Trigger warning: this is the story of how I got pregnant with a Paragard IUD: my miscarriage at 6 weeks gestation. Originally posted February 24, 2018.
When you are graduating college or celebrating the birth of your baby, you shout it from the mountaintops. We live in a world where we publicly discuss every aspect of our life on social media. But when you miscarry, you feel alone. You may walk with your partner or mother or friend, quietly and with fear.
A miscarriage is a painful phenomenon, but then grief always is. Your job doesn’t permit you twelve weeks of leave for a miscarriage. There is no public funeral to say goodbye to that tiny soul. Going through a miscarriage feels like walking in a fog, alone, without shoes on. However, moving on is complicated and painful and it alters your outlook permanently because from now on, worry taints pregnancy.
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Our Miscarriage Story
That night, my husband and I were going out to celebrate, and my best friend agreed to watch our baby. I never worried about the fallibility of birth control because I had a copper Paragard IUD.
Seriously- the Paragard has a very low failure rate which is less than one percent (an average of 0.18% per year per the CDC). This failure rate is as low as female sterilization rates, also known as getting your tubes tied. In other words, getting pregnant with a Paragard correctly in place is VERY rare.
However, my period lasted twelve days so far. I had lots of brown bleeding and odd lower pelvic cramping. Intrinsically, I knew that something was not right and I took the remaining digital pregnancy test from our last baby.
Pregnant with a Paragard IUD
The timer slowly rotated, and I assumed it was taking so long because it was negative. My toddler ran out of the bathroom, so I hurriedly chased her. My husband went to the bathroom a few minutes later and didn’t mention the results of the test, so I figured all was well.
Oh well, I still needed to shower so I turned on the water. Before hopping in the tub, I cast a glance to the laminate countertop, and it shouted in clear black letters: PREGNANT.
I turned off the faucets, pulled on my clothes, and sat on the floor in shock. In a few minutes, I had to find the strength to stand up and walk out to the kitchen and tell my husband.
I don’t care who you are: bleeding for twelve days does not instill positive feelings in anyone! I knew that the cramping and IUD set me up for failure. We dropped our toddler off with my best friend on the way to the emergency department. This night had taken a terrible turn.
The Emergency Department
Upon arriving at the department, I carefully recited the symptoms. I had an IUD, light to moderate brown bleeding for twelve days, developed foreign cramping in my left lower pelvis, and tested positive on a home pregnancy test. They quickly escorted us to a private bay in the emergency room.
The lab technician came in cracking jokes and drew my blood in a rainbow of tubes to assess my situation. Her cheerful demeanor contrasted drastically with the mood in our room. Next, transportation came to wheel me down the cold hallway to my ultrasound.
The ultrasound technician repeatedly jammed the transvaginal ultrasound into my cervix. The discomfort is tolerable when you are eagerly awaiting seeing your baby’s tiny heartbeat and little wiggling limbs. When they avert their eyes and quietly tap on the keys of the ultrasound machine, you know that there is no good news.
After arriving back in my room, the ER physician told me that they believed they saw something growing on my left fallopian tube. When a pregnancy implants outside of the uterus, it is known as an ectopic pregnancy. The most common place for an ectopic pregnancy to occur is in the fallopian tubes, between the ovaries to the uterus.
The amount of pregnancy hormone (hCG) in my blood showed that I was pregnant, but we would expectantly manage the situation, and I should visit my health care provider the following Monday.
Holding Out Hope
We visited the OB two days later on a Monday and had my IUD removed. Based on my last menstrual period, I was 6 weeks and 3 days pregnant, but the level of pregnancy hormone was too low to see anything conclusive on ultrasound. This means there was no definitive answer whether it was ectopic (outside of the uterus) or an intrauterine pregnancy. My husband and I left hoping for a viable intrauterine pregnancy, but fairly certain it would be a tubal pregnancy. However, the next day we received the call that my hCG was dropping by several points from our weekend ER visit. There was no way this could be a “normal” pregnancy.
For the next ten days, the hCG levels dropped appropriately. No one prepared me for the pain, and I am a healthcare professional. I was on hands and knees screaming on the floor as the pain came and went. It was a Wednesday night, and I did not want to leave the comfort of my house. However I was terrified that I would wake my children, or worse yet, would not wake up the next morning. I went back to the emergency department with my mother.
My hCG had dropped, and there was a 4 cm area on my left tube that appeared to be where an ectopic pregnancy had grown. The ER doctor and my OB were pretty sure that I was having a tubal miscarriage, meaning my body was passing the ectopic pregnancy without medical assistance. It was 5 am and time to face my small children and miscarriage head-on with only a mild pain pill.
That Friday, I had another blood draw. Shockingly, the hCG went up 9 points. It’s been 9 weeks after my last menstrual period, and I was still in an ectopic pregnancy limbo. If it trended up again, I needed to receive an injection of methotrexate, a chemo drug that makes you feel terrible but will prevent the growth of the ectopic pregnancy.
Twice a week, I experience the painful stab of the needle entering my arm in a sterile, cold space as we follow the pregnancy hormone down to 0. I see glowing pregnant women everywhere now- something that has never once bothered me.
The lab technician told me all about his wife entering the second trimester as he sees that my only order is for hCG. There are always pregnant women sitting in the lab, taking their glucose test with their big glorious bellies. A girl from high school shares the due date that I should have had. The grief strikes unexpectedly.
How do you Move On?
I cry at the most inopportune times and don’t know how to get past this. Presently, I have to have faith that the universe will provide. People say, “you could always try again” or “you have enough kids anyway”, but I don’t want to try again. I want that baby.
But I don’t want to try again. I want that baby
I’m one of the “lucky” ones. Usually, doctors find an ectopic when a woman is being wheeled back for surgery, about to lose a tube. But I don’t feel lucky. I have a lot of guilt for losing this pregnancy. Between the IUD and the unplanned fourth baby, I don’t even feel like my friends suffering a miscarriage can relate to me. However, I have phenomenal friends and know that they absolutely would support me.
While my baby did not leave a resounding impression on this earth, the impact left on my heart is significant.
“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.
It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.”
—Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
Have you ever experienced a miscarriage with an IUD? Help me fight the lonely stigma attached to miscarriage.