The Pregnant OB Part 3: Holding my breath
For most women, pregnancy is a time filled with intense joy. Sometimes, however, it can bring extreme sadness.
Lately, I’ve been holding my breath, wondering if something bad is going to happen to my baby.
Now I’m at 17 weeks and well into my second trimester, the highest risk period for miscarriage has passed.
I should be an optimist, but it’s hard sometimes. As an OB, I know the unexpected can still happen at any point in a pregnancy.
Sometimes, I witness what can go wrong firsthand.
When things go wrong
One day early in my pregnancy, I entered the room of one of my patients. I carefully listened for the beat of her baby’s heart, but there was nothing. Just a resounding, static emptiness.
Ultrasound confirmed what I feared most — the fetus sat limply in my patient’s womb, with no signs of cardiac movement.
I relayed to the mother what I had found, that for some unknown reason, her baby had passed away.
As I looked into her eyes, the situation felt too close to home. Her baby’s short life had come to an end, and all the hopes and dreams she had for it would never come to be.
I could understand her pain and grief on a whole different level. My own fetus seemed ever so fragile in that moment.
After the initial joy, excitement, or even fear associated with a positive pregnancy test, most women don’t expect things to go wrong.
However, pregnancy loss happens and can come in many different forms, from a spontaneous miscarriage to an ectopic pregnancy, a molar pregnancy, or the demise of a larger fetus.
And, when the little flicker of life inside the uterus comes to an end, it can be devastating. Not least because the vast majority of the time, there is little or no explanation as to why.
Miscarriage risk factors
There are certain risk factors for miscarriage that a woman cannot change, such as her age, or having had a miscarriage in the past.
However, other risk factors are in her control. Heavy tobacco, alcohol or cocaine use, for example, has been linked to spontaneous miscarriages.
The most common cause of miscarriage is an abnormality in the fetus’ chromosomes, accounting for 50 percent of all cases.* This could be nature’s way of allowing only the healthiest babies to continue to develop.
Talking about miscarriage
Often close friends or family members have experienced miscarriage, but haven't talked about it. This reflects an unfortunate social stigma that leaves many women feeling alone if it happens to them.
I want women to know miscarriage is nothing to be ashamed of and is extremely common. In fact, up to 20 percent of clinically recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage.**
The good news is most women who miscarriage will go on to have a normal pregnancy the next time.
I see miscarriages every day in my practice. Now, with a glimmer of life growing in my own belly, the empathy I feel expands with each and every loss, no matter how early in the pregnancy.
In those times, I remember to hope and to focus on the good chance that I will see my patient again and get to guide her through a pregnancy that ends with joy and happiness, instead of sorrow.
Find an excellent MultiCare OB/GYN to guide you through a healthy pregnancy and delivery experience.
Learn more about pregnancy and newborn care.
*Hsu, LYF. Prenatal diagnosis of chromosomal abnormalities through amniocentesis. In: Genetic disorders and the fetus, 4th ed, Milunsky A (Ed), The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore 1998. p.179.
** Wilcox AJ, Weinberg CR, O'Connor JF, et al. Incidence of early loss of pregnancy. N Engl J Med 1988; 319:189.