Putting On My Own Oxygen Mask First

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This is Guest Post #1 of 10 from Christine Carter’s Raising Happiness blog. You can read the full post here. In fact, you’ll have to, since I’m only posting a teaser here on my blog.

In August 2009 I discovered that I was pregnant with twins—a rare, 1-in-25,000 kind of pregnancy in which the twins shared both a placenta and an amniotic sac. The protocol for this kind of pregnancy is to monitor the mother and babies twice a month. If the mother is still pregnant at 28 weeks, she is admitted into the hospital until the babies are born.

A normal pregnancy is 40 weeks, but for a monoamniotic/monochorionic pregnancy such as mine, the best-case scenario is that the babies are delivered around 32 weeks’ gestation—the point at which the risk of the twins dying from prematurity is less than the risk of dying from umbilical cord entanglement in the womb. Babies born eight weeks early may still need help to breathe and eat. Although many do quite well, they are still at risk for learning and behavioral problems later in their development.

You don’t have to be a cognitive scientist (as I am) to know that in the face of scary and uncertain circumstances humans often act irrationally. I knew I was asking for trouble by Googling search terms such as “mortality rates for preemies.” But I did it anyway. I learned about horrendous fetal birth defects that I never knew existed and found entire forums of scared mothers.

The truth of the matter was that I had stumbled upon tragic circumstances that were actually quite rare and none of them had anything to do with monoamniotic pregnancies. But the more I read about these worst-case scenarios, the more probable it seemed that they would happen to me.

Cognitive scientists call this the salient exemplar effect—a memorable or tragic event makes such a great impact we assume that it happens more frequently than it actually does. For example, (statistically speaking) terrorist attacks and plane crashes are quite rare when compared to other accidents or acts of violence. And the likelihood that a terrorist attack will cause a plane crash is even less likely. Yet the tragic events of 9/11 frightened many people into thinking that air travel was riskier than actually is.

Left hanging? Read the rest of the post here.