How to cope when a miscarriage takes you by surprise
I have an early scan of my second pregnancy that almost no one has seen. I bet, if I put it up on Facebook, it would get a flurry of likes and congratulations at first. Those ultrasound printouts can be confusing: white and gray blurry structures that could be anything, until you know, and then it's easy to tell what's what.
When a friend announced her pregnancy with a Facebook post of her 12-weeks-and-three-days scan, she got more than a hundred likes on Facebook. The due date looked familiar, and then I realized why: It was 12 weeks and three days since I had conceived, too.
"It's too early to see," the doctor said at my eight-week scan. All we could see was an almost perfectly round, 0.75” by 0.78” inky blob: the gestational sac developing, already pushing my stomach out despite its tiny size. We returned three weeks later, hoping the invisible fetus had magically grown to camera-ready size. It hadn't. The scan showed the blob had elongated, sunken in the middle into a rough banana shape, but still empty.
This time, the doctor confirmed that the pregnancy had probably stopped about five weeks earlier. It was now considered a “spontaneous abortion.” The shape of the empty sac proved my body was already trying to reject it, a fact I would be quite aware of a few hours later when the low belly cramps and spotting started.
I'd known weeks before first seeing the blob. This pregnancy had been about everything I wasn't feeling. No nausea, no tiredness so extreme I couldn't make it through the day without a two-hour afternoon nap, no hint of the prenatal depression I'd had with my first baby, no sudden aversion to the sweet foods I'm normally hooked on, no feeling that something special was happening. I was more hungry than usual, mostly for starchy carbs, I had to pee annoyingly often, and my stomach looked bloated, but that was it. I had been half-pregnant, with half the symptoms, and a whole baby was missing.
I counted myself lucky that my instincts had me prepared as I sat in the obstetrician's office, surrounded by leaflets, posters, and a calendar full of chubby baby photos, discussing what would happen next. I could hear the fetal heartbeat of the lady in the next room while I chose a D&C, rather than a drug-induced abortion or the wait-and-see-at-home method.
For the six days between the onset of miscarriage and the procedure, with nothing to do but cramp, bleed (not too heavily), and obsessively monitor the bleeding for signs of tissue, I read up on miscarriage in online forums. I had been in complete ignorance that a miscarriage was physically painful. I knew there was some bleeding, but I didn't know your body had to go through an agonizing labor to miscarry. I became scared to leave the house in case I bled my non-baby out onto the street.
I made it to the hospital without fully miscarrying, and they wheeled me into surgery past a stack of incubators and the sounds of a newborn crying. The op went so well, coming out of the 10-minute general anesthesia was as refreshing as waking up from an afternoon nap. No pain, no hemorrhaging, no tears. It was as if it had happened to someone else. Of course, I tried not to dwell on it — and intellectually I know there’s almost nothing a pregnant woman can do to cause a loss — but I was still paranoid about the ibuprofen I'd taken for pharyngitis before I knew I was pregnant, and the apple cider vinegar I'd gargled which one website said pregnant women should avoid. And the two large glasses of sangria I'd drunk. And the raw cheese I'd consumed. And the folic acid I'd not started until the second month. And my aging eggs.
Even so, I saw pregnant women and didn't grieve; I chatted to a pregnant friend, and it was fine. I didn't consciously choose to hide my half-pregnancy and D&C, but I didn’t know how to mention it, so it became a secret anyway.
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