Recently, a friend wrote me a message asking me what it was like when I had miscarried last year. She was frightened and in pain and needed to reach out to someone who could give her reassurance and guidance. Although her request robbed me of breath and made my heart break all over again, it really made me think about how little information is available for Latina moms and how little this topic is discussed openly in our community.
These changing societal attitudes are directly impacting family planning. Examples of this change among Latinas include celebrities such as Salma Hayek, Roselyn Sánchez, Jennifer Lopez, and Penélope Cruz who have all had children in their late 30s or early 40s. This is a departure from the "start young" mentality with which many of us grew up.
But as more and more Latinas are waiting to have children until they are financially secure or have met specific career goals, the chance of miscarriage rises dramatically. Obstetricians consider a pregnancy in a woman 35 years old or older to be a geriatric pregnancy. This simply means that the mother is at greater risk for pregnancy-related complications such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia. And sadly, older moms are more likely to experience a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy.
A miscarriage may be caused by any number of things, including chromosomal abnormalities and insufficient production of progesterone.
If you're pregnant and over the age of 35, here are some symptoms you should watch out for — contact your obstetrician immediately if you experience them:
Vaginal spotting or bleeding
Though many obstetricians say that spotting is common in early pregnancy, the reality is that bleeding of any kind can be a warning sign and most obstetricians will note this in the mother's records and keep this knowledge in the back of their mind as the pregnancy progresses.
Cramping and chronic or sharp pain is not a good sign. If accompanied by bleeding, there is a strong chance you are miscarrying or there is a problem with the pregnancy.
If you experience either of these symptoms, you should call your doctor right away and schedule an appointment so that he or she can run some tests. Other symptoms may include normal energy levels (most pregnancies make you really tired) and lack of morning sickness — but these can exist with a perfectly healthy pregnancy, too.
Most likely your doctor will schedule an ultrasound and do a blood test to check your hCG levels. Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is a hormone produced by the syncytiotrophoblast, a portion of the placenta, following implantation. In a healthy pregnancy, hCG levels double every few days, so they are a clear indicator of an impending miscarriage.
If you find yourself in the most difficult and heart-breaking situation of miscarrying, discuss your options with your doctor.
If you are in your first trimester, some doctors may recommend you wait and let your body pass the tissue on its own, while others may feel you need a dilation and curettage (D&C) procedure.
If you decide to wait and let your body complete the miscarriage on its own, there are a few things you can try to ease the pain and speed up the process. Just like labor, a miscarriage can take many forms. Your body will essentially be in labor to remove the tissue in your uterus, so cramping may be rhythmic and feel like labor, or you may experience strong back pain. Drink lots of water to help flush your system. Dehydration can make the cramping more severe. You can also try walking through the cramps to speed up the process, but if you experience excessive bleeding at any point, such as soaking through a pad in an hour, you should call your doctor right away. And if you feel dizzy or lightheaded with heavy bleeding, you should call 911 immediately as your body may be going into shock. Do not try to drive yourself anywhere.
When you pass the tissue, it will most likely look like a large blood clot depending on how far along you are. After it is passed, your pain level should drop significantly, with minor cramping and period-like symptoms for a week or two.
Your doctor should monitor you throughout the process and schedule a follow-up appointment to check and make sure that you have passed everything so there are no additional complications with your reproductive system.
And finally, don't be afraid to reach out to your significant other or close family or friend for support.
Regardless of whether or not you planned the pregnancy, the loss of a child is a deeply emotional time and it is important to confide in someone to help you find comfort and closure.
This article is not meant to take the place of professional medical advice. See a doctor immediately if you suspect an impending miscarriage or if you have any questions regarding your pregnancy.