Amanda Kern has three children—she says she has three babies in heaven, too.
Kern is just one woman who's chosen to speak out about miscarriage, and she details her experiences in a blog. The Orlando, Fla., mother had two miscarriages more than 13 years ago before the birth of her first child. She began blogging around the time of her third miscarriage, which happened between the births of her second and third children.
“Most [people] think a miscarriage is something a couple can simply get over because it happens so early, but to be honest, the moment we saw a plus sign on the pregnancy test every time we felt a strong connection to the baby we were expecting,” Kern said.
A new survey shows that the majority of Americans are misinformed about how common miscarriages are and what causes them. Researchers at the Montefiore Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University conducted the survey, and the results were presented at the recent American Society for Reproductive Medicine conference in Boston.
“Miscarriage is a traditionally taboo subject that is rarely discussed publicly—even though nearly one million occur in the U.S. each year, making it the most common complication of pregnancy,” said Dr. Zev Williams, director of Montefiore’s Program for Early and Recurrent Pregnancy Loss. Williams, who is also an assistant professor at Einstein, said the study goal was to better understand perceptions about miscarriage and start a discussion on the topic.
“We want women to understand they're not alone and know there are tests that may help them learn what happened, hopefully reducing those negative feelings,” Williams said.
What Really Causes a Miscarriage?
Of more than 1,000 women and men surveyed, 65 percent believe miscarriage is rare—in reality, it happens in about one in four pregnancies. Many women don't even know they are pregnant when it occurs.
The survey also shows that 41 percent of Americans think a sexually transmitted disease can cause a miscarriage, 31 percent say it can be caused by a previous abortion, and 28 percent say implanted birth control devices can be to blame. Seventy-six percent of survey respondents believe a stressful event can trigger a miscarriage, and 64 percent believe that lifting a heavy object can, too.
None of these beliefs are true. In fact, about 60 to 80 percent of miscarriages are caused by chromosomal abnormalities.
“In reality, most miscarriages are due to the embryo itself...kind of like nature’s way of preventing a birth defect,” said Dr. Serena Chen, director of the reproductive endocrinology division at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J. She said that the risk factors for miscarriage and birth defects include obesity, alcohol use, and smoking.
Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg, founder of The Fertility Institutes, said that the likelihood of a fetus having genetic abnormalities rises with a woman’s age, but new research shows that younger couples can be affected, too.
“This information is very important, as this knowledge may keep couples from traumatizing themselves with blame or guilt about factors that are simply beyond their control,” Steinberg said.
People Recognize the Emotional Toll of Miscarriage
Most of the people surveyed, however, did not dismiss that miscarriage’s emotional affects are severe—66 percent say that a miscarriage can be the emotional equivalent of losing a child.
“I do believe the pain is just as real and just as significant as losing a baby at full-term,” Kern said. “I certainly wished more people today would take the time to reach out to their family and friends who have lost a baby, no matter how early the baby was lost, and take time to acknowledge the loss—and to acknowledge that the baby did exist.”
Women Need Support After Miscarriage
Williams said the study shows that false perceptions in the U.S. are significant, and that more education is necessary to erase the stigma and help those who have suffered from miscarriage.
“Far too many families are experiencing loss in silence, and I think if there was a stronger show of support that miscarriage wouldn't be such a taboo topic to talk about,” she said.
Shannon Guyton, editorial director of TheBump.com, also experienced three miscarriages.
“I had many well-meaning friends and family members that blamed my losses on my worrying, and even while my doctor confirmed what I logically knew (that the losses were due to biology), those comments still sat in the back of my mind,” she said.
Guyton said it’s important to remember that experiencing miscarriage doesn’t mean a woman won’t be able to conceive.
“Most women go on to have successful pregnancies after a miscarriage,” Guyton added.