What Really Happens After a Miscarriage
WARNING: There is unabashed TMI about to happen up in here.
I've spent the past month since my miscarriage poking around for information that would help me understand the science of what was happening to my body in normal-speak. Unsurprisingly, much of the writing around miscarriages seeks to avoid the “gross” realities of what happens to female bodies. That stuff lives in the comments section. But I’m not going to feel ashamed about what my body is doing. Instead, I’m going to write about it.
One month ago, I was almost seven weeks pregnant. I had finally weaned myself off my SSRI. I was having predictably terrible morning sickness. My boobs were seriously sore. I was one week shy of visiting the OB/GYN for my first ultrasound. And then I had a miscarriage.
I had a relatively easy miscarriage, which is to say that I had some bad cramping that lasted a few days and only a couple of hours of heavy bleeding. I also had a complete miscarriage, which meant that I didn’t have to schedule a D&C. There were no baby bits left behind that needed scraping out.
While staring at the ultrasound of my empty uterus the next day at the doctor’s office was sad and frustrating, it also meant that my body was that much closer to “back to normal.” My morning sickness disappeared the day after I miscarried and my breasts stopped aching a couple of days later.
Two weeks after the miscarriage, I ovulated. I always know when that’s happening because I have two days of clear, mucus-y discharge and a slight discomfort on my left side. Real talk –- my reproductive system runs like a well-oiled, reliable automobile. I’ve only been late three times in my life, twice due to extreme physical stress and once due to, well, the pregnancy.
VIDEO: Pregnant Carrie Underwood Reveals She Suffered 3 Miscarriages in the Last Two Year
When the morning sickness and boob-soreness faded, I was upset with my body for so quickly forgetting it had been pregnant. I was still processing what had happened -– the pregnancy and its disappearance. But by the time I ovulated, I was ready to get back to regularly scheduled programming. I knew that many women don’t immediately return to their usual menstrual cycles, and was weirdly proud of my body’s timeliness. Sure, it kicked that fetus out of my womb (probably because my body knew it wasn’t a viable fetus). But look –- my uterus was now back in action and right on time!
The first day of my period usually happens about two weeks after I ovulate. Last Saturday, two weeks to the day after the successful ovulating, I woke up with strong, painful cramps. Like the worst cramps I’d ever had multiplied by a zillion.
Heavy bleeding continued through the day, and there were a couple of darkly colored clots. I took to the Internet and found the same discomforting advice everywhere: Your first period after a miscarriage could be different from your regular period in any number of ways. Lighter, heavier, longer, shorter. More painful, less painful. Shedding leftover pregnancy material or not. It was like reading the side effects of a cold medicine and learning that the likely ones are all cold-like symptoms.
So when I woke up on Sunday to a clean pad, and I only lightly spotted through Sunday and Monday, I figured I’d had a heavy, short period and was done. Next month would be regular and the miscarriage was behind me. Alas, nothing is ever that simple.
On Monday night, the killer cramps kicked up again. By Tuesday morning, I was bleeding heavily. I was also passing more clots, although this time they were a mix of pink, bright clots and darker, more sinister-looking clots.
The first step to making sure that this was a period and that my body understood I wasn’t still pregnant/miscarrying was to take a pregnancy test. The post-miscarriage bloodwork had shown that I still had a small amount of hCG, the pregnancy hormone, in my body (25 mIU/ml). By now, I should have zero. An early-detection home pregnancy kit will find hormone levels as low as 15-25 hCG mIU/ml.
Peeing on that stick and hoping for a negative felt ironic. But I got two clear negatives. My body was in fact flushing out that extra-thick lining the OB had pointed to on the ultrasound, leftover from when my uterus thought it was going to grow a baby. This is likely all very normal. Knowing that doesn’t make it any easier that, for the last 48 hours, it’s felt like I’m miscarrying all over again. Except more pain and blood this time.
Any illusion of having regained control over my body is gone. Maybe the larger lesson here -– and I’m not sure I’ll ever really learn this one because I’m nothing if not a control freak –- is that we never have any true control over the fragile inner workings of our bodies. We can make choices that might influence those inner workings, but a great deal of our health is just out of our hands. Especially when it comes to pregnancy, miscarriage and menstruation.
I do have a better understanding now of why the OB suggested waiting two cycles before considering getting pregnant again. It’s apparent that my body is still readjusting from the seven weeks of fetus-growing. And I have a different kind of respect for how much my body can and will handle. Even when my mind is reeling, my body does what it needs to do.
That said, I just really want this to be over. I want to put the miscarriage behind me, not to pretend it didn’t happen, but to know it’s done happening. I keep hoping that the next time I go to the bathroom, the bleeding will have stopped or slowed. Or at least the clots won’t appear. Or maybe could just the cramping ease up a bit?
I’m clinging to the knowledge that at the end of this period-from-hell my miscarriage really will be over. Because if there is anything left in there, trust me, it’s coming out now.
Our bodies are a wonderland. Or sometimes, a haunted house.