July 16, 2019 | By Catherine McNulty | General
I am honored to facilitate monthly meetings with women and men who survive one of life’s biggest challenges; losing one or more children. And even though there are so many pregnancies that turn out to be completely normal, I continue to learn new ways that things can go wrong. At last night’s meeting, I learned something new: The term partial molar pregnancy.
Molar pregnancies occur about once per 1000 pregnancies. A partial molar pregnancy is even less frequent. Even though it is less frequent, the pain of the loss is still very real and comes with complications that make grief even more challenging and can cause fear and concern for both parents.
When I did my research, I found that a partial molar pregnancy is basically a genetic accident. When I read the words, genetic accident, I shuttered. An accident? It seemed harsh but medical explanations are often void of any emotional insight.
Here’s what happens in a partial molar pregnancy. In a normal pregnancy, an egg receives one set of chromosomes from the father and one set of chromosomes from the mother. In a partial molar pregnancy, the egg receives two sets of chromosomes, usually because two sperm fertilize the same egg. This creates a problem genetically and causes the fertilized egg to develop incompletely or not at all. Instead, abnormal cells grow and form grape-like cysts.
When this happens, a mother goes to the doctor for what is supposed to be a routine ultrasound, and instead, finds out that her baby is not okay, the pregnancy is not viable, she requires surgery and her life is at risk because the developing cysts may remain in her uterus even after surgery and turn into cancer.
She is further told to go to monthly appointments to have her HCG levels checked, use preventative measures to make sure she doesn’t get pregnant and likely wait for a year before trying to get pregnant again. All of this is devastating news.
The only positive comment a doctor can share, provided the mother is young enough to wait a full year, is that the odds of having more than one molar pregnancy are less than 1%.
The grief that results from this experience is complex. This mother grieves the loss of her pregnancy. This mother grieves the inability to try again in the short term. This mother grieves the loss of her potential health because what she wanted to be her baby now may develop into cancer and kill her.
Losing a pregnancy at any time creates trauma and requires grieving and work to achieve healing. The time required to heal from this type of trauma is even more significant.
My role at support meetings is to offer support and comfort in the early stages of grief. As I listen and watch tears streaming down this mother’s face, I want so much to be able to take the pain away, to relieve her fear and anxiety, and give her the baby that she longs to have.
What I can do is share in a mother’s pain and give her hope that together we can walk through grief and make sense of this new, and unexpected reality. I remind her that she doesn’t have to do this alone and that they Empty Cradle community is here to support her. It will take more time and patience. It will require walking through her grief, one day at a time. It will require learning more about herself and believing that one day she will find the family she deserves.