Shedding light on dark times of miscarriages

Ricci Clepper had son Max in September and daughter Laurel four years ago after multiple miscarriages.
Ricci Clepper had son Max in September and daughter Laurel four years ago after multiple miscarriages.

image2Ricci Clepper, 33, describes her six miscarriages as “difficult and dark.” “There was a period of time when I was minimally engaged with my family, with my job.”

It happened in different ways; sometimes the baby just didn’t have a heart beat at 10 or 11 weeks. One even made it to 20 weeks before doctors found a knot in her umbilical chord, which cut off her oxygen supply. With that baby, Caroline, Clepper had to go through labor and deliver.

Each time, doctors would test the baby to see if there was something genetically wrong with it. Each time it came back negative.

In between, Clepper made it to full term with her daughter, Laurel, who is 4. And then gave birth to son, Henry, in December. Henry’s twin, though, didn’t have a heart beat at 11 weeks.

“Having Henry is great,” she says, “But it doesn’t erase or negate all the ones that we lost along the way.”

People didn’t know what to say to her. There is a misconception that she should not be sad because she had Laurel. One friend even suggested that she stopped taking pregnancy tests so early so she wouldn’t be so sad. “If I wouldn’t know I was pregnant, it wouldn’t hurt so much,” her friend suggested.

Clepper learned to stop talking about pregnancies to not have to turn around and tell people she had lost the pregnancy. In fact, with Henry, they waited until she was 34 weeks pregnant to create a nursery and they didn’t name him until after he was born.

And people who didn’t know about her struggle, kept asking her when she was going to give her daughter a sibling.

She did find support in online support groups and found out which friends are true friends.

Clepper found some answers when she went to the Texas Fertility Center. Her doctor ordered multiple tests, not just of the genetic makeup of the baby, but also sent her to a blood specialist. There she learned she has Hashimoto thyroditis, in which the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. It is attributed to a high rate of miscarriage.

Miscarriage is more common than most people think, says Dr. Kaylen Silverberg of the Texas Fertility Center. In fact, he says, 1 in 3 or 1 in 4 pregnancies don’t end up in a baby. It usually looks like heavy bleeding, not just spotting, or the baby doesn’t have a heartbeat at the next checkup.

A lot of women think they did something. “Short of kickboxing and skydiving, there’s nothing they can do to cause a pregnancy to miscarry,” Silverberg says.

Just because they have had one miscarriage doesn’t mean they are “doomed to miscarry over and over again,” he says.

Women don’t understand how common it is, he says, because people are not talking about it. “They suffer in silence, just like infertility.”

While miscarriage is common, it’s not normal, Silverberg says, and doctors should do follow up blood tests to check hormone levels as well as check the baby for an abnormality.

Sometimes there is something wrong with the baby chromosomally; sometimes there’s something wrong with the mother’s hormone levels; sometimes they never get an answer to the why.

Even without intervention, people who have had four to five miscarriages still have a 50 percent chance of having a healthy baby, Silverberg says, but with intervention like in vitro fertilization, it’s 90 percent.

Silverberg and embryologist Tom Turner of the Ovagen Fertility lab have been able to improve the chances of a healthy baby through many major advances in the last five years,and they suspect that in there will be even more in the next five years.

In addition to looking at chromosomes to make sure they are implanting a healthy embryo at the start, the lab now has better success with freezing and thawing embryos. This means that instead of having to implant an embryo right away when a mother’s hormones are heavily elevated from the egg collection process, they can give her a break to lower her hormone levels to a healthier level before implanting an embryo.

Also, because they know they can better freeze and thaw embryos, they typically just implant one instead of feeling the need to implant two or three at once. They’ll save those extra embryos for another month if the first month doesn’t take, or a year or two later for a sibling to the now baby.

The Cleppers came through with two healthy babies, but that doesn’t diminish the loss they still feel.

“There was plenty of time when I thought everyone could see it on me, ‘There‚Äôs that sad lady that lost all those babies,'” she says. But each time she would hear about a friend that had tried for a long time and finally had a baby, it would give her hope.

“When you’ve been down in the muck, whenever anyone has a victory, you start to feel excited,” she says. “It gives you hope.”

Author: Nicole Villalpando

Nicole Villalpando writes about families in the Raising Austin blog and the Raising Austin column on Saturdays. She also offers a weekly and monthly family calendar at She tweets at @raisingaustin.

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