So here it is. The post I really didn’t want to write, but that somehow happened anyway. I have to confess to being really nervous about this post. I’m not one to share the private details of my life regularly. Especially not on the internet where anyone can read them. My mother’s voice is ringing in my ears telling me not to air my dirty laundry in public. But, I think that what I have to say in this post is important. And at the very least it has been a cathartic experience for me to write about it.
Reader beware: contains a deeply personal account of pregnancy loss. May be a trigger for some.
My husband and I had always talked about starting a family. Even before we got married, we both knew it was something we wanted. By the time our wedding came around, we were practically chomping at the bit; raring to get started.
If it hadn’t been for the fact that our honeymoon was in Thailand (where there had been confirmed cases of Zika virus – know to cause birth defects), we would have started trying much sooner. As it happened we waited until we got home and then I had my contraceptive implant removed.
I think we were pretty sensible about the whole thing. We didn’t rush into it expecting to get pregnant straight away. Instead we talked about not NOT trying as our method. And it only took three months. To me now, that seems like the blink of an eye – hindsight is a wonderful thing.
I had been talking to a friend, the same day that I found out I was pregnant, about how frustrated I was that it hadn’t happened yet (again, with hindsight I’d love to go back and punch myself in the face). So when I went home and took a test – because, ya know, you have to do these things when the excitement is real – the positive line was a real surprise. I took three more, just to make sure.
It didn’t feel real. It felt like a wonderful, joyful dream. I told my husband and he was cautiously excited. He told me to wait and not tell anyone. I was only about 6 weeks along and he didn’t want to tempt fate.
He was right to think so.
But, as per usual, I cannot keep a secret to save my life, and my excitement ran away with me. I walked straight into work the next day and told that same friend that I’d been complaining to the day before.
What a mistake.
For the longest time, I blamed what happened on that decision. I believed I was being punished for not waiting longer, for not listening to my husband, for not being patient.
Within just two hours of telling my friend, I started bleeding.
Ectopic Pregnancy is a common, life threatening condition that is the leading cause of death in early pregnancy. – The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust
The bleeding in itself should have been more of a concern. But on a Friday afternoon, after a bit of googling, I wasn’t too worried. I booked a doctor’s appointment for the following Tuesday anyway, just to be sure. But after a pleasant weekend, trying not to get too excited and start looking at everything baby related online, I woke up in the early hours of Monday morning in excrutiating agony.
It felt like my right leg was being repeatedly kicked – a numb kind of ache. And I had a pain low in my abdomen on the same side, that steadily got worse as the night went on. I tossed and turned for hours, worrying about what was happening, and when the pain became more unbearable, I got up and rang NHS 111.
I was advised that I needed to be seen within the next few hours and was told to go to the nearest walk in centre which opened at 7am. Hubby took the day off and drove me up there. We didn’t speak much in the car; both worrying about what might be taking place inside of me. I remember it all feeling unreal, but a sense of dread had already settled over me. I tried to approach it logically and matter-of-factly. 1) Go to the clinic. 2) See what they said. 3) Only then consider what happens next.
In ectopic pregnancy you lose a baby, part of your fertility, face your mortality (risk to your life) and are left with huge unanswered questions about the future.
We sat and waited for nearly an hour. When we were finally seen by a tired looking nurse I had the usual tests; pee in a cup – you know, just to make sure you actually are pregnant and not just crazy, blood pressure etc. Finally we were told that I was “probably” having a miscarriage. I was advised to take a week off work and get some rest. The nurse was cold and clinical as she told us. No apologies or condolences. We were finished up and moved out as quickly as possible, so the next patient could come in.
I felt numb.
We walked out of the clinic and got in the car. Go figure, it was pouring with rain. I think I cried. I can’t remember the trip home.
I do remember sleeping on the sofa for the rest of the day and not being able to do anything.
The following day I had that doctor’s appointment. So, unwillingly I went along, still not having taken it all in. But, surprisingly, I was told that it didn’t sound like a miscarriage.
Queue the arrival of that cruel bitch – Hope!
Sometimes, after an emotionally overwhelming incident like an ectopic pregnancy, you may experience a sense of numbness or emotional blunting, like you don’t have any feelings left because they have all gone. It can feel like you don’t know where to start to get your emotions back or how to figure out exactly what you are feeling.
And so we were carted off to EPAC (the early pregnancy advice clinic) at the hospital the following day. It was now three days since I’d had the pain and no-one had been able to tell us what was going on.
EPAC did a scan. They found no embryo in my uterus.
Again, I was told that they were very sorry, but it looked like a miscarriage. But just to be sure they would take some blood the following day and run the numbers. If my hCG levels were going up then it was an indicator of ectopic. If they weren’t then it wasn’t and it would just be a miscarriage.
Those were my two options. Ectopic or miscarriage. There was no scenario where I came out of it with a healthy pregnancy.
More difficult car journeys. I think this time there was a full on breakdown when we got home. To be honest, I’ve tried to block out a lot of what happened from this point onwards.
I know I was called up the following day. My levels were low and they didn’t think there was anything they could do.
But then on the following Monday – so this is now a week since the problems started – my pain was still bad. I rang back to the EPAC and was told that they wanted to do another check, just to be sure. So, along I went. Dan had gone back to work at that point. When I got to the clinic it was a different nurse. She thought it would be best to run another scan.
So they did. And low and behold there was a embryo. But oh wait, it was attached to the wall of my fallopian tube.
Queue everything moving into high gear.
If your hormone being made by the pregnancy (beta hCG) is high, the ectopic is large or significant internal bleeding has been seen on your scan, the doctors cannot consider less invasive treatments for you because your health may be at immediate risk and therefore surgery becomes the only option available.
I was alone in the hospital and all of a sudden I was being told that I needed surgery to remove the tube. I barely had time to register what was happening before they were booking me in, trying to find a bed.
So there it is.
I had laprascopic surgery and they removed the embryo and my right fallopian tube. Since then we have struggled to conceive again, but that’s a whole different story.
So why am I sharing this now? Eighteen months after it happened?
Pregnancy loss is so unbelievably common. We hadn’t even considered that it might happen to us when we first started thinking about a family. Since it happened, two friends have both had miscarriages – one at 16 weeks.
It is an unbelievably difficult thing to go through. To feel the excitement and the joy of the positive test, only to have it ripped away. Ectopic pregnancies are so difficult to come to terms with, not just because of the loss, but due to the fact that the embryo is otherwise healthy; it simply implants in the wrong place. Add to that the fact that, you know, you would die without treatment, and the whole thing just becomes this agonising mess of awfulness.
So what would have made my experience less isolating and painful?
If the first nurse that I saw had recognised the symptoms? If the EPAC clinic had been more thorough in their search the first time round? If just a couple more of the clinicians we saw could have spoken to us with empathy and understanding for what we were going through?
Maybe. But it wouldn’t have changed the outcome.
I think the experience has drawn my attention to the fact that there is a distinct lack of understanding of pregnancy loss, and specifically ectopic pregnancy within the NHS.
After my surgery I was sent home the following day with little more than a leaflet on how to keep my incisions clean. It wasn’t until months later that I eventually concluded that I needed to see a counsellor. If it had been suggested, or even referred, at the time then perhaps I wouldn’t have suffered months of painfully trying to muddle through, to the point where I was signed off work for two weeks with depression.
Ectopic pregnancy and, to some extent pregnancy loss as a whole, is not given the status that it deserves. 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in a loss.
1 in 4.
Think of four women you know. Statistics suggest one of them will have lost a baby.
One, two, three, gone.
Yet you never hear their stories. You never hear about the emergency ectopics or the miscarriages at 20 weeks. But maybe, if we keep talking about it, the stigma around pregnancy loss will diminish, and one day women will no longer have to suffer in silence.
Ectopic pregnancy is an emergency condition and if you suffer any of the following symptoms during early pregnancy you should contact your doctor. If your symptoms are severe you should call an ambulance.
Symptoms of ectopic pregnancy:
- Severe pain in the lower abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting/diarrhoea
- Pain on one side of your body
- Dizziness or weakness
- Shoulder tip pain
- Neck or rectal pain