Vaginal Bleeding Scare: Will I Ever Not Be Afraid of Miscarriage?


I did not need to see blood yesterday. But there it was on the toilet paper, brown and terrifying: the unmistakable sign of vaginal bleeding during pregnancy.

Earlier in the week, I'd called my OB's office because I've had intermittent cramps—set low in my abdomen—that come and go and scare the living daylights out of me since they can be a sign of miscarriage. And even at 14 weeks, a failed pregnancy is not completely out of the question for me (or anyone else for that matter).

"Is there any bleeding?" the nurse asked.


"There is absolutely no bleeding?"

"No bleeding at all."

"Well, then, I think these cramps are simply your uterus expanding," she said. (Some cramping is a common symptom in early pregnancy.) "Call me right away if you have any bleeding."

So when my vaginal bleeding started, then accelerated, yesterday, I paged my doctor after hours.

"Is it bright red?" he asked.

"No, it's still brown."

"Did you exercise yesterday? Intercourse? Heavy lifting?" he asked. I scoured my mind, hoping that I'd gone to an aerobics class without telling myself.

"No," I concluded.

"Hmm, I want to check you out first thing in the morning. But call me immediately if it turns red."

With Howard Hughes–like repetition, I checked for red blood obsessively until I fell asleep, and I reported to my doctor's office for an ultrasound first thing the next morning. The bleeding had ruined two pairs of underpants but had tapered off by the time I climbed onto the examining table.

When the nurse didn't ask me for my weight or a urine sample, I knew they were taking this turn of events seriously. With my history, the cramps, and the bleeding, they were no longer certain the pregnancy was a sure thing. They wanted to find a heartbeat right away. The doctor didn't mess around with Doppler; he went straight to the big ultrasound machine.

Next Page: I did this to myself? [ pagebreak ]We both stared into the monitor. The fetus was immediately visible, but the heartbeat took a few more seconds to locate. I didn't breathe. And then, there it was: that tenacious heart, flickering to beat the band. As usual, I still wasn't convinced that everything was OK.

Thank goodness the fetus started to open and close its mouth, looking for all the world as if it were having a conversation. The mouth kept working as the doctor printed out a new snapshot for my refrigerator. The fetus rolled a little, then continued its soliloquy until the doctor shut off the monitor. (My fetus takes after me that way.)

"How can I prevent that bleeding from happening again?" I asked the doctor as he helped me off the table.

"Some activities cause some bleeding from the cervix," he said. "For you, it's part of being pregnant." (During my last pregnancy, I bled constantly from conception through week 16.)

"Anything can set it off—lifting, intercourse. And some women," he continued, laughing, "get so constipated that the act of moving their bowels is enough of a strain to make them bleed."

Oh, no. Those cramps in my lower abdomen stopped just as the bleeding began—just after I'd gone to the toilet.

I was too embarrassed to admit to the doctor who had taken this urgent ultrasound (while still wearing his jacket) the truth behind the situation.

This pregnancy has had me constipated from the get-go. I have craved only meat and bread, avoiding fiber-rich foods because of my constant nausea.

The result has been an impressively stopped-up gut. Now, I'm fairly certain that I inspired this bout of paralyzing vaginal bleeding by, well, trying to pass a stool. It is humbling to realize that I spent an entire day on the couch, unmoving, willing the bleeding to stop, convinced it never would, all because of a long overdue poo.

But it's a relief, after my myriad pregnancy dramas, to have a cause so simple. I can take care of these cramps and eliminate the cause of this bleeding myself. Pass the (gag) prunes.