Here’s something you might not know, because I sure as sin didn’t: 25% percent of women will experience bleeding while pregnant. 1 in 4! I’d heard about the morning sickness, the exhaustion, the breaking down in tears at the drop of a Downy commercial, but bleeding? Seemed to have missed that one.
Early on in my pregnancy, about week 5 or 6, I had some spotting, and promptly freaked right on out. I immediately began googling. My research turned up two possibilities: it could be nothing or I could be miscarrying. Not particularly helpful. In fact, that just freaked me out even more.
One of the things I learned is that if you’re beginning to miscarry, you may notice that your pregnancy symptoms have disappeared. Less nausea, breasts stop being tender, and you may even feel an “emptiness.”
I grabbed at my chest in panic. My chest wasn’t as sore. I wasn’t nauseated. I could feel it: I was having a miscarriage.
So, I called my OB. I informed him of the spotting, at which time he said that that is relatively common. It happens to about 1 in 4 women. However, he said, it could also be a sign of a miscarriage.
I told him on the phone that I didn’t “feel” pregnant anymore. I told him that my breasts weren’t sore that day, I told him I wasn’t feeling run down or ill and that I felt empty. Good doctor that he is, he told me that pregnancy symptoms come and go, in and out like tides, and that my feeling “less pregnant” should not be an indicator that anything is wrong. He asked me to come in the following day for a visit.
That OB appointment was my first look at the baby growing inside of me. He performed a vaginal ultrasound as I was far too early for a standard sonogram to pick up anything, and there we saw a tiny white blob. Not a baby, per se, but a gestational sac. An adorable, wonderful little gob. I asked him point-blank if he thought I was having a miscarriage, and he said no. He also let me in on a fact I hadn’t even considered: if I was miscarrying, there was nothing he nor I could do to stop that tragic unfolding of events.
“There is nothing I can do to stop a miscarriage this early in a pregnancy," he said. "Try to remember that if you miscarry, it means that this wasn’t a viable pregnancy, and that, sad as it is, this pregnancy wasn’t meant to be. There is a long road ahead of you that extends well beyond even the birth date, and so many things that will happen are completely out of your control. Try not to worry. And for God’s sake, stop googling.”
I left his office that day buoyed by the news: the doctor thought everything was fine. I had worked myself into a breakdown by trying to obtain information from pregnancy forums where only the tales of woe stuck in my brain. Everything was going to be fine, and even if not, that was not in my control. I relaxed and within two to three days the spotting had stopped.
Cut to five weeks later. I got up on a Thursday morning at 5:45 a.m., quickly dressed, threw some cat food in a bowl and took the train downtown for my 7:30 a.m. therapy session.
It went as it usually did. I cried, we talked, she recommended some strategies to cope with my anxiety and then I left.
I took myself to breakfast as I often do after those early-morning appointments, this time at a small, rustic subterranean restaurant in NoHo where I had scrambled eggs and salad and toast and juice and tea and sat in pleasant solitude.
I knew that Blick, an art supply store was across the street, so I waited until 9 a.m. for it to open so I could purchase some envelopes for our wedding invitations.
As I was perusing the options — stark white or pearlescent cream? — I felt a gush between my legs.
I grabbed several packets of envelopes and headed to the register, and as I walked fluid seemed to be coming out of me in a flood. I quickly paid for my purchases, tucking my wool skirt between my legs. As I left the store the gushing sensation intensified. I ducked into an alleyway and actually said out loud, “what the hell is going on?”
I had some wadded up tissues in my backpack that I’d cried into during therapy so I took them out and pressed them up under my skirt. I looked to find them stained a light pink. And soaking.
Panic set in. Gushing light pink fluid at 10 weeks pregnant is not good. And spotting is one thing, but this was something altogether more terrifying.
I rushed back to the restaurant, pushed past the hostess and into the bathroom where I shoved a stack of paper towels into my tights. And I immediately began calling and texting Dominique. There was no answer.
“WHERE ARE YOU?,” I typed furiously after no response to multiple phone calls and texts. There may have been a few expletives added to the message. “ANSWER ME,” I tapped and hit send.
Call after call after call after call, all of them straight to voicemail. I knew he had to be at work at 9 a.m., so I couldn’t comprehend why he wasn’t answering. My panic mounted.
I was supposed to be on my way into the office but decided to take the subway home instead. I jumped on the N train, rigid with fear, praying the paper towels would hold up until I got home. And I kept calling Dominique…..nothing.
Of all the times to be unavailable! I was leaking in the middle of Manhattan, our child’s life in danger, and he was nowhere to be found. Rage mingled with fear.
I sent a desperate text to my sister and typed into Google: “pink fluid, 10 weeks” and waited for cell reception as the train slid in and out of stations. I read small snatches about something called a SCH before my cell phone became unusable again, trying hard to keep calm. My sister tried calling me, but we were cut off mid-sentence as I traveled underground.
“I’m reading good things!,” she texted me. “Take a deep breath!”
The entire trip was a blur. I couldn’t wait to get home. To find Dominique, to call my doctor, to be out of public so I could lose it.
I arrived home, barged in the front door and could see the bedroom door closed, just as I’d left it several hours before. Dominique was still asleep.
I slammed open the bedroom door and began yelling, “GET UP. GET UP!! I’M HAVING A MISCARRIAGE!” There my have been a few expletives added in there.
I threw down my backpack, flung off my coat and watched a confused and bleary-eyed Dominique try to process what the hell was happening.
“I’VE BEEN CALLING AND CALLING AND CALLING YOU! I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU!”
“I took the morning off! My ringer was off!,” he explained, groggy and terrified, and he followed me into the bathroom.
I pulled down my tights to see the paper towels now soaked with bright red blood. Fresh blood. The kind you never want to see when pregnant.
My heart sank and my panic rose even higher and I screamed out again, “I’M HAVING A MISCARRIAGE!” His eyes widened.
With a gravity I’ve rarely heard from him he said, “I’ll call the doctor.”
My world was spinning. I waited while he called and listened to the recorded message on the phone. “They aren’t answering,” he said.
So, I decided then and there to go to the emergency room.
I put the paper towels as evidence into a plastic bag, tied it up and we headed out the door to find a cab. There is always a row of taxis waiting near the subway station, and we tried getting into the first one we found. The cab driver pointed to the taxi at the front of the line, indicating that we should take that one instead.
“I DON’T CARE WHOSE TURN IT IS,” I growled at the driver, and Dominique led me by the hand to the taxi at the front of the line.
“Take us to the E.R.,” I demanded. “23rd and 30th.”
I cried all the way there. So many thoughts entered my mind: “We’ll try again.” “It will be okay.” “I hope this isn’t too painful.” “Why is this happening; what have I done?” “At least I can have a glass of wine now.”
We entered the emergency room and told the nurse at receiving what was going on. Tears splashed onto the counter. I gave my insurance information and my address and phone number, and much to my surprise I was called back to the nurse’s station almost immediately. I bawled as she asked me questions I don’t remember.
I could see Dominique’s face from the room and his eyes were so sad.
A second nurse came in to take my blood pressure. She was small and thin with a ball of frizzy blonde hair piled atop her head. With genuine concern she told me, “Listen, honey, don’t think the worst. We see this kind of thing every day. It doesn’t always mean what you think it means. Just relax and wait. Everything will be okay.”
In almost no time they had a partitioned off area ready for us with a bed, and Dominique was able to join me. We held hands and waited for a doctor to come in and perform a pelvic exam.
By this time the bleeding had stopped. The doctor repeated what the nurse had said earlier, that this kind of bleeding isn’t normal, but more common than you’d think, and that it doesn’t necessarily mean doom. I began to relax. I began to have hope. My panic subsided.
I sent an email to my boss explaining I wouldn’t be at work that day. “I can’t come in today. I think I might be having a miscarriage. I was going to tell you I was pregnant in the second trimester, but now you know.”
He was incredibly understanding and concerned. It wasn’t how I planned to announce to my work that I was pregnant, but the best laid plans…
Soon I was transferred via wheelchair to the floor above where I was asked to wait for an ultrasound. “Do you have to pee?,” they asked me. I shook my head no. “Then drink five glasses of water. The dispenser is there in the waiting room.”
I took a seat in the waiting room after filling my little plastic cup. I had a few sips when it started again. A torrent of blood.
I needed a bathroom. Immediately.
It was occupied. I sat there in terror and tried to wait, but the blood was gushing then, and I was wearing only a hospital gown and I was actually afraid I was going to bleed all over the floor.
I’d rarely felt so helpless as I did right then. I stood up, came around to the desk, crying and pleading with the nurses, “I need a bathroom,” I sobbed.
“Is she bleeding that much?,” I overheard a nurse say. They handed me a second hospital gown which I then stuck between my legs to soak up the flow. Dominique was standing guard at the bathroom so that he could claim it for me when it became available and the fear in his eyes broke my heart.
The bathroom finally became free. I went inside and there was blood everywhere. I cleaned it up as best I could, and when I opened the door to come back out Dominique stepped inside and grabbed me. He held me tight as I sobbed into his chest.
“We’re going to get you seen right now,” a nurse told me. I sat in the wheelchair in shock. And I cried.
A round lady with the thickest Queens accent I’ve ever heard crouched near my chair and patted my knee, and said, “Don’t you worry. You’re going to have tons of babies. So many babies.” And my heart broke. I wanted the one I thought was getting away.
Soon I was taken into a room where a large machine sat next to a bed. Dominique had to stay outside and wait. The tech who was going to perform the sonogram grabbed my hand, and said, “I know this is hard. Try to relax, okay? I know this is tough. Take a deep breath.”
I exposed my belly and he covered it in a blue goo.
“We’re going to try to do this through the stomach, because we don’t want to do a transvaginal unless we have to, okay?” I nodded, numb.
He began working the wand over my belly. “Tell me if it hurts, okay?” There was pressure, but no pain. He was still holding my hand with his free one.
I stared at the ceiling. I tried to take those deep breaths he asked me to take.
Then all of the sudden, he said, “Look!” I turned my head to the right to look at the screen, something I was unable to do before that.
“Look! It’s your baby!” His voice was almost jubilant.
I squinted at the screen, and there it was. Our baby. And our baby was dancing.
I burst into tears and couldn’t tear my eyes from the screen. He or she was moving around so much! So active! I’d never seen anything but a blob at my OB’s office, but here I could see a head and two arms and two legs and they were moving all about.
“Looks like he’s sucking his thumb,” the tech said with the widest grin.
“So, everything is okay?,” I asked him.
“Heartbeat of 172,” he said back. “Looks to me like everything is okay.”
I was flooded with relief. I couldn’t take my eyes off this lively, tiny being with the giant head.
“Then why am I bleeding?,” I asked him.
“Sometimes it just happens. It’s called a SCH. I can’t remember what it stands for. But I do like three of these a day sometimes, and often that’s what it is. Though I don’t always get to give good news.”
“Do you know what causes it?,” I asked.
“I’m not sure,” he said, and continued waving the wand around my belly.
He located the source of the bleeding, and pointed it out to me on the screen.
“See this dark area? That’s a blood pocket. That’s your SCH. They are usually nothing to worry about.”
I began breathing again after what felt like ages.
“If you don’t tell anyone,” he said, “I’ll let you take a picture of the baby with your phone.”
I sat up and grabbed my phone at the end of the gurney and snapped a photo of the squirmy little fetus doing a jig inside me. I couldn’t wait to show Dominique.
Then he cleaned the gel off my tummy, got me upright and took me back into the waiting area where Dominique came running out.
“The baby’s okay,” I told him. “He’s dancing around in there. She’s moving so much!” He grabbed me and hugged me and we both shed a few more tears.
“He let me take a picture,” I told him, and the tech started laughing.
“I told you not to tell anyone! I always say, ‘If you don’t tell anyone,’ and the first thing they do is tell someone.’”
They wheeled me back to the partitioned area with the bed where we were first stationed and told us to wait for the results of the blood and urine tests. Compared to the first stint on that gurney, this was a party.
I hadn’t eaten in several hours and hunger began to gnaw at me. We waited and waited and waited, when finally I asked Dominique, “Do you think we could sneak a snack in here? I’m starving.” So the good daddy that he is went in search of a vending machine and smuggled back some Cheetos, the thing I’ve craved most since becoming pregnant.
Finally, the doctor who performed the pelvic exam returned.
“You have a viable, 11 week pregnancy,” he beamed. “And what they call a subchorionic hematoma. It’s small, and you’ll want to follow up with your OB tomorrow if you can.”
He handed me a stack of paperwork.
“Is there anything I should do before seeing my doctor?,” I asked.
“I wouldn’t play any contact sports. Otherwise, you should be fine. Just take it easy.”
I began to put my clothes back on, both Dominique and I giddy knowing our baby was okay. We decided to go to a late lunch to celebrate, a new Southern place down the street.
As I was dressing, the blonde nurse with the frizzy puff ponytail asked how things went.
“It’s okay. It’s just a subchorionic hematoma. The baby’s fine,” I explained with a smile.
“See! I told you! I told you everything was going to be okay,” and she patted my arm as we made our way to the exit.
* * *
There are small risks associated with a SCH. Sometimes they can grow and cause the placenta to detach. This can sometimes result in early labor. But the odds of that happening are fairly small. Best anyone can say is around 5%.
There is, oddly, not a lot known about SCHs. I asked my doctor how they occur, and he explained it like this:
“When the embryo attaches it — well, it’s a miracle, really — but when the embryo attaches itself to the uterus it’s a very dynamic process. It really burrows very deeply into the uterine wall, and sometimes the first attempt doesn’t take. This can cause a pocket of blood to form. Usually these things bleed out or reabsorb into the body in 6-10 weeks.”
I asked if there was anything I could do to lessen my chance of this causing problems down the road. He said there was nothing, really, that could be done. But he reassured me that this happens more often that I’d think, and that almost all women go on to give birth to healthy babies.
* * *
And so I wait. I’ve had spotting on and off for about four weeks, although the last five days have been spotting-free. So long as I don’t see any red blood, then there is nothing to worry about, I’ve been told. I was also reminded to “stop googling.”
The E.R. trip and the SCH diagnosis has been a harsh reminder that there are certain things in life that are out of our control. It’s been extremely hard not to worry about the baby we want so badly in there, growing and kicking and dancing next to his or her evil blood twin. But, the fact is, there is nothing I can do. And the fact is also that, most of the time, everything works out okay in the end.
For the rest of my life I’m going to worry about this child. That’s what parents do. But I can’t let worry and what ifs consume me. I just can’t. Or I’ll make myself miserable and I’ll make the baby miserable (nothing like flooding your fetus with cortisol while you fret away), and still nothing will be accomplished.
The whole experience has been a lesson in letting go. Letting go of what I cannot control. Appreciating every day that goes by that our baby continues to grow and thrive and dance. And knowing that all the while I have a partner who loves me like fire, and that together we will get through anything thrown our way.
So long as I can stay off Google.