What is a Miscarriage Like? What I Wish I Had Known Beforehand
Miscarriage… not a topic I thought I would ever write about. But here we are.
I was completely blindsided both physically and emotionally by my miscarriage. I knew practically nothing about the process, and I felt alone and disoriented. I had never really thought about the question before, “what is a miscarriage like?”.
So I am writing this post, because I wish I had known more. Not that knowing more would have made it any less of a loss, but I think it would have at least helped prepare me in some way. And maybe eased some of my confusion and fears.
I keep wondering why, despite being a relatively common occurrence among pregnant women, we just don’t talk much about the subject in our society. I think we really need to talk more about it.
We need to share more real stories and information about miscarriage. We need to know more about what to expect and how to deal with a miscarriage physically and emotionally. We need to know that the feeling of loss after a miscarriage is valid.
Please note that this post does not offer any medical advice. Everyone has a unique medical situation and this post only reflects my personal experience with miscarriage. It is always best to consult your medical doctor and/or mental health professional.
Initial Miscarriage Symptoms
Prior to a doctor confirming my miscarriage, I had 4 days of off and on light bleeding accompanied by low back pain. I wasn’t sure if there was cause for concern. I started obsessively googling miscarriage symptoms verses normal early pregnancy spotting. Not surprisingly, my findings were inconclusive.
When the bleeding continued, even though light, I realized it was probably time to call the doctor’s office. I called and they told me to come in later that afternoon. If everything was going according to plan, they would confirm that I was 8 weeks pregnant.
I don’t know if it was denial or the fact that early miscarriage symptoms can be deceivingly benign, but I was clinging to the hope that there was still a healthy embryo growing inside of me. In hindsight, I probably should have realized something was wrong.
Subtle or Delayed Miscarriage Symptoms
At the time though, I had no idea that initial miscarriage symptoms could be so subtle. After all, the only thing I knew about miscarriages was what I had seen in the movies; women sitting in puddles of blood or having sudden and severe pain. Not an accurate depiction for most women.
For some women, Verywell Health describes how symptoms can even be delayed for weeks in the case of a ‘missed miscarriage’ (when a fetus has died or is not developing, but pregnancy hormones and symptoms remain). In this scenario, a woman could go to her first routine ultrasound expecting to see her growing baby, only to find out she is no longer pregnant.
Once at my appointment and stripped from the waste down, the doctor performed a vaginal ultrasound. I had a clear view of the screen. The doctor began moving the probe in silence.
There wasn’t much to see. Maybe I just didn’t know what I was looking at? Even my untrained eyes knew though, that there was a vacant uterus displayed on the screen. Just an empty sac and yolk where an embryo was supposed to be growing. After a few more moments of silent probing, she confirmed a miscarriage.
The doctor was kind and gentle as she spoke to me. She said she was sorry this had happened and explained that unfortunately I was part of the 25% of pregnant women who miscarry.
I had what was called a blighted ovum. The Mayo Clinic explains that in this case, an “early embryo never develops or stops developing, is resorbed and leaves an empty gestational sac”. The doctor guessed things stopped developing for me around 5-6 weeks, but that my body was only recognizing it now.
Unknown Cause of Miscarriage
How did my body not know? How did I not know? This left me feeling ashamed. As though I should have known. Did I even have a right to be upset about the loss of such an early pregnancy? Did I do something wrong in those first few weeks to cause a miscarriage?
When I asked if there was any way to know the cause of the miscarriage, the doctor said that tissues could be sent to the lab to look at chromosomes, but that she doesn’t usually recommend it.
The Mayo Clinic explains that the cause of miscarriage is usually unknown. They also state that about 50% of early miscarriages are due to problems with a growing embryo’s chromosomes. And that these problems just happen by chance.
Miscarriage Management Options
The doctor then explained my options as far as next steps; I could take a medication that would speed up the miscarriage, I could be scraped out with a surgical procedure (dilation and curettage), or I could wait for the the miscarriage to complete naturally.
Verywell Family explains that for most first trimester miscarriages, women will have the option to choose one of the above management methods. In some cases though, a woman may have to have some sort of medical intervention if all of the pregnancy tissue is not expelled naturally.
I decided to let things take their course and naturally miscarry. The doctor explained this was safe for me. She noted my blood type in the case of hemorrhaging (Verywell Family explains that only a small percent of women experience hemorrhaging from a miscarriage) and told me to schedule a follow up in a couple of weeks.
She went on to explain that I should seek emergency care if I was soaking through a pad in thirty minutes. Verywell Family advises against tampon use during a miscarriage due to increased risk of infection.
How Long Does a Miscarriage Last?
The doctor said I could expect the miscarriage to complete in 2-4 weeks, and that the bleeding would be like a heavy period and likely accompanied by cramping.
What it Was Like to Naturally Miscarry
After about a week and a half, I started to have more bleeding and low back pain, just as the doctor said to expect. I was surprised though, because I started having flashbacks to the day I was in labor during my first pregnancy.
What I felt was the same pain I had during labor contractions. Pinpointed and deep in my sacrum. To feel this very distinct pain again, but for my body to be doing the opposite of bringing a child into the world, was very strange and just seemed upside down and cruel.
I was also taken aback when my bleeding started to get heavier. Even though the doctor told me to expect this, I was expecting a “heavy period”; not what appeared to be a period on some serious steroids. And when larger clumps of tissue started coming out… I just stared with wide eyes into the toilet bowl. I never thought that the sight of blood and goop made me queasy until that night.
I hung out by the toilet and questioned whether what I was experiencing was too much blood or a normal amount of blood. It was heavy again the next day, but slowly became less and less over the next week.
And once there was barely any trace left that I had been pregnant, I felt relieved that it was over.
Feelings After Miscarriage
The following are excerpts from parts of previous versions of this post that I wrote during the 2 weeks I was miscarrying.
Denial and Rationalization (The Day My Miscarriage Was Confirmed)
I feel surprisingly okay. Miscarriages are fairly common in the first trimester and somebody has to represent that 25% statistic.
And apparently, most miscarriages are caused by chromosomal problems that we usually have no control over.
WebMD says my chance of having a second miscarriage is the same as before I had this miscarriage; about 20%. Risk of miscarriage does increase with age though, and certain health conditions. Am I getting too old to have another baby?
For whatever reason, this embryo was not meant to develop further, I can accept that and move on.
Exhaustion (The 2nd Day After My Miscarriage was Confirmed)
I feel so tired. I just want to be bundled in covers in bed all day. And to just be left alone in quiet and stillness.
I want someone to watch my toddler for the day, I want to be a zombie in front of the tv, I just want to take a moment to make sense of everything.
What does this mean going forward? Will we try again? I don’t know if I want to anymore.
Sadness (The 3rd Day After My Miscarriage was Confirmed)
This is going painfully slow. Dealing with the ongoing bleeding and bulky pads makes it hard to take a break from it all emotionally.
I wish I had opted to take the medication to speed up the process. Can I still do that? I can understand now why people would go the medication or surgical route.
I don’t feel overwhelmingly devastated, but I also can’t stop thinking about it. It is just hanging over me and I do not feel like myself.
I was so confident that this pregnancy was going to go according to plan. I had even picked out a name and started organizing baby clothes and supplies. I guess this is why people wait to announce a pregnancy… I did not wait this time… I should have.
Anger and Irritability (Day 4 and 5 and 6 and…)
Why is life just continuing to move so fast? I need a moment.
I am so irritable. I am lashing out at my partner. I am complaining about everyone and everything around me. The word disappointed keeps coming to mind, but it is more than disappointment.
I just need some downtime. I just want things to pause. Why is everyone acting as though it’s all business as usual?
Reflecting on Loss (Where I’m At Now)
As the bleeding began to subside, those feelings of sadness, denial, confusion and anger seemed to have run their course. For the time being anyways. Now, I mostly find myself in a place of quiet reflection. I acknowledge and accept that this miscarriage was and is a loss for me.
Initially, I would have scoffed at using the word “loss” in association with an early miscarriage. How can you loose something that was never really or barely even there?
In my mind though, I already had another child. I just had to wait a few more months to fully welcome that child into the world. So it feels confusing. But while it is not the kind of tangible loss that people experience when a fully living person has left the world, it is still a loss of its own nature.
What is Miscarriage Grief?
Thinking about loss, I am reminded that grief does not necessarily follow a predictable and linear path.
We may feel one way about a loss one day, and an entirely different way another day. And then forget about it entirely some other day. And a loss is a loss.
We are never really done processing and feeling loss. It changes, but it stays with us forever. So the term “loss” isn’t really accurate. Because what we have lost, remains and becomes a part of who we become going forward. Cliche I know, but I feel this so much right now.
Despite wanting time and space alone to process my miscarriage, I also appreciated having support from others. When someone else acknowledged it, that somehow helped give me permission to stop denying the impact it was having on me.
I don’t think there is a right or wrong thing to say to someone in the case of a miscarriage or any other loss. Just the acknowledgment and checking in is the thing that matters (and of course if a woman and her family want to keep a miscarriage private, that is obviously 100% valid and not what I’m referring to here).
A Silver Lining
Although a miscarriage is an experience I would rather not have had, I am grateful for a few things it has brought to my attention.
I find myself enjoying my time with my toddler with a sort of hyperawareness right now. I’m fully savoring all the sweet and fun moments I have with him in a way that feels new and precious.
And I am reminded that I want to check in with my friends and family more, just to see how they’re doing. Because I know that there are things other than miscarriage that we don’t talk about or ask about.
It is when our struggles are acknowledged, accepted and validated, that we feel free to share our stories. And we really need to hear more stories about our challenges and vulnerabilities as human beings. These stories help us develop greater empathy and understanding; we learn more, we feel more and we heal more. So to anyone who has lost a pregnancy, please know that you have a space here in the comments below to share your story ♡