Millions Of Women Might Never Know They Had This Type Of Pregnancy
Miscarriages weren't something I knew a great deal about before experiencing it for myself.
I knew other women who'd been affected, even those close to me, but to say I was naive about the depth of trauma that accompanies this type of loss would be an understatement. I can recall even minimizing the emotional impact of a miscarriage back in my younger years, ignorantly thinking it could be remedied by having another baby. I guess it's true what they say---self-experience is one of life's greatest teachers.
My husband and I already have one child, a charismatic 10-year-old son who "surprised" us early in our relationship. With that being said, making a decision to have another was a long time coming for us, and we finally felt like the time was right.
We had only been trying to conceive for a few months before I saw those two pink lines that sent me running up the stairs to tell my husband we were having a baby! We felt a sense of relief that our journey hadn't been met with any challenges and instantly became immersed in planning for the new addition to our family. While awaiting our first prenatal appointment, we wrestled with the idea of sharing the news so soon but eventually came to a decision to tell our closest family and friends.
I never imagined just three weeks later, we'd be telling those same people we were no longer pregnant.
I was helping my son with his homework on the afternoon the bleeding started. Although it wasn't heavy, it persisted as the evening went on, and I was instructed by an on-call doctor to monitor my pain levels and to go to the nearest hospital if things progressed. He told me there was a chance that it could be a miscarriage and only time would tell. I remember playing this beautiful rendition of Aretha Franklin's "Say A Little Prayer" on my phone and placing it against my stomach while praying that everything was going to be okay. The bleeding seemed to stabilize overnight, and we tried to remain hopeful as we walked into our doctor's office the next morning.
I should have been exactly 6 weeks and 2 days along, and my doctor warned us not to be alarmed if we couldn't hear a heartbeat since it was still early in the baby's developmental stage. She opted to do an ultrasound first, and that's when things began spiraling downward. As we looked up at the ultrasound screen, we literally saw nothing. Blood tests from two weeks earlier had confirmed the presence of the pregnancy hormone, and I had almost all of the early pregnancy symptoms, but there was not a visible embryo or even a gestational sac in my uterus. Concerned it might be an ectopic pregnancy, a life-threatening condition where the fertilized egg grows outside of the uterus, she immediately sent us to the emergency room.
There, a more extensive ultrasound and additional blood test confirmed that it wasn't an ectopic pregnancy but rather an early miscarriage. The doctors believed our pregnancy had ended around week three, almost immediately after we conceived and was likely due to chromosonal abnormalities. But because the pregnancy hormone was still present in my blood, although rapidly decreasing, my physical body had still been in a pregnant state the past few weeks, causing symptoms like bloating, frequent urination and sore breasts. Hearing I was no longer pregnant, and hadn't been for some time, was a huge slap in the face for me.
It felt like I had gotten tricked in the most devastating way, and it broke my heart to know that everything that I thought was, actually wasn't.
We left the hospital that afternoon with plans for our growing family behind us and completely unprepared for the grief that lay ahead of us. The clinical term for an early miscarriage is a chemical pregnancy. I've become somewhat of an expert on this subject after spending weeks looking for any piece of information that would help answer the questions: who, what, why and how. I knew it was nothing that I did or that I could have done to prevent this, but taking the time to educate myself on this thing that has been so relentlessly painful to me and many other women has been a part of my grieving process. Even more surprising than the statistics surrounding chemical pregnancies was learning that most women never know they've had one.
To understand this type of miscarriage, you need to first understand the pregnancy hormone known as hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin). hCG can only be detected through your urineor through a blood test, so you really have to be looking for it to know it's there--not uncommon for women who are actively trying to conceive. Many women, however, will only test their urine after realizing their period is late, which in the case of a chemical pregnancy, the level of hCG has already begun to decline enough to likely give a negative test result. Women who were unaware they were pregnant to begin with often attribute the heavy bleeding from the miscarriage to an unusual cycle caused by stress or other reasons.
I often wonder if I had waited just a few days to take a pregnancy test, would I have ever known that I was pregnant? Would I have been better off not knowing at all like so many other women who experience chemical pregnancies?
It's easy to answer "yes" to that question when I think of all the heartache I could have avoided, which brings me to the biggest lesson I learned out of all of this.
Happiness can exist in the midst of heartbreak.
I cried for days. I shut down and did not want anyone to attempt to power me back on. This is undeniably the most painful thing I've ever faced in my life. At some point though, while deep in the trenches of sadness, I started thinking about how much love and joy my family had felt in the weeks prior to our loss. I thought about how happy our loved ones were when we told them the news. I thought about how instantly more in love I felt with my husband for what we had accomplished together. I thought about how my son was so excited to finally be a big brother. All those moments counted for something and were such a gift.
I think in life we sometimes dwell so much on how an experience, relationship, etc. didn't turn out the way we wanted, we let that overshadow the parts that once brought us joy. For me, sadness doesn't cancel out the happiness I felt, and that's what I'll remember most when I think of my pregnancy.
So to answer the question I posed earlier: No, I wouldn't have been better off not knowing I was pregnant because it gave my family one more thing to smile about, one more thing to be thankful for, and for that, we'll be forever grateful.
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