Missed Miscarriage: What It’s Like to be Waiting to Miscarry

Ten percent of all known pregnancies end in miscarriage. So why does the subject still feel so taboo? For women dealing with the complicated grief of miscarriage, it’s not the stat that’s comforting—it’s the knowledge that they’re not alone, that there is a space to share their story. To help end the culture of silence that surrounds pregnancy and infant loss, Glamour presents The 10 Percent, a place to dismantle the stereotypes and share real, raw, stigma-free stories.

After suffering three pregnancy losses over the last year, I’ve become a bit of a reluctant expert on miscarriages. There are the really early ones, sometimes called chemical pregnancies, which you might not even know about unless you take an early pregnancy test. There are the sudden, unexpected ones—the ones every pregnant woman fears. And then there’s the missed miscarriage, the kind of loss that takes its time, leaving women like me in a state of stagnation as we wait, sometimes weeks, for our pregnancies to end.

I would have been about seven weeks pregnant when I found out about my own loss. At the time I was vacationing in Spain with my husband and 2-year-old son, but all I could think about was going home to my doctor so I could get an ultrasound and see the baby’s heartbeat. I worried over every twinge until I woke up one morning with cramps so sharp I made an emergency appointment with an OB at a hospital on the outskirts of Barcelona.

I’d become all too familiar with transvaginal ultrasounds during my first pregnancy, and that moment of holding my breath before the doctor smiled and pointed out my healthy baby and its beating heart on the screen. Except this time the Spanish doctor didn’t smile and instead told me that the pregnancy had stopped progressing weeks earlier.

These types of pregnancy losses come without the obvious symptoms of a miscarriage. I’d experienced no bleeding. No cramps until that morning. Nothing to indicate the ball of cells growing inside my uterus had abruptly stopped without so much as a whisper goodbye. For this reason, missed miscarriages like mine are typically diagnosed by ultrasound, says Scott Sullivan, M.D., director of maternal-fetal medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina. It’s an experience that’s becoming more common. “When I started my career [20 years ago], our ultrasound abilities were limited—we couldn’t even see what was going on at five, six, seven weeks,” Sullivan says. Thanks to better technology, women are now getting their first ultrasound at 12 weeks, if not sooner—a significant jump from the 16- to 18-week window of the past. “I suspect that in years past people had miscarriages that they didn’t know about,” Sullivan says. It’s not that missed miscarriages are getting more common; it’s just that we’re more likely to know about them.

In Barcelona the doctor advised me to prepare to complete the miscarriage within a week, and I booked an emergency flight home the next day.

Back in the comfort of my home, I braced myself for the bleeding, but nothing happened—for five weeks. I looked and felt normal as the pregnancy hormones dissipated, but my routine now included weekly visits to my OB for check-ins. I’d wait with pregnant women in my doctor’s lobby, staring at the photos of newborn babies hanging on the walls before going into the ultrasound room that had been such a joyful place during my first pregnancy. And there, visit after visit, I’d see that there was still a five-week-old embryo hanging out in my womb, apparently in no hurry to leave. My doctor confirmed that I was experiencing a missed miscarriage, which seemed a funny way to describe something that hadn’t technically happened yet.

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