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Miscarriage Myths and The Damage They Do

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album

Reviewed by Heidi Radunovich, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

When I was a young teen, I read old books or watched old movies in which women had miscarriages due to falling down, riding horses, getting upset, or other odd reasons.

Years later, when I became pregnant for the first time, I learned more about the true causes of miscarriage.
Although (like most pregnant women) I was still apprehensive about losing a pregnancy, I wasn’t too worried about those old myths.

Mistaken Beliefs Still Common

But are we as a society still holding on to mistaken beliefs about the causes of miscarriage? And could this be tied to guilt, shame, and emotional suffering? A recent survey suggests so. In a study published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, about 1000 men and women answered a series of questions designed to get at their beliefs and feelings about miscarriage. A subset of respondents who said that they or their partners had experienced miscarriage answered additional queries.

Mistaken Beliefs About Causes and Frequency of Miscarriage

Although miscarriage is relatively common, occurring in 15-20% of pregnancies, the majority of respondents incorrectly thought it affected a much smaller percentage–less than 6%. In addition, survey respondents held many inaccurate beliefs about its causes.

Though 95% knew that a genetically abnormal fetus can lead to pregnancy loss (the cause of miscarriage 60% of the time), the majority also inaccurately believed that a stressful event or lifting something heavy can cause miscarriage. About 20-25% thought that factors like having had an argument, having used birth control pills, or having previously used an IUD could cause miscarriage. (None of these lead to pregnancy loss). And almost a quarter thought that “lifestyle choices” were the most common cause of miscarriage. (Genetic and medical problems are actually the most common causes).

Negative Feelings Linked to Myths?

As for women and partners of women who had indeed miscarried, almost 40% felt they could have somehow prevented these losses. Perhaps as a result, nearly half felt guilty, and about 40% felt alone, or like they did something wrong.

It also seems that being given a reason for the miscarriage is very important. While less than half of women were given a cause for the loss by medical personnel, those who did receive a cause were less likely to feel responsible for their miscarriages.

Nearly all participants in the survey said they “would want to know” the cause of a miscarriage. This was true for the majority even if nothing could be done to prevent further losses.

Ways to Help

How can we help women and the partners of women who experience pregnancy loss? Isolation is a serious issue. Women in this survey felt less alone when friends opened up to them about their own miscarriages, and were also helped by celebrity discussion of miscarriage in the media. Also, since only about half of women said they felt adequately supported by medical personnel, there’s clearly an unmet need in this area.

Education Matters

It’s past time for more and better education on the true causes of miscarriage, as well as education regarding those things which do not cause pregnancy loss. Lifting the veil on this subject can help more women and their partners understand this topic, and to feel supported and cared for if they do experience the heartbreak of miscarriage.

Further Reading

Miscarriage–Info about miscarriage from the Mayo Clinic

Common Causes of Miscarriage–from RESOLVE

Miscarriage myths–from Pregnancyloss.info

Facts about miscarriage–from Pregnancyloss.info

October 15th–October 15th is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day; site has many resources

Unspoken Grief–Community for those who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth, or neonatal loss

References:

Bardos, J., Hercz, D., Friedenthal, J., Missmer, S. A., & Williams, Z. (2015). A National Survey on Public Perceptions of Miscarriage. Obstetrics & Gynecology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1097/AOG.0000000000000859

Photo Credits: Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Thinkstock