Choosing between D&C and Natural Miscarriage

When you have a choice between surgery and natural miscarriage or labor

Usually you will be offered a choice between surgery and either waiting for a natural miscarriage or having induced labor. The two types of surgery are D&C (dilate and curettage) or a D&E (dilate and evacuation–for bigger babies between 14 and 20 weeks).

Some doctors prefer you wait for it to happen naturally due to the small risks of dilating the cervix for a D&C. Waiting it out is typically only for those less than 10 weeks along due to the risk of blood clots and hemorrhage, but this depends on your doctor. On rare occasions, you may be offered a methotrexate shot and a suppository to bring on a natural miscarriage. As for the choosing between a D&E and actual labor, state laws vary about the age of viability, and you may fall in the gray area, which will be discussed later.

Things to think about when choosing between natural labor and D&C surgery:

Do I want to wait for a natural miscarriage?

Advantages: If you wait, you can feel certain that there was no mistake made. When the baby comes you will know that nature has run its course. You can go home instead of going immediately to a hospital or office procedure. You can take a little time to say goodbye and gather loved ones around you.

Disadvantages: For some women, this process is not much worse than a bad period, for for many, it can take several days and be extremely painful and scary. You may have to have a D&C anyway if everything does not come out (called an incomplete abortion). It may be distressing to think of walking around with your baby who is no longer living. Having tissue come at home may be frightening and you may feel awkward, not sure if you save it, or bury it, or what to do.

Do I want a D&C?

Advantages: This is mostly painless and will get you back on track to start trying again much sooner. The physical part of the ordeal will end.

Disadvantages: There is some risk of damaging the cervix during dilation, although that has mostly been taken care of by using laminaria, or seaweed sticks to dilate you gently overnight. Some doctors now use a cream to begin dilation. (If this will not be done, ask if you are going to be dilated (very early pregnancies may not need it, and your cervix may already be opening), and how. Mechanical dilation is riskier. Some women also worry about punctures or perforations of the uterus. While this is a possibility, the risk is small. Even if this should this happen, the uterus will usually heal without complications or harm to your next pregnancy. The main disadvantage to this procedure is that you will not get to see the baby, ever. Most clinics and hospitals will have the baby’s remains cremated. If you are pretty far along, holding the baby may be very important to you.

If your doctor does not agree with your decision to either wait or to have a D&C, GET A SECOND OPINION. This is your baby and your life. If you need a second opinion, a good place to go is a women’s hospital or clinic, where they usually focus on you, not the procedure, and help you make the best decision based on all the information available.

The Gray Area

The death of your baby becomes a legal issue somewhere between 20-28 weeks gestation. Some countries, or regions within a country, require labor and delivery at 24 weeks; some allow the doctor some discretion. Naturally, if you have already begun early labor, you may not have a choice. If your labor could be stopped, then the miscarriage might not happen at all. Otherwise, the cause of the miscarriage is usually Fetal Demise, and if the baby died well before the exam that showed no heartbeat, then it may measure out smaller than the pregnancy would indicate.

There will be a viability point, usually at 24 weeks, where you have no choice but to deliver the baby. To find out more about this, and whether or nor you want or will be able to have your baby’s remains, you may want to read about the politics of fetal death.

If you are more than 20 weeks:

Things to think about when choosing between a D&E and induced labor:

Do I want a D&E (if eligible)?

Advantages: This is mostly painless and will get you back on track to start trying again much sooner. The physical part of the ordeal will end.

Disadvantages: You will never see your baby, and if you are like me, where the baby was too small to see its sex and the chromosome tests do not come out, you will never even know if your baby was a boy or a girl.

Do I want to deliver the baby through labor?

Advantages: You will get to hold your baby, take a picture if you want, and say goodbye. It will be very, very hard and sad, but it will make you feel better later.

Disadvantages: Although this is not always the case, the drugs they give you to dilate your cervix and induce labor might make you very sick—throwing up, diarrhea, some women have mentioned hallucinations and terrible fear. It can take many hours or even days to get dilated enough to get the baby out. And the result is the same: you have done all this labor to see a baby that is not alive.

Different doctors will push different options. Weigh them the best you can and make sure you get what you want. Even if you regret your decision later (as I did for many years), remember that there simply is no good way to deliver a baby who has died. It’s a terrible thing no matter what.

4 thoughts on “Choosing between D&C and Natural Miscarriage

  1. I am so, so sorry you’re dealing with this. I lost my baby five mhotns ago now and, even though I’m pregnant again, it still stings when I think about it. The rip roaring, all consuming pain has gone though – but it took time. This post really helped me at the time:I really identified with the stages of grief mentioned in the post – although I experienced them in a different order. I started with grief – much like you, I cried day and night. Then, for me, came anger. I was furious with God, furious with all women who had healthy babies, furious with my husband, furious with myself. Grief and anger took it in turns for a while and then I settled on denial. For the rest of the month, I carried on as if I was still pregnant, hoping for some miracle, that it was all a mistake. ‘so, when AF came at the end of that month, I was torn apart all over again. I promise – it does get easier. But you have to heal in your own time and in your own way. You can’t force yourself to “get over it” if your mind and body need to grieve. There are other posts in the miscarriage area on this site where people where shared what helped them to heal – perhaps have a look and see if anything rings true for you on there? Please do come here to talk to us about it as often as you need. There are lots of ladies on this site who have been through this and we are here to support you.

  2. I never usually send any messages on websites but my fiance and I just went to go hear heart beat today and they couldn’t find one. I was seven weeks today. And I’m supp to be getting the surgery tomorrow to remove the baby. But I’m scared like what if they were wrong and there was a heart beat.? Could the baby have been turned a certain way an . Or seen or hear it? Am I doing this to soon I don’t want to get this done if there are the what its or if there isn’t a heart beat then there isn’t a chance at all and I should go through with it. I’m very upset lost and confused ;(

  3. I am so sorry you are going through this. I went through the same thing a few months ago. I was supposed to be 8 wks and 2 days based on LMP but ultrasound at hospital measured at 6 wks 1 day and they could not find heartbeat. The ultrasound report said it could just be a very early pregnancy but could not rule out miscarriage and recommemded HCG levels be checked and possibly another ultrasound a week or two later. A week later after having blood drawn twice in 48 hrs the HCG levels were shown to have gone down from 36000 to 35000 and a d and c was recommended. I suggested maybe getting one more ultrasound and was told it wasnt necessary. Ever since the procedure I am overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and doubt of non viability. I continue to google my circumstances and find numerous posts saying things like HCG going down doesnt mean anything and heartbeat might not show until 8 weeks which add to my feelings of doubt. If you want this baby I strongly suggest you have HCG levels checked and have another ultrasound done so you dont have to live with guilt, doubt, or regret. Wishing you the very best outcome and sending positive energy your way.

  4. I just found out today i was only 6 weeks with no heart beat how could it be I could of sworn i felt movements.. I knew something was wrong i kept bleeding during sex and i had cramps but they told me to wait till the ultrasound and all this time I didn’t know I was high risk bout time I got their It was already gone.. I wonder if it been no heart beat or when did it stop and why? This was a miracle bby i thought I never could get pregnant and now look. I can’t believe it im so empty lost confused and hurt.. Everybody was so happu for me what do i do now.. How do i explain this to my 8 year old daughter..??

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