'The worst thing that almost happened to me': The pain and privilege of a threatened miscarriage

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A pregnancy complication caused several threatened miscarriages for one expectant mother (Image via Getty Images)
A pregnancy complication caused several threatened miscarriages for one expectant mother (Image via Getty Images)

I was 14 weeks pregnant the first time I almost lost my baby.

My husband and I had hoped we were out of the woods, since the first 10 to 12 weeks are the most common time for pregnancy loss. My ultrasounds had shown a healthy and thriving fetus, so we decided to announce the news to our loved ones. Not long after, we made our impending parenthood official on social media. However, with pregnancy, you're never out of the proverbial woods. It's nine months of wandering through a freaking forest — and I've never been good at hiking.

I noticed the bleeding on a Saturday morning at 6 a.m. I’d woken up with an urgent need to use the washroom; my pregnant bladder was so full, I’d almost wet the bed. I peed quickly in our ensuite bathroom, half asleep. I would have retreated back under the duvet for a blissful Saturday morning sleep-in, had it not been for the blood I saw while wiping.

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“Help!” I cried while seated on the toilet.

But my husband was fast asleep, so he didn’t hear me. I sat motionless, willing myself not to hyperventilate, fearing a lack of oxygen might harm the future person I prayed was still growing inside me.

Threatened miscarriages can cause severe stress during pregnancy. (Image via Getty Images)
Threatened miscarriages can cause severe stress during pregnancy. (Image via Getty Images)

I live with generalized anxiety disorder, which means traumatic events usually don’t come as a surprise; it’s the good things that throw me for a loop. When I fell pregnant during my first month of trying to conceive, I was shocked: could having a baby, the thing I wanted more than Beyoncé tickets or a "Friends" reunion special, come so easily? I was skeptical. And so my first threatened miscarriage was terrifying, but it wasn’t shocking.

I studied the contents of my toilet for what felt like days. I hunched over, staring at the thick gobs of blood. Was this the mass of cells I’d thought would become my child? Instinctively, I reached into the bowl and retrieved the clotted blood, inspecting it for signs of fetal tissue. I would normally be disgusted to reach into a commode, but that day, I didn’t care.

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I washed my hands in the sink and doused them with hand sanitizer before heading to the ER, but the bloody residue clung beneath my fingernails. I felt like a pregnant Lady MacBeth, staring at my blood-stained hands as the Uber drove me through the abandoned streets of downtown Toronto at 6:30 a.m. on a weekend.

After three hours in the waiting room, I got the answer I’d been praying for to whichever God would listen: My baby was alive. The doctor on-call showed her to me on the portable ultrasound machine. My little fetus was fast asleep, blissfully unaware of how much she’d scared her mother.

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What I’d experienced is known as a “a threatened miscarriage,” a term used to describe abnormal bleeding and cramps that can look and feel like pregnancy loss. In the case of a threatened miscarriage, the pregnancy does survive, but you don’t know that while it’s happening; it’s playing reproduction poker with a really good bluffer.

A subchorionic hematoma can cause frequent bleeding during pregnancy. (Image via Getty Images)
A subchorionic hematoma can cause frequent bleeding during pregnancy. (Image via Getty Images)

I had a total of three threatened miscarriages during my second trimester; each major bleeding episode necessitated a frantic trip to the hospital. On one occasion, the ER was so crowded, I had to lay on a stretcher in the hallway, waiting for a doctor to announce my fetus’s fate. I decided to distract myself by scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, but to no avail: my feeds were inundated with photos of adorable babies learning to walk and eating their first lemons. I wondered, Would I get the chance to see my baby eat a lemon?

By my second trip to the hospital, we’d identified the cause of the bleeding. I had a subchorionic hematoma, an obnoxious bruise on the inside of my uterus, which stubbornly refused to heal. Such hematomas increase the risk of pregnancy loss and pre-term birth, which is scary enough. However, the most terrifying part was learning that there was nothing modern medicine can do to fix the problem.

“Avoid penetrative sex, and refrain from intense workouts. We want don’t to make the hematoma any bigger,” an ER physician advised.

“Of course!” Those sacrifices felt like a small price to pay in return for a baby. “If I do that, will my uterus heal?"

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“We’re not sure,” the doctor replied apologetically, which scared me even more.

Did this man feel sorry for me because he thought I was going to lose my baby?

“Is there anything that’s 100 per cent proven to heal a subchorionic hematoma?” I demanded. I probably looked wild-eyed with hope.

“We can bring you in for regular ultrasounds.”

“How does that prevent miscarriage?”

“It doesn’t," he said with a sigh. "But seeing the baby might make you feel better.”

(Image via Getty Images)
Sarah Sahagian suffered three threatened miscarriages while pregnant with her daughter. (Image via Getty Images)

For the next month, I thought of nothing but the welfare of my fetus. The low-level anxiety with which I have lived my entire life intensified, polluting every thought I had. Most days, I took half a dozen breaks from work to weep while I drank a mug of caffeine-free tea. Most nights, I dreamt of a tiny white coffin. Even in the dream, I was too frightened to see what was inside it.

And then, the hematoma disappeared. At my 19-week anatomical scan, I received two big pieces of news: I was having a girl, and my uterus had healed. Even though my pregnancy was no longer under serious threat, I was so accustomed to feeling endangered that it was impossible to believe I was safe.

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I anticipated danger at every corner. At seven months pregnant, I experienced a mild panic attack while crossing the street, imagining what could happen if a driver didn’t see me and decided to run the red light. If I went more than 20 minutes without feeling my daughter kick, I burst into tears, convinced she was dying, and that I would never feel her move again. I even began sleeping with the bedroom light on. I hadn’t been afraid of the dark since childhood, but growing a child inside my body made me afraid of all the things I couldn't see.

A year and a half later, I feel gauche bringing up this almost-loss. Living through three threatened miscarriages was akin to being in a horror movie, but to extend that metaphor, mine had a happy ending. Our daughter emerged from my body the day before her due date. In a pleasantly boring birth, I pushed for a mere 20 minutes and required only a handful of stitches.

Threatened miscarriages can cause post-traumatic stress syndrome. (Image via Getty Images)
Threatened miscarriages can cause post-traumatic stress syndrome. (Image via Getty Images)

When my husband and I left the hospital with our newborn, I could honestly say I had everything I wanted in the world. I know many people are not so fortunate: Statistics reveal one in four women experience a miscarriage in their lifetimes. Shouldn’t I just be thankful to have the baby I gestated for nine months? What right do I have to feel traumatized by what almost happened, when so many people live through the thing I merely feared?

And yet, the memory of my threatened miscarriages haunts me. For the first six months of my daughter’s life, I had daily flashbacks to the times I almost lost her. Sometimes, just the sight of her caused me to hyperventilate. I couldn’t erase the knowledge of how close we’d come to losing her.

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The shame I feel about the trauma of threatened miscarriage is what therapists have told me is a form of toxic positivity. Toxic positivity is that pernicious social discourse - the one that encourages us to ignore our hardships and focus on our blessings instead. Whenever we feel upset with our lives, the discourse of toxic positivity tells us, “Chin up! It could always be worse.” But what does invalidating our emotions actually accomplish? It’s a truism that things could always be worse, but that doesn’t mean people should ignore our own suffering.

Today, I’m starting to accept the impact three threatened miscarriages had on my psyche. I’ve learned acknowledging the privilege of having a live birth doesn’t oblige a person to forget the arduous process of getting there. I am writing this essay to prove to myself (and to anyone who doubts it) that my trauma matters. I’m writing through the pain and privilege of the worst thing that’s almost happened to me.

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