The possibility of miscarriage is often why women wait three months before sharing news of a pregnancy with others, and experiencing a miscarriage is often done secretly, a pain many grapple with alone, unfairly coupled with a feeling of guilt. According to a new survey released today by digital health startup Ava, 66 percent of women who have experienced a miscarriage blame themselves.
Fifty-nine percent of women who have experienced a miscarriage believe stress can cause a miscarriage. No wonder they blame themselves: Who hasn't been stressed? (Fully 95 percent of respondents to a Well+Good survey reported feeling stressed at the time.) Yet, while the belief that stress causes miscarriage is one of the most pervasive pregnancy myths, according to Mayo Clinic, "there's no evidence that stress results in miscarriage."
Maureen Cronin, MD, the chief medical officer for Ava, has a hunch as to why so many women blame miscarriage on themselves—and their stress. "Most miscarriages are caused by chromosomal abnormalities, and when this occurs, there is no way to save the pregnancy. One reason why this might be hard for women to accept is because they hear so much messaging around taking care of their bodies and getting healthy in preparation for pregnancy," she says.
Because so much advice is given to pregnant women, the "maybe ifs" can seem endless. "It can be very difficult [to have done] everything right and still lose the pregnancy. Miscarriage is a normal and common part of the process of getting pregnant, but that doesn't make it easy," says Dr. Cronin.
Knowing that miscarriage often isn't something that you caused but rather something that happened is powerful. Dr. Cronin acknowledges that it's no easy task to shed oneself of blame. "I notice that many women not only fear miscarrying, they also feel bad about their fear of miscarrying," she says. "Trying to get pregnant means admitting that you really want something and there are no guarantees whether or when you will get it. That's genuinely a scary, vulnerable place to be. Women [need] to have compassion for themselves and know that it's okay to feel some stress and fear around the risk of miscarriage—it's a real risk! This acknowledgement—along with the knowledge that you are far more likely not to miscarry than to miscarry—can go a long way in relieving some of the pressure for many women."
"A miscarriage can make women feel like they don't have control, and tracking fertility can help women regain a sense of bodily autonomy," says Dr. Cronin. "I know that some medical professionals may advise women not to track anything for fear it will only create stress, but from what I've observed, fertility tracking gives women a sense of empowerment in a situation where it's very easy to feel a lack of control." There's no right or wrong way to recover emotionally after a miscarriage. If tracking your cycle helps, great. If not, that's okay, too.
The misinformation surrounding miscarriages highlights an urgency to understand the causes so that women stop assigning blame to themselves. It's only then that healing can begin.
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