Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook post in August 2015 about the baby girl that he and his wife are expecting appeared, by all accounts, to be fairly normal — perhaps the type of thing you would see every day on your feed from aunts, second cousins or your lab partner from high school.
What made Zuckerberg’s post go viral, however, was something that distinguished it from any other birth announcement — his admission that he and his wife previously had three miscarriages along the way.
With Zuckerberg’s admission, other women began sharing stories of their own miscarriages, as well as the accompanying feelings of doubt, discouragement and, above all, shame.
According to a study released in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than a million miscarriages —defined as pregnancy loss within the first trimester — occurred in 2009.
It seems strange, then, that miscarriages are such a taboo topic.
For one thing, many people don’t realize exactly how common miscarriages are. In a study by the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 15 percent of respondents admitted to having had a miscarriage, but respondents massively underestimated this number, on average guessing that a mere 6 percent of women suffer miscarriages.
The 15 percent number is accurate. Medical experts actually estimate that as many as 25 percent of women could suffer miscarriages, though the numbers are affected by the fact that many women are not aware they are pregnant in the first place when the miscarriage occurs.
The most concerning thing about this survey isn’t just misconception about the frequency of miscarriages, but also misconception about their causes. Survey respondents thought that miscarriages could be caused by everything from stress, to lifting heavy objects, to past use of birth control — 21 percent even thought that arguing intensely could cause a miscarriage.
In reality, none of these factors are proven causes of miscarriage. An estimated 60 percent of miscarriages are caused by chromosomal abnormalities in the fetus. The other most common factors are genetic or medical — definitely not heavy lifting.
However, when a woman suffers a miscarriage, and in particular when she is open about it, she often receives these reasons as a form of blame. If only she hadn’t had that glass of wine with dinner. If only she had kept her stress level down. If only she had stuck to yoga instead of jogging on the treadmill that one time.
In many — not all — cases, miscarriage can be traumatizing. A woman was preparing to have a child, and that reality changed abruptly. It can cause depression, anxiety and feelings of guilt — all this without the input of everyone at the water cooler, informing her that she could have avoided it if only she hadn’t worn those high heels.
It’s for these reasons that Mark Zuckerberg was incredibly brave with his post — not only brave, but worth emulating. Sicknesses like AIDS and cancer used to be spoken of in hushed tones, if that. Awareness campaigns and the steps of brave public figures helped change that.
The sooner we can stop treating miscarriages as taboo, the sooner society can work toward providing a healthier environment for the women who suffer them. These women shouldn’t receive judgment and condemnation, but rather support and encouragement.
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