For all its prevalence, miscarriage remains stubbornly taboo. So says Dr. Zev Williams, an OB-GYN and director of the Program for Early and Recurrent Pregnancy Loss at the Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and Montefiore Medical Center in New York. He set out to learn about the misconceptions that fill the silence, and in a survey of 1,084 adults published today in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, he learned that most Americans think miscarriage occurs in just 1 in 20 pregnancies—and men are 2.5 times more likely to think they're as rare as 1 in 50. In reality, 1 out of every 4 or 5 pregnancies actually end in miscarriage. "I've taken care of sisters who didn't know that each of them were having recurrent miscarriages" because they didn't tell each other, Williams tells LiveScience.
Another major myth is that women cause miscarriages (e.g., via stress, lifting heavy objects, drinking, even having an argument or negative thoughts), and 22% of respondents believed lifestyle choices like drug use are the biggest cause. (Most miscarriages—60%—are caused by chromosomal abnormalities.) Guilt is a common reaction. "I felt, and feel, literally broken, and betrayed by my body," one woman wrote to NPR. "It's irrational, but there is such a deep shame attached to not being able to carry a baby to term." Among the survey respondents who've miscarried, nearly half said they felt less alone when friends talked about their own miscarriages. People "often blame themselves and don't discuss it," Williams said, but "miscarriage is ancient. It's always been there." (In El Salvador, one miscarriage was considered murder.)