Birth Stories (Part Three): Fifteen percent of the time, there’s no baby at all

Metta Dwyer
Mar 23, 2018 · 5 min read

This is Part Three in a series of stories about my pregnancies. Here are Part One and Part Two.

I promise, Part Four ends with a baby, so please stick with me through one more disappointment.

After my late pregnancy loss, I had a lot of different reactions. But once I recovered physically, I was focused on getting pregnant again right away. I was still focused on my kids’ age gap. I didn’t even ask my doctor if it was a good idea to try to get pregnant right away. I had a one-track mind. Keep these kids under three years apart.

So, we tried to get pregnant right away. And we did. Because that’s just how my body works. If I’m not actively trying not to get pregnant, I get pregnant. Apparently.

In my previous pregnancies, I had started getting sick when I was around six weeks pregnant. This time six weeks came and went and I still felt fine. Seven weeks, still feeling good.

I had read that morning sickness was worse if you were having a baby girl. So, naturally, I thought, “Maybe I’m having a boy! This is gonna be great! Maybe I won’t be so sick!”


Because of my recent loss, my doctor let me come in early to check on things.

So, at eight weeks, I was sitting on the exam table waiting for my doctor. My husband and daughter were there, too, probably looking out the window at the cars going by on the highway.

My doctor walked in and asked, “How are you feeling?”

“Great!” I said. I told her that I usually felt awful by eight weeks, but that I hadn’t had any morning sickness this time.

Her brow furrowed.

“That’s actually not a good sign.”

My husband and I looked at each other.

She had me lay back and set up the ultrasound machine. A transvaginal ultrasound is not a comfortable procedure. But usually, at least there’s a growing baby to look at.

This time, there was nothing on the screen.

I was immediately transported back to my first ultrasound with my first pregnancy.

Fifteen to twenty percent of the time, my doctor had said.

Fifteen to twenty percent of the time, at the first ultrasound, there was no baby.

“I’m not seeing anything,” my doctor said, leaning toward the monitor as if looking at the screen closer would make a baby appear.

This time, my husband and daughter were with me. I’m sure we were holding hands. I probably squeezed his.

Still trying to get a better look at the screen, my doctor moved the ultrasound wand around. Pressing here, prodding there. Eventually, she pointed to a miniscule dot on the screen.

“This looks like something here,” she said. “But this is what I’d expect to see if you were four or five weeks along. Is it possible that you have the date of conception wrong?”

My husband and I looked at each other. It wasn’t possible. I had taken the pregnancy test almost five weeks earlier. If I was only five weeks along, I wouldn’t have had a positive pregnancy test at that point.

I explained that to my doctor, while she kept looking at the tiny dot.

She sent me to have a blood test done to measure my hGC levels. I had to have another one done the following day to see if my levels were going up. hGC is the main hormone associated with pregnancy. It stands for Human Chorionic Gonadotropin and it’s produced by what will become the placenta. If my pregnancy was progressing, those levels would continue to go up. If the levels didn’t go up, something was definitely wrong.

She also wanted to do another ultrasound a week later to see if there was any growth.

One part of my brain was telling me that I was absolutely certain that the date was right. And that I didn’t want to wait to take whatever the next steps were.

But the other part of my brain was holding out hope that we had missed something. That somehow it would be fine. That my hGC levels would go up and the ultrasound would show that the baby was growing.

So I waited. I did the blood tests (my levels went down), and the second ultrasound (it looked exactly the same as the first one).

And, again, I was in a situation where I had a choice to make. I could wait a little while, to see if my body would naturally take over and “expel the pregnancy tissue” on it’s own. Or, I could take Misoprostol, which would cause the uterus to contract and “expel the pregnancy tissue” before my body did it on its own.

I opted to take the Misoprostol. I wanted to move on. What’s done was done and there was no point in stringing it out.

Misoprostol is a pill you take at home. And then your body turns inside out. Or at least that’s what it felt like. The cramps were somewhere between the worst period cramps I’ve ever had and the easiest contractions I had while on pitocin. Just to be clear, they were really, extremely painful.

There was a lot of bleeding. A lot of pain. I think I had prescription strength ibuprofen for the pain, but it was a lot of pain.

I remember laying on the floor of my bathroom, clammy, sweating, crying.

One thing didn’t happen. I did not pass anything that was noticeably an embryo. My husband remembers my doctor suggesting that there was not actually any embryo at all, but only an egg sac. I don’t remember that specifically, but it seems likely. If anything was developing, it was too small to be noticeable.


The thing about this experience is that I don’t have much of an emotional connection with it. I think it was just too soon after a much more emotional loss. I don’t want to downplay how devastating a loss like this can be. If this had happened with my first pregnancy or a year later than it did, I probably would have been completely crushed. But for me, in the shadow of what I had just been through, this just seemed more frustrating and inconvenient than sad. I was upset, but I was not grieving.

I feel callous for even writing that, but it’s the truth.

A couple of quick notes: I went back through some old emails to remind myself of dates and everything that was going on at the time. And I was reminded that there was a lot of other stuff going on in our lives at the time. I don’t know if that makes it more understandable that I wasn’t as emotional about this loss or not, but it was helpful to remember the context in which this was happening.

I also found an email I had sent my husband with an article explaining that some women who have no trouble getting pregnant, but then have repeated miscarriages might be TOO fertile. Their uteruses are too good at allowing imperfect embryos to implant. That made a lot of sense to me at the time.

Part Four

Metta Dwyer

Written by

I’m a writer, mom of three, telephile, and former attorney.

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