A loss by any other name
It’s amazing how the hierarchy of medical terminology can impact our perception of miscarriage. My first three pregnancies are medically classified as “chemical pregnancies.” Basically: they were lost too early for anything to be visualized by ultrasound in my uterus. Its a minimizing term. Diminishing. It has allowed so many people to invalidate my experience and my pain.
“It was only a chemical pregnancy.”
“Are you sure you were even pregnant?”
“Chemical miscarriages don’t count as recurrent pregnancy loss. You can’t really say you have recurrent loss.”
“It’s just like a period.”
Whether it’s a friend, a well-meaning loved one or a doctor, those words hurt.
When my 4th pregnancy progressed to the “clinical pregnancy” stage I felt… relieved. It was official. At 5 weeks, 3 days we saw a perfect gestational sac, measuring on target. Proof that the pregnancy was really there. Proof that our baby existed and was growing in my uterus. Clinical sounds so much more official than chemical. My baby wasn’t just a chemical reaction gone wrong, but on its way to becoming a person. I assumed we’d have another loss, but I knew this time it was far enough along to “count.”
When the pregnancy hadn’t progressed enough to see a heartbeat and fetal pole by 6 weeks, 3 days I feared it was just an empty sac. A “blighted ovum.” Such an ugly term. It sounds like a medieval curse of some kind. Like I’d angered a wood nymph and been fated to barrenness. Maybe our baby wasn’t in there after all.
When we saw a heartbeat at 7 weeks and 1 day, too slow to be truly viable, I was relieved. I hated myself for that reaction. We found out that our baby was still going to die and I felt relieved to learn that there was something other than an empty sac to mark its existence. That the pregnancy wasn’t a blighted ovum. That it was a “missed miscarriage,” a pregnancy that was ending, slowly, but that my body hadn’t quite caught on yet.
Missed miscarriage. That didn’t seem quite right either. With all the early monitoring of an IVF pregnancy the miscarriage hadn’t been *missed* at all. I was graphically aware at every step that our baby lived and when it started to die. As if the betrayal of my body was a betrayal of my baby’s life too. That I’d “missed” their passing without a hint. I didn’t miss it, I lived it.
After the D&C I needed a rhogham injection because my blood type is RH-. They handed me a card for my wallet in case I ever needed verification I’d received it. On the front of the card there is a list of reasons for getting the shot. “Pregnancy termination” was checked. In my online insurance portal my claim for the procedure read “missed abortion.” My diagnosis quietly and officially changed in my medical records to “habitual aborter.”
No one thought to warn me about these changes. Each time I noticed this harsh language I’d cry. (Sometimes I still do.)
Let me be clear: it isn’t that I don’t want to be categorized with those who have terminated electively- the procedures we usually classify as “abortions.” But my story is different from theirs. Using the same words to describe them, no matter the medical accuracy, feels wrong on a visceral, emotional level.
So I cling to the words that feel more right: pregnancy loss, miscarriage, baby loss. It’s the smallest comfort, but it feels validating to be able to define what happened to me on my own terms.