I keep seeing an advert on television where two friends are sitting chatting together when one says that she is two weeks pregnant. Her friend asks her if she has been to the doctor yet, and the pregnant lady replies “no, I took this new Clearblue test” .. and sure enough, she holds up the test and it states “Pregnant 1-2 weeks”.
Now I know I may not be very popular for expressing this opinion… particularly as I have not had a miscarriage myself. However I did bleed multiple times during the first 14 weeks of my pregnancy with my oldest child, and know the fear of miscarriage that accompanied every stomach cramp and every occasion of bleeding. I also know plenty of women that have had early miscarriages – literally in the first 6 weeks within finding out that they were pregnant. These friends have naturally and understandably been devastated and my heart goes out to them.
But it has also got me thinking about pregnancy tests. Science and technology has allowed us to find out we are pregnant earlier than ever before. If you think back less than a century, detecting pregnancy was based on old wives tales. In the 1920’s the urine of women who were suspected to be pregnant was injected into immature rats and mice, who would prematurely come into heat if the hormone hCG (which we know to be the hormone detected in current at home tests) was present. Thankfully testing has evolved a lot since then!
In fact it wasn’t until the 1970s that the first proper pregnancy tests came about, no doubt a by-product of the sexual revolution. However, these tests were still performed in laboratories. The first home EPT (Early Pregnancy Test) was launched in the U.S. in 1977.
Research has proven the importance of pre-natal care, particularly in the first trimester of pregnancy when the foetus is rapidly forming. So I can see why some people may feel that detecting pregnancy as early as possible is vital. However, I can’t help but think about the heartache that may be saved in those very early weeks if women simply didn’t know they were pregnant.
As I say, I haven’t had a miscarriage myself – but I remember clearly the first time I started bleeding with my eldest daughter. I was petrified, I cried constantly just waiting for it to be over, convinced I had miscarried. And the sporadic bleeding continued right the way through my first trimester – each time bringing with it a fresh wave of fear and heartbreak.
I have to wonder how many women could be spared that trauma, just by finding out that they were pregnant just a few weeks later. The NHS website states that “A miscarriage in the first few weeks can start like a period, with spotting or bleeding and mild cramps or backache”. If a woman didn’t know she was pregnant, surely she would just assume she was having a late period – as is so common anyway. Emotionally, wouldn’t it be far easier to accept a late period than a miscarriage?
Miscarriages are an unfortunate but common occurrence in early pregnancy, and almost always happen due to there being something wrong with the development of the foetus or another medical reason, and they cannot be prevented. However, if I was given the choice of knowing I was pregnant early and then suffering a miscarriage, or not knowing I was pregnant and then suffering a miscarriage – I know which I would prefer. For me, I would prefer to save the heartache that accompanies miscarriage.
Unfortunately I believe that these ultra-early detection pregnancy tests have the potential to increase the number of recognised miscarriages among women today, and personally I’m just not convinced that the benefit of knowing you are pregnant a couple of weeks earlier is really a benefit at all.
I would be interested to know your thoughts too. Would you rather know you had a miscarriage in the very first weeks of pregnancy, or would you prefer to avoid the heartbreak? How early is too early?