This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things. This is the story of my friend Kaitlin and her miscarriages. It’s estimated that 10-25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage.
Kaitlin and her husband
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m from Minnesota, currently living in San Francisco, but soon to be moving back to Minneapolis (yay!). I’m 34 and, although I have far too many degrees, my present job (in property management) is not really related to any of them.
Growing up, how did you feel about having kids?
I can’t say that I daydreamed about being a mother, but I’ve always been fairly confident that I wanted to have a child. I’ve thought about other ways to build a family — one of my younger sisters is adopted, so that option has always been something I’ve been willing to consider. However, I have a strong desire to experience carrying a baby, giving birth, breastfeeding, etc.
Can you tell us about the circumstances surrounding your miscarriages?
My husband and I started trying to conceive when I was 32. After about nine months, we were successful. We were thrilled and I was pretty nervous. My mother had four miscarriages and, growing up, she was quite open about her experience. So, for me, the possibility of miscarriage wasn’t just this thing that happened to “other women”– I knew quite well that it was common and could happen to me.
Nevertheless, we were optimistic after an initial dating ultrasound at 6.5 weeks. We saw a little heartbeat so, even though we knew it was really early, we told our parents about the pregnancy that night.
How did you know you were having a miscarriage? What did you do when you realized what was happening?
I think one of the big misconceptions about miscarriages is that they are these instantaneous events–everything is fine one minute, and the next minute the women is cramping and bleeding and she knows it’s all over. That does happen, but the process can be a lot more drawn out for many women.
With my first miscarriage, I had no idea that anything was wrong. When I was about 9.5 weeks pregnant, I went in for an ultrasound that was unrelated to the pregnancy. During the ultrasound, the tech let me peek at the baby on the screen and there was no fetal heartbeat. The baby had stopped developing at about 7.5 weeks, but my body had not yet recognized that fact. I hadn’t had any bleeding or cramping.
I was given three options: 1) I could wait a couple of weeks to see if I would miscarry on my own, 2) I could have a D&C (dilation and curettage — where a doctor goes in and manually removes the pregnancy), or 3) I could take medication to help my body expel the pregnancy. I opted to wait two weeks and then, when my body was still showing no signs of recognizing the miscarriage, I had a D&C.
I ended up getting pregnant again just a few months later. This time around, we went in for an ultrasound when I was 7.5 weeks pregnant and there was only an empty sac visible. After some follow-up blood work and another ultrasound, I was diagnosed with a blighted ovum (the sac develops, but the embryo itself does not). I had another D&C.
How did you cope – emotionally, physically – after the miscarriages? Were there any resources/books/websites that really helped?
I was absolutely devastated after my first miscarriage. When I became pregnant again rather quickly, I was hopeful that the new pregnancy might allow me to swiftly move past the loss. So, needless to say, having two miscarriages back-to-back took a huge emotional toll.
I was so ANGRY, but there was really no logical place to direct that anger. I started picking ridiculous fights with my husband and we argued a lot during that time. I eventually decided to join a therapist-led infertility support group and I’ve made some friends via an online support forum, both of which helped tremendously.
I’m also someone who is comforted by research and information gathering. To that end, I found one particularly helpful, comforting podcast “Creating a Family” which features expert guests discussing different issues related to fertility and family building.
Finally, my mother has been a huge source of support. I can’t exactly say I’m glad that my mom had miscarriages, but it does mean that she knows exactly what to say (and what not to say).
Have your miscarriages affected other aspects of your life?
The miscarriages (and infertility) were definitely hard on my marriage at times. I think it has really been a test of our ability to communicate and support each other.
It’s also sometimes been quite difficult to see some of my friends get pregnant and have children with (seemingly) no difficulty. I don’t want anyone to struggle, obviously, but it can feel very isolating to feel as though everyone around me is having a completely different experience with family building than I am.
Are you planning on starting a family?
I’m happy to say that, more than a year after my second miscarriage (and with the help of infertility treatment), I am pregnant again. I’m eight months along and, although I have my fears, I’ve had a number of ultrasounds and everything seems to be progressing well.
As far as preventing another miscarriage, trying to prevent another one depends upon what caused the first two. After two or three miscarriages in a row, doctors will typically run a bunch of tests to see if they can identify a reason for the losses. Beyond chromosomal abnormalities, possible reasons include blood clotting issues, autoimmune problems (like Lupus), and uterine issues (like fibroids or a septum), among others. Most of these issues can be treated if discovered and, if a couple goes through in vitro fertilization, testing can be done on the embryos before they are transferred to try and make sure that they are chromosomally normal.
Quite often, no issue can be identified. Research shows that most couples who have miscarriages do go on to have healthy pregnancies, however.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get genetic information about our prior pregnancies themselves, and all other testing has come back normal. Chances are they were due to chromosomal issues. With this pregnancy, I’ve been prescribed a couple of â€œcan’t hurt, might helpâ€ measures: progesterone supplements in the first trimester and low-dose aspirin. There is some evidence that these things can improve outcomes and are unlikely to cause problems.
If someone we know has suffered a miscarriage, what can we do to be supportive? What are some of things we SHOULDN’T say or do?
Different women react to miscarriage differently. Some women don’t grieve as strongly as I did. That said, I’d recommend treading lightly. I think the best thing you can do is say that you are sorry for her loss and offer to be a listening ear. Unless you have had a miscarriage yourself (or you are a Reproductive Endocrinologist), I wouldn’t try to offer advice (the same goes for infertility, by the way). Chances are she knows more about the issues than you do.
When I tell people about my miscarriages, the first thing many of them tell me is how common miscarriage is. While true, this is not news to a woman who has gone through it and it can feel awfully dismissive to hear others remind us. The fact that it is common doesn’t make the loss feel any less real.
Likewise, hearing things like “It is nature’s way [of dealing with chromosomal issues]” didn’t help me, either. It doesn’t make it easier to hear again and again that I probably didn’t have healthy pregnancies. I’m grieving the fact that they WEREN’T healthy.
Finally, “You can try again” isn’t comforting. First of all, not all women get pregnant easily, so it might be many months or even years before she can get pregnant again. Secondly, even if the women can conceive again quickly, that doesn’t change the fact that she is grieving the lost pregnancy. And any subsequent pregnancy is likely to be filled with much more anxiety. Her “innocence” is gone and many women also grieve that fact.
What advice would you give to others who have had miscarriages and are struggling to get past them?
Mostly, I would say be kind to yourself. Not everyone will recognize that you are grieving a very real loss, but that doesn’t make your grief any less legitimate. Seek help where you can. Consider speaking with a therapist who is knowledgeable about the grief surrounding pregnancy loss (because not all of them are).Thank you so much for sharing your story, Kaitlin. Do you guys have any questions for her? Have any of you experienced something similar? How did you get through it?