What Is A Chemical Pregnancy?

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With our third child due in six weeks, the topic of chemical pregnancies has come up repeatedly when chatting with other moms. 

The common thread was that if it hadn’t happened to them, they hadn’t heard the term before.  I was pregnant three times in 2010 and none of the pregnancies went beyond nine weeks. While two of the pregnancies ended in miscarriage at seven and nine weeks, my doctor called the third a chemical pregnancy.   I was at my doctor’s office for my annual exam when I told him that I had recently taken a pregnancy test that came back positive (truth be told, I had taken five pregnancy tests).  

My test at the doctor’s office also showed that I might be pregnant. It wasn’t a strong positive so he ordered blood work to be taken to confirm.  He said, “You know our urine tests are highly sensitive so you might not actually be pregnant.”  I was confused. I thought the test was always right. I felt like I was 12 and totally in the dark.  He said that it was likely a chemical pregnancy.  My doctor is awesome, but he’s not big on elaboration. And I’m not the best at asking the right questions, like, ”What is a chemical pregnancy?”

A chemical pregnancy, I have since found out, happens when a fertilized egg does not implant.  Many women have them and don’t even realize it,  and they assume their period is just a little late and a little heavier than normal.  However, since your Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG) levels are high, you would test positive on a home pregnancy test if you were to take one.  Because I was trying to get pregnant, I was aware of my cycle. I took the test shortly after a missed period and it came back positive.  My blood work from the doctor, however, came back negative. I got my period the following week at what would have been six weeks, which confirmed it as a chemical pregnancy.

The true cause of chemical pregnancies isn’t known, but they are generally attributed to abnormal chromosomes of the fetus, poor quality of the egg or sperm, or abnormal division of cells in the fetus.

Unfortunately, 50-60% of first trimester miscarriages are chemical pregnancies that often end without the woman even knowing she was pregnant.  For me, it was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster thinking I was pregnant only to find out that it wasn’t viable.  However, after raising concerns to my doctor about my age and that perhaps another pregnancy wasn’t going to work out for me, he reassured me and reminded me that it can sometimes take up to a full year to get pregnant. He said he wouldn’t start considering more invasive testing until that year is up.  In the end it actually did take the full year.  I consider myself fortunate because I know it could have taken much longer.

I am a really big believer in “everything happens for a reason” and “if it is meant to be, it will happen.” Nature is fascinating to me, and I was comforted by the fact that none of my pregnancies had a viable fetus, so the losses didn’t weigh quite so much on me.  I am extremely fortunate to be able to look at my two little kids every morning and each time I feel more than lucky with what I already have.

My feelings should in no way discount the loss many women feel over a miscarriage.  Everyone’s situation is unique and everyone’s perspective on things is different.  Many women/couples need to and should seek counseling over this type of loss and that is completely normal too. 

If you are struggling with getting pregnant, my heart goes out to you; it’s not fun.  I hope you have someone that you can lean on as talking about things is often be the best way of coping.

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