publicly. We initiated this survey to assess what the general public knew about miscarriage and its causes and how miscarriage affects them emotionally."
They collected participants through Amazon's MTurk crowdsourcing service. The authors did include some quality-control measures, like "if respondents answered the attention check question of, 'I had a fatal heart attack while watching TV' with a 'yes' or 'maybe,' meaning they are reporting they have died; all of their responses were excluded from analysis."
The survey indicated that participants tended to underestimate the frequency of miscarriages, with 55 percent of participants believing they affect less than 6 percent of all pregnancies. As for the cause, EurekAlert reported that 22 percent of participants said “lifestyle choices during pregnancy (such as smoking or using drugs or alcohol) are the single most common cause of miscarriage, more common than genetic or medical causes.” Other participants believed that a stressful event (76 percent) or longstanding stress (74 percent) was the cause of miscarriages. The list goes on with some of the most ridiculous believing miscarriages are caused by destiny or fate (8 percent) and premarital sex (2 percent).
A lot of people believe that miscarriages are caused by things that don't actually cause them and those things could be perceived as being the woman's “fault.” As if mothers didn't feel guilty already.
Because of these results, William's believes:
“Because miscarriage is very common, but rarely discussed, many women and couples feel very isolated and alone after suffering a miscarriage. We need to better educate people about miscarriage, which could help reduce the shame and stigma associated with it."
Miscarriages are a tragedy that hit home for many of us. When my own mother revealed to me many years after her own miscarriage that I would have had three younger siblings, I wonder to this day how different my life would have been. Being separated from knowing how different our family would have been makes me sad some days. But if I didn't write about it or talk about it, I wouldn't have gotten to know how often it happened to other families — that I wasn't alone. Just knowing that makes the weight of it all the more bearable.
Read more about the perceptions of miscarriages on EurekAlert!
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