Miscarriage. It’s hard enough to talk about even with your partner. Rarely does it get discussed in casual conversation. While it is sad and often seen as private, it is not uncommon or unnatural like many people believe. Misperceptions and myths about the ending of a pregnancy abound, making the difficult event even harder to understand, discuss or heal from. Like any loss or difficult life event, women are often left to themselves feeling alone, guilty and even traumatized.
It is important to know that facts. They normalize much of the suffering, taking away the isolation and self-blame. Here are seven commons myths about miscarriage followed by the facts.
Myth #1: Miscarriage is a rare complication of pregnancy.
Fact: Approximately 20% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. A third of women who have two children have also had a miscarriage. When a pregnancy is recognized at its very earliest before a woman has missed her period, there is a 30% chance of miscarriage. If you count all the pregnancies that are never even known about, there is actually a greater chance that a fertilized egg will perish rather than live.
Myth #2: All women grieve their miscarriages.
Fact: Every woman has her own unique response to miscarriage. Some grieve the loss as the death of a child. Others see the loss more like a missed opportunity. The same women may experience the loss differently at different times in her life span depending on her financial circumstances, age and how many children she already has.
Myth #3 A woman did something wrong (drank alcohol, exercised etc.) to cause the miscarriage.
Fact: Up to 70% of miscarriages are caused by a genetic defect not compatible with life. Some other common causes include unregulated diabetes, thyroid conditions and drug abuse. Miscarriage is also more common for women over 35 with the risk rising sharply after 40 as her chromosomes age. According to Elizabeth Nowacki, D.O. an obgyn at St. Vincent Fisher’s Hospital in Indiana, it is amazing how often our bodies get it right, “ When you think about a pregnancy, and you think about the beginnings of a human being and all the things that have to go perfectly, it really and truly is a miracle when it happens.”
Myth #4: Most women who miscarry will not go on to have a healthy pregnancy.
Fact: Most women who miscarry will only miscarry once or twice. Even if a woman miscarries three times, she has good reason to hope. Dr. Ruth Lathi a professor of obstetric and gynecology at Stanford University contends that a 35-year old women with multiple back-to-back miscarriages still has a 70% chance of carrying the baby to term.
Myth #5: A stressful event caused the miscarriage.
Fact: Stressful events including lifting heavy objects and stressful jobs and family life do not cause miscarriage. A study of women done in Israel found only a 2 percent difference in the miscarriage rate between women living in safety versus women living under constant threat of bombing. More typical and less dramatic stress such as a hectic job or a death in the family are not causes of miscarriage.
Myth #6: You shouldn’t talk about miscarriages.
Fact: Secrets breed isolation and suffering. Many women have had at least one miscarriage and find relief in sharing their story. Miscarriage is very much a part of the human experience and the grip of shame and guilt and isolation is loosened once the burden is shared with a caring other.
Myth #7: It my partner isn’t crying, they aren’t sad or grieving like I am.
Fact: Every individual has their own unique reaction to miscarriage. Many individuals obviously suffer through the stages of grief in Kubler-Ross’ model including experiencing denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. But the order of the stages of grief and the length of time spent in each stage varies tremendously from person to person. Additionally, some people need to primarily process loss verbally while others more through journaling, artistic endeavors or long runs. It is important to talk about miscarriage but it also equally important to accept a partner’s process which may be very different from your own. A partner who seems ok on the outside may be suffering as much as an individual who cannot stop crying.
Terri Buysse is a clinical psychologist with a private psychotherapy practice in Edmonds and Everett, Washington. She specializes in perinatal, parenting, and trauma work. She is one of the facilitators for Little Sprouts, a new mothers’ support group in Mountlake Terrace, and is a member of Perinatal Support Washington.