Many loss mamas talk about losing their pregnancy innocence after experiencing miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death. Suddenly they become acutely aware that two pink lines on a home pregnancy test does not guarantee the safe arrival of a healthy baby nine months later. While pregnant with Leah, my anxiety prevented me from enjoying this optimistic outlook (which the jaded among us might call naivete, given that 1 in 4 women will experience pregnancy or infant loss in their lifetime). I always consoled myself that, once Leah arrived safe and healthy in my arms, I would be able to enjoy subsequent pregnancies because I would have a solid life precedent to confirm that my body is capable of carrying a healthy, full term baby.
But Fetomaternal Hemorrhage changed all that. Not only did FMH (also called Fetal-Maternal Haemorrhage and Fetomaternal Transfusion) snatch my baby girl’s life away, but it also stole my ability to ever feel “safe” in subsequent pregnancies.
Long story short, FMH has all the trappings of an anxious-control-freak-expectant-mother’s worst nightmare. Here’s why:
- A massive FMH is incredibly rare. Like, 1 in 5000 pregnancies rare. Many doctors have never heard of it. The specialist who oversaw Leah’s palliative care had only ever seen one other case of it in his 30 year medical career. Which means that…
- …there is very little research on potential risk factors, how to detect it, and what can be done to prevent it.
- In most cases, it has no known cause. Trauma to the abdomen can be a factor, as can placental abruption and particular blood clotting diseases. But for the most part, it happens in perfectly healthy and complication-free pregnancies.
- Usually, the baby’s decreased movements are the only sign that anything is wrong, at which point the damage may already be irreparable. FMH cannot be detected through ultrasounds or routine pregnancy health tests.
- FMH happens most frequently to full-term babies. This means that it is more likely to strike pregnant women who are well into the theoretical “safe zone.” Yet…
- …it can also happen in the second trimester, meaning it is the equivalent of a biological terrorist that can strike without warning at any time, but most likely when it’s least expected.
- And perhaps worst of all, not all cases of FMH are fatal. If the stars align and the baby happens to be delivered and treated in the nick of time, the lucky ones may grow and thrive with minor (if any) health complications or cognitive delays. Since many cases have a more tragic ending, women like myself who lose their babies are condemned to a life of guilt and self-blame for not being able to save them.
Many loss mamas feel rightfully relieved in subsequent pregnancies when they surpass particular milestones. Women who experience early miscarriages may feel safe when they reach the second trimester. Women who received heartbreaking news at their second trimester anatomy scans may feel at ease when their next baby gets a clean bill of health.
But where does that leave women whose first pregnancies result in a full term loss, whether it be to FMH or other unpreventable complications?
I have been told that my chance of experiencing another FMH in subsequent pregnancies is slightly higher now that I have experienced it once, but overall it is very unlikely to occur again. It would be the equivalent of being in a freak highway accident two times over, or winning the world’s worst lottery twice. Unfortunately now that I have been “the statistic” once, I doubt my anxiety will ever let me believe that I can escape a similar tragedy in the future.
In short, Fetomaternal Hemorrhage can go to hell.