I think about my pregnancy loss almost every day...
By Chana Chaiton, Australia
I think about my pregnancy loss almost every day - for me, it was a medical termination of a partial molar pregnancy. I was 12 weeks when I had my termination. I will always remember the date of the termination, the intended due date and wonder who my baby would be now.
I guess one might say I was lucky because the decision was made for me by medical professionals.
But I’ll start from the beginning; it was my second pregnancy. My daughter was almost 2 years old, and I was 11 weeks pregnant. One Friday morning, I woke up to some light spotting, so I decided to go to my GP and discuss it with her. She wasn’t too concerned but because I hadn’t had any scans yet she decided to send me for one. I went to my local Xray practice - I was familiar with all the technicians as I am myself a radiographer and had done some practicum hours for uni there - and booked in for an ultrasound.
At the ultrasound, the technician recorded my dates, noted that I had quite a few cysts on my ovaries but said that all seemed okay and there was nothing to be concerned about. My GP was satisfied by the outcome of the scan, but because of the ongoing spotting, she booked me in as a precaution to the early pregnancy clinic at the hospital for that following Monday morning.
However, the next day Shabbat morning I woke up with excruciating pain in my lower abdomen it was way worse than contractions, and I told my husband to take our daughter to my parents' house down the road and immediately called an ambulance. The paramedics came and assessed me, thinking that I had kidney stones - they gave me gas for pain management and then took me to the hospital. Because I was under 20 weeks pregnant, there was no rush for me to be seen in the ED. My blood was eventually taken, but no scans were carried out- the triage nurses and doctors all explained that if the pregnancy was going to end at this early stage, there was nothing they could do about it. I was too early on.
My blood work came back - my HCG (pregnancy hormone levels ) was extremely high. The triage doctor (who had zero interpersonal skills) explained to my husband and I that this either meant that I was expecting twins or triplets or that a growth/ cancer was taking over the pregnancy. Amidst a lot of waiting around and minimal answers. We were very overwhelmed, trying to understand what was going on. After being in the hospital all day, a doctor visited me and told me she reviewed my blood levels and assured me everything was fine and she suspects that one of the cysts on my ovaries just ruptured which could explain the very excruciating pain I had felt that morning. She gave me some pain medication and sent us on our way home. I asked about having another scan, but she said it wasn’t necessary because I was under 20 weeks.
We went home, trusting that everything was okay. I returned to the clinic for the Monday morning appointment, I waited around for a while, however feeling a sense of urgency I went in to speak to a nurse. I told her about the bleeding, the trip to the ED on Saturday and the current opinion of the doctor that my condition was okay. Upon hearing my history, this nurse was concerned about the HCG levels and booked me in for an ultrasound at the clinic.
I went in and watching the sonographer’s scan, I could immediately tell something was not right, especially when she said wait here I’m just going to get my supervisor. I was all alone. I kept thinking, why did I come to this appointment alone?
I was brought into a room; 3 medical professionals were waiting to speak with me. Their names and words were being thrown at me. A professors name, a nurse and another doctor. I heard certain words: molar pregnancy, not viable, abortion, can't fall pregnant for the next 3 years minimum, chemotherapy. It was all a jumble of information, my heart felt heavy, and the urge to be sick was strong. They sat me down - I remember the professor being so calm and kind- but how could he know what I was going through. He was so concerned about my health - but why weren't they worried about my baby? They told me I had a partial molar pregnancy which is when something grows alongside the baby and takes over the pregnancy.
In my case, the baby still had a heartbeat, but it would most probably miscarry between 15-18 weeks. There could be a danger for a woman that her uterus rupture with this pregnancy and therefore they insisted that they book me in ASAP for a termination. They told me I would have to wait to fall pregnant again as there is a higher chance of this happening again if I don’t wait long enough. They told me if the HCG levels didn’t decrease efficiently then I would have to undergo a chemotherapy drug to reduce the levels.
I can’t even remember how I got home or how I explained anything to my husband, but a week later he was holding my hand as I was wheeled into surgery for the procedure. It’s hard to describe, but it's such a surreal feeling going in pregnant and coming out not. You feel empty, like one of your limbs is gone, but they're all there. Like you're missing some clothing, but you are fully dressed. I guess one of the hardest parts of the experience was that it was expected that I would just move on and be grateful that I at least had one healthy child at home.
For the next 6 months, I had to be monitored, with weekly blood tests, to make sure the HCG levels were lowering - and then had to have another D&C a few months later when they realised some of the tissue had not been scraped out. Within the year I was lucky enough to fall pregnant again (with permission from my doctor), but it was much more of an anxiety-filled pregnancy, especially up until the 12 weeks had passed.
I wrote this article because it should be acknowledged that medical terminations are still so taboo (in every circle), but especially in the orthodox religious communities. In Judaism, it is not something that is pure black and white or forbidden, because the health and well-being of the mother surpasses that of the baby. It’s incredible how much has changed in 6 years - there were no podcasts, or Instagram accounts of women who have had a pregnancy loss, medical termination, stillbirth. I remember googling partial molar pregnancy and finding a few Facebook groups with women sharing their experiences, but really very minimal details or exposure. Now there is a lot more awareness and women are openly sharing on every platform their stories of loss and heartbreak. We should continue to educate and speak openly so the closed stigma of termination becomes one that is a more open conversation.