If You Feel Guilty About Your Miscarriage, Science Will Make You Feel Even Worse

shutterstock_166510010Having a miscarriage is a heartbreaking experience. I don’t know any woman who takes it lightly. I do know several friends who have internalized the guilt after having miscarriage after miscarriage. From both real-life relationships and personal accounts I have read online, it seems like a woman that has experienced one or multiple miscarriages is always looking for the cause. Almost inevitably, she blames herself.

Recent research isn’t going to help this guilt in the least. Scientist at the University of Copenhagen studied 91,427 pregnancies. The study revealed that paying more attention to “avoidable risks” could prevent roughly 25%, or one in four, miscarriages.

Paying closer attention to avoidable risks, such as being underweight or obese before conception and drinking alcohol in pregnancy, could help reduce the toll, a study claims.

Working nights and lifting heavy loads also increased the chance of miscarriage, as did being aged over 30, the Danish team said.

They claimed that if women were able to cut these risk factors to very low levels, 25 per cent of miscarriages could be prevented.

It’s wonderful to know that science is working hard to reduce the risk of miscarriage by raising awareness. But I have mixed feelings about this kind of information. I know as a woman that has been pregnant twice that there are more than enough “warnings” of what you can and can’t do during pregnancy for the sake of the baby.

That doesn’t even begin to cover all of the annoying old wives’ tales—like don’t lift your arms over your head when you’re pregnant to reach something on a shelf because the umbilical cord could strangle the baby and cause a miscarriage. Yes, I’ve heard it all before, and this so-called wisdom did strike fear in my heart when I was pregnant.

I did not have a miscarriage, so I can’t fully imagine the guilt, anxiety, and sadness that come with it. But I am an anxious, guilty mother that often obsesses over every little thing that I do and how it will affect my kids. A woman that has had one or more miscarriages and reads this study will only feel worse. She carries enough guilt already.

(Image: lightwavemedia/Shutterstock)

You can reach this post's author, Bethany Ramos, on twitter.
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    • Crusty Socks

      I get that this study is going to add to the pain of those who went through a miscarriage (my sister), but maybe it’ll help lower the rate of future miscarriages. Even if it helps prevent one, I think it’s worth it.

      Also, some of the findings are just common sense… like resting and not working the graveyard shift? DUH, thanks!

      • Bethany Ramos

        Working the graveyard shift while pregnant is a huge NOPE for me. I couldn’t hack it.

      • Crusty Socks

        Did Eve ever force you to write an article at night to meet a deadline while you were preggers?

        #howdareher

      • Bethany Ramos

        Graveyard shift! #howdareher

      • Crusty Socks

        (btw, I know it’s supposed to be how dare she, but how dare her sounded funnier)

      • etbmm

        And those common sense findings are like horoscopes! So general and obvious that anyone who has a miscarriage can wonder if they didn’t rest “enough” or were “too” stressed or whatever. And anyone who is pregnant can chronically worry about those things (and judgey people can continue to judge, etc.).

    • StoppingBy

      I don’t think it’s fair to blame science for discovering this information and therefore causing more mommy-guilt. It is also science that has made advances in fertility medicine, treatments, etc. To withhold this information from the public would be irresponsible; they can’t just publish the stuff that would make everyone feel good. I understand that miscarriage is deeply painful and personal and women want answers as to why things may happen, and unfortunately sometimes those answers aren’t what they want to hear. With that said, it’s also very likely that even if women had compensated for all the risk factors, unfortunate and tragic things happen.

    • etbmm

      OK, cool! I’ll try not to be over 30 the next time I get pregnant! Let me pay closer attention to not being over or underweight when I conceive too. If I pay super-duper close attention, maybe my attention can radiate outward and prevent some nearby pregnant women from miscarrying too.

      I get that science is going to study the correlation between certain factors and rate of miscarriage. It makes sense. But it’s annoying that those correlations are then once again used to prescribe behavior onto pregnant and fertile women. Please.

      For what it’s worth, I don’t think you need to have had a miscarriage to be annoyed by these findings. Although I admit to cringing a little bit when I read “I haven’t had a miscarriage…but” and had flashbacks to the lynch mob article.

      • Bethany Ramos

        Unfortunately, I don’t have enough personal experience to cover every single topic. And I still have to write…

      • etbmm

        Sorry, the sarcasm wasn’t directed at you! It’s the conclusions that are drawn from these studies. Like I said, I don’t think that the studies by themselves are bad, but I am annoyed at how the information is used to tsk-tsk and police pregnant women. This studies just screams “use me to shame/scare more pregnant women into doing/not doing something”. Regarding my last paragraph, I meant to say that you should NOT have to have personal experience with a miscarriage to have an opinion about this study. I just meant, I don’t think you have to qualify your perspective with whether or not you’ve had one.

      • Bethany Ramos

        Thanks! The reason I added my personal experience was because I figured people would ask if I’d had one. And thanks again for your POV. :)

      • Crusty Socks

        I think the study is simply quantifying some of the risk factors. Like everything in life, pregnancy has its risks. Some greater than others. Some more avoidable than others.

        As a woman planning on becoming pregnant, the more you do to reduce these high risk factors, the better your odds of avoiding pregnancy.

        You sound very defensive for some reason. And please don’t shoot the messenger.

      • etbmm

        Yeah, I guess I am defensive. I am over 30, I am underslept (thanks, toddler!) and I could lose weight. I plan on having more kids. I supposed I am preemptively defensive on behalf of anyone who has had or will have a miscarriage who is being pointed to this study and being told, “You could’ve prevented that!” Maybe that defensiveness is born out of terror or guilt. If so, it just further’s Bethany’s point. I think it will make not just women who have had miscarriages, but anyone who had a drink before they found out they were pregnant, or who was overweight at all (as the study says this is a risk factor) at the time of conception, or who lifted something heavy, or has no choice but to work a night shift, etc. to feel guilty. Not to say that the study shouldnt’ happen. I do agree with other posters is not only a legitimate topic of study but necessary and important for prospective parents to be informed about!

      • Bethany Ramos

        Totally with you on that one – I know many women (my sister included) that got trashed before they knew they were pregnant. I very much understand pregnancy guilt. Best of luck on your future pregnancies.

      • Larkin

        Definitely found out I was pregnant not long after we had a Super Bowl party where I had probably five cocktails. When the test turned positive, I just looked down at my uterus and said, “Yikes. Sorry!”

        Not much to be done about it after the fact, though.

      • Brainspace

        I get you. We’ve been trying to get pregnant for a year and I had a chemical pregnancy recently, after 11 months of trying at that point. It does suck to think there was a chance I could have prevented it somehow. And that still doesn’t even take into account all of the miscarriages that have absolutely no known reason. The guilt is a huge burden and I know when/if I get pregnant again, it will constantly be on my mind.

        While I don’t think the study in and of itself is negative, I just wish there was more information than a rehash of what most women already know. Also, I do wish Mommyish would continue to explore infertility, miscarriage and loss from the angle of someone who’s been there. Of course not everyone can have every experience or should be pigeonholed into writing solely about their own personal experience, but I do think including more firsthand experience would resonate more than, “I can’t imagine it, but I think it must suck.”

      • Rowan

        I’m 41 and a bit overweight. When I conceived (unexpectedly), I’d just suffered a bereavement and was getting through the nights with wine and sleeping pills. As soon as I got the positive test, I stopped all that, started taking vitamins, made sure I ate properly etc. But, 2 days ago, I miscarried at 9 weeks. Maybe it was the wine and my age and all the other stuff. But the much higher probability is that it was utterly shit luck. Right now, I find “these things happen” a better thought than “it was all my fault”.

    • Tiffany

      I have two kids and am pregnant with my third. As someone who has had miscarriages in the past, I am quite the worrier. While I am positive I couldn’t have prevented what happened, it doesn’t make me feel any better about it. I agree that this is useful and scientific information to have, but for worriers like me, I also agree that it would increase my guilt were something to happen with this pregnancy…especially since I’m over 30, which is a risk factor I can’t really avoid at this point.

    • SA

      These are pretty helpful for women who are trying to get pregnant, but considering half of pregnancies are unplanned, it isn’t going to do much good at that point anyway. I think it is important to remember that miscarriages are more common than you think and that in MOST cases they occur because something has gone horribly wrong. These are what I kept in mind to get through my miscarriage and I have to say I am at peace with it and feel it was meant to be.

    • AlexMMR

      That’s still such a low number. That still means that 75% of miscarriages have no known avoidable cause.

      One thing that got me through mine, I know I did everything right according to the books and yet I still lost my babies. On the other hand, there are women who do drugs, are in abusive relationships where their bodies are subjected to all sorts of horrible things, women who participate in every risky behavior possible and yet they still manage to bring babies to term. If those babies survive while mine didn’t, well there’s not a whole lot of cause and effect now is there? No. In far too many cases, it’s luck of the draw and it sucks.

      • elle

        I feel kinda weird liking your comment but I thought your last sentence was perfect.

    • rrlo

      Most of these information was already known I think – I read about them before my own pregnancies. Most of these recommendations are almost impossible to avoid. It can take up to a year for the average couple to conceive – and to say that a woman has to completely overhaul her life and sustain it for two years, in order to reduce a chance of miscarriage by 25% is very unrealistic.

    • Rachel Sea

      A study confirms that elevated risk factors have consequences resulting in dead fetuses, and you’re worried that telling people will hurt their feelings? No good has ever come of withholding important health information from women. We need more information, and education to help us all make good choices, not less.

      Give people some credit. We’re not the weak, hysterical creatures that previous generations made us out to be. We can make smart, informed decisions, as long as we aren’t crippled by some patronizing paternalistic system that only tells us what it thinks we need to know.

    • blh

      Science and research don’t exist to make you feel good. And don’t you think it’s a good idea for women to know what may cause a miscarriage??

      • Williwaw

        Not to be argumentative here, but the research, as reported, has NOT shown what causes miscarriages. They have identified factors that correlate with a higher likelihood of a miscarriage. A relationship between two variables does not imply that one causes the other. A may cause B. B may cause A. B and A may both result from some common cause. Or, B and A may be unrelated, and the correlation may be coincidental. I still think women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should take good care of themselves – but I don’t think a misunderstanding of statistics should be allowed to make women feel responsible for something that we don’t really understand and was probably beyond their control.

      • R Z

        I think this is already such a sensitive area and it’s hard to find a balance between providing women with information and terrifying them. I think more research needs to be done before we come to a conclusion.

    • SusannahJoy

      I thought we all knew that being at a healthy weight and not smoking or drinking was best anyway?

      • R Z

        I think that’s over-simplifying things. While I agree that not smoking is obviously best, I never heard of it being a cause for miscarriage. I don’t think it was named as one in this particular study either.

      • SusannahJoy

        yeah, that def is simplifying it, but still. And I was always told that smoking increases chances of miscarriage, I guess I just didn’t notice that it wasn’t mentioned.

    • Andrea

      Information is power. I think it’s great that science is trying to explain the risks.

    • Williwaw

      That “Mail Online” article is very badly written. They present the story as if the research proved what causes miscarriages. No, it sounds like the research identified a bunch or correlations. Not causes. For instance, obesity. If obese women are statistically more likely to miscarry, it doesn’t mean that obesity causes miscarriages, or that losing weight will decrease the likelihood of a miscarriage. Maybe obesity correlates with some other factor, like stress, or income, or some unchangeable genetic factor that is actually the cause of the miscarriage. The “Mail Online” article says something to that effect about halfway down, but I still think it gives the overall impression that the risk factors they listed are the cause of miscarriages, and that reducing her risk factors will make a woman less likely to miscarry.

      As you said, women who miscarry suffer enough. Bad science (or badly reported science) shouldn’t make them feel worse. I am not suggesting that pregnant women not take care of themselves, but the reported research has not proved a single cause of miscarriage.

    • Emily

      A year ago I had a miscarriage at 7 weeks, a day after finding out I was pregnant. I have a wonky cycle and the only reason I even tested was because I was kind of like “wtf is going on with my body” and tested in a whim. When the miscarriage was confirmed my husband said something along the lines of “well we’ve been drinking a lot lately” which was just about THE dumbest and THE least sensitive thing he could say, because of course in my head he was saying it was my fault.

      The last thing I woman needs when she’s miscarrying is some kind of evidence that indicates there is something she could have done to prevent it.

      Everything on that list is common sense for a healthy pregnancy, but as Bethany has said, the way it is presented (as a way to “avoid” miscarriage) is sad and blamey.

    • Reba

      From what I was told by my midwife is that 50% of pregnancies end in miscarriage and that a lot of them even go unnoticed because it’s so early on. Also that those miscarriages (in the first trimester) are caused by genetic defects that wouldn’t result in a viable baby. So miscarriages aren’t necessarily a bad thing, as they are expelling embryos that wouldn’t survive. This is coming from someone who has had a miscarriage and no, I didn’t really feel ”guilty” because I know it wouldn’t have been a baby”. (I was sad though of course)