Pregnancy Loss, Silence, and Taboo: A Risk for the Latinx Community

Pregnancy Loss BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of uclahealth.org

In the Latinx community, we often hear of pregnant women refusing to come to terms with pregnancy until the first three months have passed for fear of something going wrong. Sometimes it is easier for a Latina to go through a pregnancy loss in silence.

Like most topics surrounding sexuality and reproduction, pregnancy loss is a taboo subject in the Latinx community.

“Our culture has some beautiful values surrounding the importance of family. However, with that value comes assumptions regarding the natural fertility of women and their journey into motherhood,” licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Christine Rivera tells PopSugar Latina. “There’s an emphasis on taking care of your body and having faith that everything will work out. Life just doesn’t pan out that way for everybody, and this heavy assumption can leave a woman feeling as though something is wrong with her body if everything does not go perfectly.”

According to the March of Dimes, 10 to 15 percent of pregnancies are lost early, meaning the fetus dies before 20 weeks gestation. And those figures only refer to known pregnancies. It is presumed in the scientific community that pregnancy loss rates are much higher.

“As a woman who experienced a [pregnancy loss], I remember feeling initial shame and having some embarrassment regarding losing my baby. One of the comments that I remember hearing from an older Latina woman was, ‘Oh, you didn’t take care of yourself?’ I was grateful for a friend who spoke up for me and said, ‘That’s not how that works’ very directly,” recalls Dr. Rivera, and she’s not alone.

According to research from Rush University College of Nursing in Chicago, the Latino community has one of the highest rates of perinatal death (defined as any pregnancy loss and/or neonatal death up to one month of age). The lack of data on Latinos’ experiences means that nurses and health specialists have little research evidence to guide our population.

However, the information researchers have does imply important risk factors.

Compared to non-Hispanic women, Latina women have been shown to have multiple risk factors for perinatal loss:

  • A higher proportion of teen births (81.7 per 1000 vs. 27.2);
  • A higher number of births to unmarried mothers (51.3 per 1000 births vs. 27.8); and
  • Twice as likely to receive care late (after the third trimester of pregnancy) or not at all.

Culturally specific grief

Researchers have found that there are many differences in the ways Latinos express grief compared to white populations. 

A study of Mexican and Anglo college students who had experienced the death of someone close to them showed increased overt expressions of grief and greater somatization among Mexican-American students. There were no statistically significant differences between groups in other grief responses such as despair, anger, guilt, social isolation, rumination, depersonalization, or death anxiety.

Some of the Hispanic cultural imperatives that influence their reactions to perinatal bereavement are respect and familismo, as well as silence.

“Experiencing a [pregnancy loss] is often devastating and can leave people with feelings of guilt and shame or have them questioning whether there is something ‘wrong’ with them. These feelings can be amplified when Latinx culture encourages silence around the topic of [pregnancy] and infant loss,” Latinx marriage and family counselor Esmeralda Murga of Quetzal Counseling told PopSugar Latina. “Many couples feel alone in their grief when the reality is that an estimated 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in [pregnancy loss]. Breaking the silence around [pregnancy loss] can help others feel less alone and more willing to reach out for support.”