Editor’s Note: Jodi F. Abbott is vice chair for education at the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department, Boston University School of Medicine. Eugene Declercq, founder of Birth by the Numbers, is professor and assistant dean at Community Health Sciences Department, Boston University School of Public Health. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.
Mark Zuckerberg announced that his wife had three miscarriages while trying to get pregnant
Jodi Abbott, Eugene Declercq: We need to talk about pregnancy loss more; there is no shame in having a miscarriage
Recently, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are going to have a baby girl.
In his public post that went viral, Zuckerberg wrote: “We want to share one experience to start. We’ve been trying to have a child for a couple of years and have had three miscarriages along the way. You feel so hopeful when you learn you’re going to have a child. You start imagining who they’ll become and dreaming of hopes for their future. You start making plans, and then they’re gone. It’s a lonely experience.”
Zuckerberg’s frank admission of his wife’s three miscarriages led to a vast outpouring of stories from women and families who have faced a similar situation.
Millennials have become accustomed to posting their lives online, and yet, as they are coupling and starting families they are discovering that few experiences are as isolating as losing a desired pregnancy.
On top of that, there is a certain stigma associated with miscarriages, as though it’s the fault of the parents. But it isn’t, and the stigma will be removed only if we talk about it more – openly and honestly. There is no shame in having a miscarriage.
A 2013 publication from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that there were more than 1 million miscarriages (generally referring to pregnancy loss within the first trimester) in 2009. This does not include the more than 23,000 stillbirths (fetal losses after 20 weeks of pregnancy) that occur annually in the United States.
Despite high-profile cases such as Jacqueline Kennedy, who experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth and the loss of a newborn child as well as two healthy children, the loneliness and stigma of miscarriage persists.
Women who cope with losing their pregnancy invariably feel like they are the only ones who have ever suffered this kind of pain. But they are not alone.
While only 1% of women experience more than one pregnancy loss, miscarriages are very common. Some 20% of women who deliver a child have had a prior miscarriage. Miscarriages are also more common as women age. So, as the age of first-time mothers in the United States has increased over the past 25 years, so have miscarriages.
In the past, when American women had more pregnancies they were more likely to already have children. Miscarriages, when they happened, were more common to women who already had successful pregnancies.
Today, with women starting families later and having fewer children, part of the distress that women who lose pregnancies now experience is their emotional conviction that they are broken and won’t be able to ever have a family.
American women also now less often live near their mothers, sisters, aunts and cousins. It’s likely that they haven’t been present and aware when these women lost pregnancies or don’t have physical and emotional support for their losses. As education and jobs take women away from their extended families, the collective and familial knowledge of both successful and unsuccessful pregnancies can be lost.
The good news for couples who have experienced miscarriage is that an isolated miscarriage does not lower the rate of successful pregnancy in the future, and even those with recurrent miscarriages are most likely going to have healthy children.
Suffering a miscarriage doesn’t have to be an isolating experience. There are opportunities to build online communities that can help women share their experiences of loss as well as celebrate their joy of a healthy pregnancy.
The decision of Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan to share this very personal experience is a valuable step forward in starting a public discussion about the issue. We need to raise awareness that pregnancy loss is part of millions of women’s reproductive lives. Women don’t have to feel devastated and alone when they experience such a loss.
And when all goes well, we can all appreciate the exquisite miracle of giving birth to a healthy child.