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Misdiagnosed Miscarriage: A Tragic Medical Blunder Pregnant Women Can Prevent

By Rebecca Odes |

3 month ultrasoundSofia Taylor just went through an enormously difficult (and very rare) experience.  At her 3 month ultrasound,The U.K. pregnant woman was told there was no heartbeat and her pregnancy was not viable.  She was encouraged to proceed with medical procedures to remove the fetus from her uterus. But she opted not to, reportedly because her instincts told her that she had not miscarried. (It’s not clear whether she was having any miscarriage symptoms).

A week later Sofia Taylor returned for a second scan and was told that there was a heartbeat and the pregnancy was viable after all. She is now carrying what seems to be a normal and healthy fetus. The mother of 3 (going on 4) was obviously extremely distressed at this major mistake, but relieved in the end to find out that her baby was okay after all.

This near miss touches on so many pregnancy anxieties.  When I first read the story, I thought, why get everyone riled up about a freak accident? I decided to do a little investigating into the problem of misdiagnosed miscarriage. After all, the story that alerted me to the phenomenon was in a rather tabloid-ish paper. But it turns out that misdiagnosed miscarriage is more common than I thought.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s still very, very uncommon.  The chances of a pregnancy being diagnosed as not viable when it is are EXTREMELY slim.  But this is not the only story I read about this experience. In fact, there’s an entire web site dedicated to women who have experienced this unfortunate medical blunder.  The site offers stories, support, and information on women’s rights after a miscarriage diagnosis.

The upshot is this: If you are told that your fetus is not viable after an ultrasound examination, you have some choices.

A doctor will usually ask whether you would like to wait to see whether a miscarriage will occur naturally.  This happens in a fairly high percentage of cases, but it sometimes takes awhile. This is part of why a D&A or D&C is offered, because many women do not want to deal with the extended period of waiting to see whether a miscarriage will occur naturally. The idea is that by getting the procedure, the woman can “be done with it” and begin the mourning process rather being in a holding pattern for a week or more. There is also the possibility that there may be some residual tissue left if the miscarriage is allowed to proceed naturally. Removing the tissue via D &A or D&C is a way doctors can be sure that the uterus has been completely cleared. The farther along the pregnancy is, the more likely a natural miscarriage is to be “incomplete”, and the more likely a D & C will be considered medically necessary.

Here are some ways you can ensure your miscarriage has not been misdiagnosed:

1. Consider waiting for a natural miscarriage if the diagnosis occurs before 10 weeks gestation.

2. Ask for a second ultrasound on a different machine

3. Ask for a second opinion from a different technician or doctor

4. Ask to come back on another day just to make sure before proceeding.

5. If you do decide to move forward with a D&A, D&C or medication to promote the progress of the miscarriage, ask for another ultrasound before the procedure is initiated

This is such a tough subject, because in an overwhelming majority of situations, when a miscarriage is diagnosed, it’s because the fetus really is not viable. It’s true that misdiagnosis is possible. But it’s so rare that it’s hard to even talk about it without feeling like it’s giving unrealistic hope to a huge number of women who ultimately will have to face the painful reality of pregnancy loss.  It also brings up all kinds of issues about the doctor-patient relationship and trust.

Many of the stories I read about misdiagnosed miscarriage point to the woman’s instinct as a key factor in resisting pressure to do a D & C or D & A.  Instinct can be a powerful tool, but it is often difficult to parse out what’s instinct and what’s emotion, especially in such a hyper-charged situation. There are so many situations where women who have had miscarriages say they always knew something wasn’t right with the baby. But then there are those who are taken completely by surprise. And those who went around with a cloud of anxiety about something going wrong and delivered perfectly healthy babies after uncomplicated pregnancies. I’m not sure we can put the pressure on women to be able to read their instincts and know which way to proceed after a miscarriage diagnosis. Or at any rate, the message instinct sends needs to be fortified by information and good communication. It seems to me that the precautions above should be standard procedure in a miscarriage diagnosis to prevent the very rare—but very tragic— misdiagnosis. In many cases, some or all of the above precautions might be taken by a sensitive healthcare provider. But should the situation arise, it’s good to know that you have the right, and the ability, to take steps to make sure the diagnosis is accurate.

photo: Collinson/flickr

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About Rebecca Odes

rebecca-odes

Rebecca Odes

Rebecca Odes is a writer, artist and mother. She was inspired to write her blog, From The Hips, during her first pregnancy when she discovered every pregnancy book she came across made her feel anxious or irritated. She lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

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10 thoughts on “Misdiagnosed Miscarriage: A Tragic Medical Blunder Pregnant Women Can Prevent

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you so much about bringing this up. This happened to me this summer and prior I had not been aware of the frequency of mis-diagnosed miscarriages. I went in for an ultrasound at 6 weeks and we could see a placenta, but no baby. I went in for an ultrasound the following week and we saw a heartbeat. The week of not knowing whether or not I was actually pregnant was horrible. I went in for my next ultrasound several weeks later, but this time there was no heartbeat. I could see for myself on two ultrasound machines. I had a D&C for the reasons you described above.

  2. Bridget says:

    I was bleeding at 5 weeks with my first pregnancy and the ER doctors who did the ultrasound said that it appeared that I was miscarrying. They advised me to go home and put my feet up and see what happened, but not to get my hopes up about this baby working out for me. At 9 weeks I went for my first “real doctor” checkup because I hadn’t obviously miscarried yet. There, the ultrasound tech saw that I had not one, but 2 babies. Both are in great health.

  3. Giselle says:

    Thank you for posting this vital information. This is sooo important for patients to know that they have a say so and nothing a doctor says needs to be done always has to be done. These procedures should not be used for every single m/c or possible m/c. Our bodies were designed to do what it needs to do. I myself was in that position about 2 yrs ago I was pregnant with twins one never developed a heartbeat at 4wks and the other did not have a heartbeat at 8weeks. After I had the ultrasound the doctors wanted to hurry up and make me have a D and C I opted out. But they kept on pushing the issue and not respecting my decision. I stood my ground and told them I am not having that. This happened continually for almost 2 wks. Then at a wk and ahalf I started to bleed and I knew that my body was doing its job and exactly 2 weeks from the day of the ultrasound that showed my baby w no heartbeat I physically miscarried. I went to the ER they did an ultrasound and verified it was all gone they said it was not complete yet but they said if you want to wait you can or we can do a Dand C I said I will wait. Exactly 2 days later the placenta came out on its own. I went back to the ER and they did another u/s and everything was verified to be good to go. Please be careful and know that you are not obligated to do everything doctors say you have a say so and you should not be forced to do anything you do not feel is right for you, its your body Just know the truth. Machines dont pick up everything and doctors do not know it all either. Knowledge is everything. Read, examine, learn, and study! Do not rely on hear say! From my experience tyhey may have been right but I did not want my baby removed by a machine that sucked and diced my baby to pieces, my baby deserved to have a dignified and normal birth no matter what. In the end it helped me mourn in a healthy way bc i knew that I was not the one that caused my babay’s death and that it was what it was. This is my first Christmas after having lost baby that we are not depressed and it is such a relief to know its ok to be happy even though my baby is not here with us to enjoy the holidays. you too can have your joy back if you have lost it. Just let your body and mind mourn however it needs to mourn. No matter how weird others may think it is. GOD bless!

  4. Liz L. says:

    I had a misdiagnosed miscarriage but I, like the woman in the article, had an unshakeable feeling that I was still pregnant. I kept it to myself because I did not want people to think I was a crazy person. But I quietly kept living as if I was pregnant and then when I finally got in for a sonogram, they confirmed that I was indeed still pregnant with a healthy looking baby. He just turned one this month.

  5. Karina says:

    Thank you for this post. I am not ready to go into details as to what I am going through yet. Since I am responding to this blog you may have an idea. Thank you again.

  6. Lisa says:

    I experienced a miscarriage with my 4th pregnancy which was twins….I went in for a routine ultrasound visit and everything was perfect 2 strong heartbeats and 2 active babies we left and went home excited and our heads in a cloud….3 weeks passed and I started to experience small cramps which I figured to be “growing pains” since there was 2 this time well my husband insisted that I go to the ER so we went along with our grown nephew.the nurse came in and used the doppler to find the heartbeats and so she did or atleast the nurse along with myself and my husband thought so. My husband leaves to take our nephew home seeing we thought everything was fine.a few minutes later I get taken to OB alone as my husband hasn’t made it back yet and I am taken into an ultrasound room a little nervous but also excited thinking I was going to get to see the twins again but I felt I should wait on my husband with encouragement from the nurse and doctor I go ahead without my husband. I still remember how quite the room was when the doctor finally told me he couldn’t find either heartbeat…..it seemed surreal cause there was no spotting or hurting just a few minor cramps now after reading this article I wonder if I should have waited on getting the D&C. Would I have my beautiful identical boy and girl that would be 4 this month

  7. Samantha B says:

    I had a miscarriage 2 days ago after my doctors have continuosly said I could never have anymore children. I am devestated. I have 3 wonderful kids and there would be nothing I want more than to be able to have another. Doctors are not God (although some think so!) They are human and make human errors but my complaint is most don’t take the time to look for further evidence before trying to make our minds up for us. When I had my 3rd child I was hemoragging* severly I lost 6 pints of blood in a matter of minutes. The doctor said if I ever tried to have another baby I would likely die during delivery. I was beside myself with grief because I had always wanted a large family. He wanted me to consent to a tubal ligation during the surgery to stop the bleeding and did everything in his power to convince me to do so. I had minutes to decide. I signed the papers. Then the surgeon came in to talk to me while the were prepping me for the procedure and she said you have to be sure because if your husband and children die in a freak accident you will never have another baby. At that moment I fell unconscious but I had already signed consent. They tied my tubes during surgery. Shortly after I divorced and met a man with no children and who is an amazing father to my 3 (whose dad is no longer involved at all with them) and all I have ever wanted to do was give him a biological child (even though he says I have already given him the 3 most beautiful kids in the world) and I hated myself for not being able to do so. So last week when I found out I was pregnant I was giddily happy unti Tuesday when I miscarried. It was a freak thing that probably won’t happen again. But to this day I am still angry with the doctor who convinced me this was the only way to save my life and be there for my kids who needed me. I didn’t die during my miscarriage obviously and there is a good chance I could have had another normal viable healthy pregnancy had it not been for him. I plan to do invitro when we save enough money. DO NOT ALWAYS LISTEN TO DOCTORS THEY ARE JUST AS HUMAN AS YOU AND ME. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS YOUR BODY KNOWS ITSELF BETTER THAN YOU OR THE DOCTORS EVER COULD!!!!

  8. Samantha Brandiff says:

    P.S. I would like to thank all of the courageous women on this website for coming forward with their stories. I know how much pain you are in. reguardless of how far along you are you are carrying a life inside of you and I know first hand how losing that life can effect you physically emotionally and spiritually.

  9. ambam says:

    My dr told me I had an eptopic pregnancy because he could not see the fetus in my uterus and he wanted me to under go surgery the next day but I new and my nurse new different so I went for a second opinion and there my baby boy was in my uterus with a heart beat my baby boy is now 5yrs old and I am so thankful I had gotten a second opinion

  10. Gene says:

    My sister was told she had miscarried. She did not believe the doctor and on her second scan, they saw healthy TWINS. Two babies could have been killed if she hadn’t stuck to her guns.

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