A recent survey, by Dr. S. Zev Williams and other researchers found that many American have misconceptions about miscarriage.
Over 1000 adults (men and women) were surveyed in 48 states. Approximately 15 percent of the female respondents had suffered at least one miscarriage. More than half of those surveyed believed that miscarriage was a rare event. In fact miscarriages occur in between 20 and 25 percent of all pregnancies. Many of those surveyed believed that number to be around 5 percent. I'll admit that when I had my first miscarriage and began to do some research, I was shocked at how high those numbers actually are.
The survey also showed that a majority of respondents believed that stressful events often were the cause of miscarriage. Many believed that heavy lifting was a major cause of miscarriage. In reality, most miscarriages are caused by chromosomal abnormalities. Other causes include maternal infection as in the case of listeria (a food borne pathogen) or toxoplasmosis (an infection caused by a parasite found in cat feces), uncontrolled maternal illness such as Diabetes, blood clotting issues and uterine malformations. Additionally there are many other factors which may cause or contribute to miscarriage. A cause is only identified in approximately 50 percent of all miscarriages.
Another interesting result of the study was that an overwhelming majority of respondents said they would want to know what had caused a miscarriage regardless of whether that information affected the outcome. Currently, unless a woman has three or more miscarriages, no evaluation or testing is performed. Generally, after three or more miscarriages, a woman will be evaluated. I think this can be very frustrating to some women who are just told to go home and try again after one or two miscarriages. Perhaps if doctors better understand patients' distress, testing may be done sooner.
Additional survey results found that many women who'd experienced miscarriage felt they'd done something wrong. Almost one quarter of survey respondents believed erroneously, that if a mother didn't want a pregnancy or felt ambivalent about it, her feelings could lead to miscarriage.
The survey's authors acknowledge that miscarriage is a topic we seldom talk about. It seems to me there is a vicious cycle here; we don't talk about miscarriage, so all of these misconceptions exist and because all of these misconceptions exist, we don't talk about miscarriage. Survey respondents who had experienced miscarriage also reported feeling “alone, ashamed and guilty”
Dr Williams said “There's a disconnect between what we healthcare providers know and what patients believe.” In my experience that seems to be true. While my own doctors behaved with compassion about my losses they also didn't seem especially alarmed about them. For me and many other women, these losses may seem like the end of the world.
I think it's really important that we keep talking about pregnancy and infant loss as a society. Dispelling some of these misconceptions can help us to better support one another whether we've had a miscarriage or not.
The survey's findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in October of 2013.