• Fri, Sep 28 2012

The Miscarriage ‘Waiting Period’ Is A Good Thing

woman waitingResearchers have a new test that they say would be a quicker, more accurate way to judge if a woman is miscarrying her child. A new study in the British Medical Journal believes that a progesterone test would provide another way to recognize viable versus non-viable pregnancies. Now, I’m always a supporter of advances in reproductive health. I appreciate anything that makes it easier to help pregnant women through a difficult and emotional time. But I have to say that I was a little surprised to hear that we needed a better way to assess miscarriage. The process I went through was intensely straight-forward.

As the new research notes, current practices include a transvaginal ultrasound and a HCG hormone test. First, let me say that a transvaginal ultrasound is as uncomfortable and unpleasant as it sounds. In case anyone was wondering, the experience is not an enjoyable one. The second part of the process, the HCG test, measures how your hormones levels rise, so it does necessitate multiple blood draws and a few days waiting period.

My guess would be that the waiting period is what the researchers are really trying to avoid. It’s the couple of days in between your first and second blood draw, when the pregnant woman is emotional, stressed, and more than a little frantic. I can understand the logic of wanting to eliminate this horribly anxious time for pregnant women. And yet, there’s a part of me that thinks this time is important and should remain as is.

About a third of women experience some cramping and/or bleeding in the first few weeks of pregnancy. Even though it’s relatively common, it’s disconcerting and more than a little terrifying for those going through it. I first got concerned about my cramping a few days before Christmas last year. I had my first ultrasound, which could not see anything, and my first hormone test.

In the days that followed, including more than a couple huge family get togethers with lots of presents, I was anxious and stressed. I also had the opportunity to think and prepare myself for what might happen. I had the chance to come to terms with the possible outcomes. Then I went to have my second test, calm and accepting that I might get really awful news.

Except my news was good, because just like the progesterone test, the HCG test can be tricked by an ectopic pregnancy. I was lulled into a false sense of security. I was prepared for the worst, but then I thought that my troubles were over. Two days later, after excruciating cramps sent me to the ER, hearing that I really was going to lose the pregnancy was like a blow to soul. It literally ripped the air out of my lungs.

Obviously not everyone has my experience. And no two people will react to news or handle this difficult situation the same way. I can’t go back and say that it would’ve been different if I found out the first time, when I felt prepared. But looking back, I feel like the time to process was helpful. Having my dreams demolished so quickly, when I was optimistic and hopeful, felt even more traumatic. The waiting period helped me to warn my close family of the possible bad news. It helped me work through my feelings on my own time, without being under the concerned gaze of doctors and nurses. That time was important for my ability to cope with such horrible news.

All of this is to say that there’s probably never going to be a good way to diagnose miscarriage. It will always be painful and difficult and sad. I don’t think another test will change much more than your bill from the medical lab.

(Photo: Yuri Arcurs/Shutterstock)

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  • Beth

    I would rather know after my first visit if the pregnancy is viable because the waiting period is torture, speaking from personal experience. Before I gave birth to my children, I had a miscarriage and a chemical pregnancy. Repeat visits and blood tests just delayed the inevitable while I spent every waking hour hoping for the best, while expecting the worst. With that said, I don’t see how the research done in the article provides any more conclusive and quicker evidence than the usual process for diagnosing miscarriage. My doctor usually tests the HCG and progesterone levels, followed up with an 8 week ultersound. With my first viable pregnancy, my progesterone levels were low, but I was given a progesterone supplement that helped maintain the pregnancy and carry my son to term. I know that supplements don’t always save a pregnancy, but I know they can help some women. Just my 2 cents, as I know every woman’s experience is different and dealing with a miscarriage is a personal journey.

    • Lindsay Cross

      Thanks for sharing Beth! and you’re so right, it’s all personal. Honestly, when I started writing this piece, I didn’t realize how personal it would be for me. I hope I didn’t sound like I was trying to make a decision for everyone else out there. It was just my experience.