Miscarriage has long been a taboo topic that has only recently started to be discussed more openly. It’s often not until a pregnant woman has experienced a miscarriage that they become aware of just how common this heartache is and how many of the women around them have a story similar to their own. The recent development of a blood test that allows doctors to identify pregnancies at a high risk of miscarriage has huge implications for expecting couples. As a woman who has experienced a miscarriage, I am all too aware of the heartbreak associated with this loss and have some insight into how it impacts your mindset in subsequent pregnancies. In order to share my thoughts on this breakthrough, I’d like to first share some of my own experiences.
Given the secrecy that surrounds miscarriage, when I first fell pregnant, the concept of suffering a miscarriage wasn’t one I gave much thought to. I was low-risk in so many ways; young, healthy and had no family history of pregnancy complications. Fortunately for me, my optimistic outlook for my pregnancy was realised when I gave birth to a healthy baby girl just days before my estimated due date.
Unfortunately for me, when I fell pregnant with my second child the devastating heartbreak of miscarriage quickly became my reality. I’d gone into this pregnancy with a little more awareness of miscarriage than I did my first time around. Having connected with a lot of other new mothers, I had heard a few of the stories of difficulties conceiving and miscarrying some women had faced. However, despite my increased exposure to miscarriage, like many women I assumed I wouldn’t become one of the statistics. I was wrong. At approximately 13.5 weeks I found out there were complications with my pregnancy, and a week later our miscarriage was confirmed, and our hearts were broken.
We were lucky enough to fall pregnant again a week before our unfulfilled due date. We were so happy at the prospect of finally getting to meet our rainbow baby. However, the reality is that a pregnancy after a miscarriage isn’t the same. Experiencing the heartache of such a tremendous loss causes an invisible fear. You are left afraid to bond “too much” with your unborn baby or to get “too attached” because the statistics of miscarriage are no longer just abstract numbers, they are part of your story. The excitement you felt at every doctor’s appointment or ultrasound before your miscarriage is now mixed with a deep anxiety during your new pregnancy. Instead of gazing at the ultrasound image and trying to make out a head, arm or leg, you’re holding your breath while you check for a heartbeat. This anxiety lessens with each week that passes, and you eventually allow yourself to believe your baby will be okay this time and gradually allow yourself to admit the love you’ve felt for this baby all along.
So, based on my experiences what are my thoughts on this new blood test? I think it is a really important medical advancement that will positively impact healthcare professionals’ ability to meet the medical, psychological and emotional needs of expecting parents. Even merely having discussions about this test will result in expecting parents having a more accurate and realistic understanding of how prominent miscarriage is. High-risk results will give healthcare professionals a better opportunity to do everything they can to prevent the miscarriage, while also psychologically preparing parents for a possible miscarriage, and giving them an opportunity to call on friends and family for the emotional support they will possibly need. For those who have suffered miscarriage(s) in the past, a high-risk result may confirm their deepest fears as early as possible and allow medical professionals to respond in the most appropriate way to meet the needs of these patients. Meanwhile, the alternative response may help these parents breathe again, significantly reducing their stress and anxiety levels in early pregnancy, and gifting these parents the opportunity to allow themselves to better connect with their unborn baby without feeling such fear of a potential loss.
While I think this test is a fantastic medical advancement, it isn’t without flaws. My concerns with this test are associated with the 10% inaccuracy. Meaning that of the one in 10 sets of expecting parents provided with inaccurate results some will be prepared to expect a miscarriage that won’t occur, and they will likely experience high levels of stress and anxiety as a result, in addition to negatively impacting or preventing the bond that may have occurred without this diagnosis. Alternatively, when expecting parents whose results are in the normal range experience miscarriage they may experience higher levels of trauma and devastation due to a false confidence that their pregnancy was healthy.
So, would I take this test? Honestly, unless the test was really affordable I probably wouldn’t have for my first two pregnancies, as at that time I had no reason to expect anything other than healthy pregnancies. However, after suffering our miscarriage, I absolutely would have had this test for my third pregnancy, and believe that it would have had a positive impact on my psychological and emotional health early on it that pregnancy, and that I could have allowed myself to start enjoying my pregnancy and connecting with my baby a lot earlier and more fully than I allowed myself to.