A miscarriage is not the woman’s fault

Photo: nikilitov - Fotolia

Photo: nikilitov – Fotolia

Most women who intentionally get pregnant do everything they can to give birth to a healthy baby. Yet research estimates say that about 1 in 5 pregnancies end in miscarriage. Not only do the expectant women feel an enormous sense of loss, but also deep feelings of shame and guilt. The sense of loss is understandable, but according to the best medical research, women should not blame themselves. In most cases of miscarriage, there is nothing a woman can do to prevent it. However, in both Western and Indian societies, the topic is off-limits to discussion, so women do not get the right message. Instead, the taboo nature of the subject leads women to feel isolated and alone.

There are no precise estimates of how many miscarriages occur, but the range for the US and the UK is that 15% (1 in every 6) to 20% (1 in every 5) medically confirmed pregnancies ends in early pregnancy loss, which the medical terminology for miscarriage. The actual number may be higher because some women miscarry without ever knowing that they’re pregnant, and do not seek medical attention. Yet many people, especially men, think that miscarriages are much less frequent. A survey in the US found that half (53%) of men as compared to 2 out of 5 (38%) women respondents put the rate of miscarriage at 5%, and only 1 in 3 (27%) of men as compared to half (46%) of women put it at 25%, which is closer to the actual number. These statistics were reported in a research paper published in Obstetrics & Gynecology on a study conducted in the US.

Of the respondents who had a past miscarriage, almost half said they felt guilty, one in three said that they felt shame, and 2 out of 5 (38%) said that they felt that they had done something wrong and that they could have prevented it. The researchers did not ask respondents what they thought they had done wrong, but they did ask what they thought could lead to miscarriage.

On average, one in 5 (22%) respondents said that the most common cause of miscarriage is lifestyle choice, such as drug, alcohol or tobacco use. Splitting that number up by the gender of the respondents, one in 3 (31%) men thought that lifestyle was the main cause of miscarriage, while only 1 in 6 (15%) women thought so. According to research, the most common causes of miscarriage, accounting for up to 80% of all miscarriages, are either medical or genetic abnormalities which are beyond the control of the woman.

In the survey, While 3 out of 4 did correctly identify medical or genetic conditions as the most common cause of miscarriage, about the same number of people incorrectly believe that stress, either from a single event or long-standing stress, can cause miscarriages. Other causes that people incorrectly believe cause miscarriages (from this and other studies):

  • lifting heavy objects does not cause miscarriage
  • having sex during the pregnancy does not cause miscarriage
  • moderate exercise during the pregnancy does not cause miscarriage
  • having had a sexually transmitted disease in the past does not cause miscarriage
  • past use of oral contraception or an intrauterine device does not cause miscarriage
  • drinking coffee does not cause miscarriage
  • getting into an argument does not cause miscarriage
  • thoughts of not wanting the baby does not cause miscarriage

In India, common wisdom and news and health articles provide tips on preventing miscarriage that often point the finger at other causes, but which are still supposedly under a woman’s control. Read them and they will have you believe that anything from potholes to certain foods (FamiLife will not link to such false information) will cause a sudden loss of pregnancy. There is no medical evidence for any of this.

The fact of the matter is that even today’s doctors with modern methods and equipment will have a hard time telling why any one particular pregnancy ended early. “In almost half of all miscarriages, no cause is found and part of that stems from the limited knowledge that we have about miscarriage,” Zev Williams, one of the authors of the study and a faculty member of Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York, told Huffington Post.

While medical science may not be able to provide every answer, people do want to know why their pregnancy ended. In the survey, 9 out of 10 (88%) respondents wanted to know the cause, and 8 out of 10 (78%) wanted to know even if there was nothing they could do about it. That need to know, which probably goes back to ancient times, may have given rise to the myths that end up blaming women. “Miscarriage has been a problem since ancient times, and thus much of the public’s thinking about it may have been formed long ago, in an age of folklore and myth and before the era of modern medicine.” In the absence of actual information, people fill in the gaps with other information.

If you have experienced a miscarriage and are feeling guilty, ashamed or alone, talk to people about it. The chances are that you are not unique in this regard. Please like FamiLife’s page on Facebook so that you get all our articles and others may find us.

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