Miscarriage explained: The devastating types of early pregnancy loss

pregnancy test and ultrasound

It’s something an estimated one in four women will experience at least once. And it’s something that can be hard to understand, to come to terms with and to move on from. What makes miscarriage even harder for many hopeful parents is that it’s not something that is openly discussed, so many of the questions you may have go unanswered.

One of the things you might not know about miscarriage is that there are nine different classifications of early pregnancy loss. Yes, nine.

It’s important to familiarise yourself with each one in order to understand what may have happened and what you can expect from your body.

Complete and incomplete miscarriages

Every miscarriage will be termed either ‘complete’ or ‘incomplete’. A complete miscarriage means that the remains of the pregnancy have been expelled from your body. An incomplete miscarriage means that some of the pregnancy tissue remains in your uterus.

Incomplete miscarriages require medical attention. You may need a dilation of the cervix and curettage of the uterus (known as a D&C) or you may be offered oral medication to help expel the rest of the pregnancy. Neither option is desirable and both come with their pros and cons so be sure to speak to your doctor about the best option for your situation.

Threatened miscarriage

A threatened miscarriage is the term used when your body is showing signs of miscarrying, including vaginal bleeding and cramping. However, the cervix remains closed and thus a miscarriage is not inevitable.

Some women who have threatened miscarriages go on to have healthy pregnancies while others will continue to display symptoms of miscarriage and lose the baby. There really isn’t anything you can do to ensure the first option.

A threatened miscarriage can happen anytime during early pregnancy.


Pregnancy losses

pregnancy loss

Chemical pregnancy

A chemical pregnancy happens at the very early stages of a pregnancy (before week five) and involves conception and elevated hCG levels but no implantation. Instead, your body will experience bleeding and cramping, similar to a period.

Because chemical pregnancies happen around the same time as their expected period, many women are not aware that they were even pregnant. However, if you have that positive test, only to experience bleeding a few days later, it can be heartbreaking.

Blighted ovum

While a chemical pregnancy ends after conception, a blighted ovum ends after implantation. In most instances, the sac will develop but no baby will be inside. In other words, the embryo was conceived but it did not develop and was reabsorbed into the uterus. This is also known as an ‘anembryonic pregnancy’.

This type of early pregnancy loss is normally picked up by a scan. It is considered ‘incomplete’ as there is still pregnancy tissue in your uterus; however, your body may expel the tissue on its own or you may need to look into treatment options.

Molar pregnancy

A molar pregnancy is classified as a pregnancy where the cells that normally form a placenta grow into clumps of abnormal cells instead. Without a working placenta, bub will not be able to survive. In complete molar pregnancies, the baby will not develop at all. In incomplete molar pregnancies, the baby will begin to develop but, due to abnormalities, will not be able to survive.

You will need to discuss treatment options with your doctor.

Missed miscarriage

Another type of devastating early pregnancy loss is a missed miscarriage which is usually only picked up by an ultrasound. What this means is that the baby has died but remains in your uterus. It’s awful. And it’s heartbreaking.

Some women experience a brownish discharge or lack of expected early pregnancy symptoms (such as tender breasts and sickness). However, just because you are not having the typical pregnancy symptoms doesn’t mean you have a missed miscarriage.

A missed miscarriage is incomplete and thus you will need to look into the options outlined above. While missed miscarriages can happen anytime during the first trimester, they are often not picked up until your 12 week scan.


Additional pregnancy loss conditions

Recurring miscarriages

Most women who have a miscarriage go on to have a healthy pregnancy. Some women, however, will experience consecutive miscarriages. Recurrent miscarriages refer to having three or more miscarriages in a row. If this is the case, you may want to see your doctor to investigate why this keeps happening and how you can increase your chance of a successful pregnancy.

Keep in mind that many women who have recurrent miscarriages will still go on to carry a baby to term.

Ectopic pregnancy

Another type of pregnancy loss is an ectopic pregnancy which isn’t only devastating, but also dangerous. This occurs when the embryo implants outside the uterus. Ectopic pregnancies will need to be removed and normally result in heavy bleeding, painful cramps and possible vomiting. You will need to seek medical attention immediately.


A loss is a loss, regardless of the term

Pregnancy loss, regardless of the medical term associated with it, is a painful experience, both physically and emotionally. It is important that women understand that a miscarriage is not their fault and that it’s okay to feel a myriad of emotions.

Recovery will depend on the type of miscarriage, how far along you were and what procedure was required. Choosing to try again also comes down to the individual situation – you may be able to try straight away or you may need to wait a few months to heal.

While some women choose to keep what has happened to themselves, others prefer to talk about what has happened. If you are looking for miscarriage support, please visit Pregnancy Loss Australia, .Sids and Kids or Sands, all of which offer telephone support and more information on miscarriage.

Know that you are not alone

While an article about the types of pregnancy loss isn’t going to help take away the pain and sadness, we hope it can help you make sense of what has happened and, hopefully, reassure you that pregnancy is still possible.

While this pregnancy may not have been viable, odds are the next one will be.  And when you meet your little one, we can promise you, he or she will be worth the wait.

 

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