If you haven’t been through a “questionable pregnancy” before–I quote that because in the midst of a completely normal, confirmed pregnancy, one doesn’t usually get their hCG levels tested–then you may have no idea what I’m talking about.
Here’s your 30 second information session:
Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG) is a hormone that your body produces after implantation (the start of pregnancy). Most at home pregnancy tests detect the presence of this hormone, which is what causes a positive result. Throughout my pregnancies, I have been told that the level itself doesn’t matter as much as the number doubling every 48 hours in the beginning of a pregnancy. That being said, I have also heard many stories of people having successful pregnancies even though their numbers did not double as expected.
Aside from unknowingly testing my own hCG levels via at home pregnancy tests, it wasn’t until my 5th pregnancy that I had my levels tested professionally. Having had my share of miscarriages–3 at the time of this test–I was fairly certain that I had lost our baby. However, as this was my first pregnancy after the successful birth of our daughter–13 months old at the time–there was a little glimmer of hope that maybe this newest babe was still hanging on.
I have written this next bit a dozen times but it doesn’t seem like I’m ready to fully discuss the miscarriages yet… So I’m going to focus on my experience with hCG here, and take my time on the miscarriage posts.
After an ultrasound showing my empty uterus–I could write a whole post on my feelings there alone, but I digress–I was sent for a blood draw to test my hCG levels and “confirm the loss.” After 2 excruciating hours of waiting and refreshing my hospital’s online patient portal, I got my results: 3.5 mIU/mL. I didn’t need Dr. Google to tell me that this number was too low to indicate a viable pregnancy. And sure enough, a few hours later, my midwife called to confirm that my “number came back quite low which would correlate with a miscarriage.” She went on to say that “at this point there is no need to do additional bloodwork;” basically, do not continue to hope for this baby, it is gone.
1 month later, I got another positive pregnancy test. One month.
Naturally, there were a lot of questions. Was this truly possible? Would this baby be viable? Could this just be hormones left over from my previous pregnancy? In falls hCG testing…
August 1: 119 mIU/mL
“Congratulations! You’re pregnant! Let’s retest in 48 hours to confirm the health of this pregnancy.”
August 3: 178 mIU/mL
This test was done on a Saturday…so while the patient portal updated me with my results within a few hours, I did not get a call from my midwife until Monday afternoon. Having simply been told “your numbers should double,” I spent the weekend in a complete panic that they hadn’t.
“…well, your numbers didn’t double like we had hoped. But they did rise! Let’s retest in a week to give your body time to catch up.”
August 10: 297 mIU/mL
As the last test happened on a Saturday, I came back in for this test once again on a Saturday. I spent 2 hours in the waiting room trying to keep my toddler entertained, completely drowning in emotions surrounding the baby in my belly.
Patient portal updated at 6pm that [Saturday] night. I was crushed. My midwife’s voice kept replaying in my head, “by Saturday we expect your number to be around 1600.” At this point, I completely lost all hope for this baby. And at 7am the next [Sunday] morning, I woke up bleeding.
2 miscarriages in 2 months. One day, I’ll talk about that. But for now, here’s a letter to my future self on the topic of hCG:
Dear future self,
Thank you for trying again. Truly, after all of these losses…thank you. You are stronger than you’ll ever give yourself credit for. Now, about this hCG shit…
DON’T DO IT. Truly, do not get your hCG levels tested. Never again. Do not put yourself through that. Remember this: does it change the outcome of your pregnancy? NO.
Don’t get me wrong; testing hCG after losing baby #5 was informative. It confirmed the loss of the pregnancy. But we could have received that same result with an at home pregnancy test and a negative result post-miscarriage.
hCG testing with baby #6 was an awful experience. Absolutely awful. Would not recommend. Had we simply gotten a negative test after the last miscarriage, a positive with #6 would have confirmed that it wasn’t simply a result of leftover hormones. BOOM. Same result.
past (totally traumatized by hCG testing) self
I asked my midwife what I should do in the future to avoid this experience. Here’s her advice:
After a miscarriage, wait one week after your bleeding stops, then take an at home pregnancy test. If it is negative, then you are in the clear. If it is still positive, give yourself one more week, then retest. If still positive, go see your doctor. If negative, you’re good.
At the end of the day, I write for me. This blog is for me. I could have zero followers and I wouldn’t stop. But I do also hope that I reach someone. I hope that in speaking out, someone finds me and is comforted/informed/wrapped up in solidarity.
I wish someone had told me what hCG testing would feel like… I wish they had told me that it’s would most likely be the most emotional blood draw of my life. So if I can be that person for someone else, here I am.
Until next time, friends.