Warning: Surgical talk (nothing too graphic) and mild curses. Also ~2400 words long.
When I found I was pregnant, it was a bit of a shock. My husband and I had been talking about starting a family, but I wouldn’t say we had been seriously trying to fall pregnant. I took the test out of habit, not expecting any other result than negative – my period is usually off by a couple of days either side, so I tend to take a lot of them. So when I got out of the shower and saw the two little lines announcing that I was, I was stunned. I stared at them for a long time, trails of water dripping down my back and pooling on the bathmat at my feet.
While it was a surprise, we were both excited and happy to be starting this next chapter of our lives together. I crawled back into bed with him that morning and showed him the result, and I could feel the thrill of creating something together flow through us both.
A week passed, the enormity of what we were embarking on started to sink in. All I could think about was the tiny spark of life that had taken hold inside me. As clichéd as it is, I caught baby brain hard. I had trouble concentrating at work, as my thoughts trailed off to baby names and nursery ideas. My mind and body swirled with hormones and I was so hungry all the time. You hear about how pregnancy makes you hungry, but nothing really prepared me for just how hungry I was going to be.
I woke on the Saturday of my sixth week to light spotting. I tried to remain calm, as it was very light, but I had intermittent pelvic cramping, so I made an appointment with my GP to get checked out. She was calm as well, and after a pelvic exam, told me my cervix was closed and the blood was likely from a provoked bleed; nothing to worry about. She asked me if I wanted to go for a dating scan, just to reassure myself that everything was okay, and I thought, what the heck, it’ll be exciting to see the baby’s heartbeat.
I made the appointment for the next day, and before I knew it found myself sitting in the waiting room at the Fetal Assessment Centre, knees bouncing up and down with excitement. I remember I kept glancing between the window to the car park and the clock on the wall; my husband was meeting me there after work, and he was running a bit late. By the time he’d arrived, I was already sitting on the bed in one of the consult rooms, shirt up and belly exposed, waiting eagerly to see our child for the first time. I recall he squeezed my hand when he came in and I squeezed back in reassurance. I knew it would be hard for him; he’s not good with doctor’s offices or hospitals. The sonographer hummed as she swept the cold gel across my belly; there wasn’t much to be seen in my uterus. She confirmed my dates with me and said it wasn’t unusual for nothing to show on the external scan this early and that she would have to complete an internal.
My husband had to bow out at this point, and headed out to the waiting room, which I don’t begrudge him for. Any sort of medical procedure usually sees him fainting on the floor, and at this point, I still hadn’t clued in that anything was amiss. He ducked outside and I shucked off the bottom half off my clothes. I knew having an internal ultrasound would not the most pleasant of experiences, but I tried to take a few deep breaths to calm myself. I briefly marveled at how amazing technology was as I saw my insides flash up on the monitor above me. But then the sonographer hummed again, and said something I was utterly unprepared for.
“I think you might have an ectopic pregnancy.”
For the uninitiated, an ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilised egg implants itself outside of the womb, usually in one of the fallopian tubes. I sat in silence as she moved the probe around some more - I couldn’t comprehend the words she had said, and couldn’t find any words to voice this confusion. I sat there in silence, clutching at the sheets around my waist trying to process what that meant. I’d heard of ectopic pregnancies before, it wasn't a new concept, but in the context of my body, I just couldn’t connect the two together. I am not in any of the high risk categories for ectopic pregnancy and I had no symptoms. It’s something that happens to other people, right? How can this be happening to me?
The sonographer finished up her scans and gently advised me that she was done. I texted my husband numbly, asking him to come back in and mechanically dressed. I remember looking up at him as he entered, and he gave me a little half smile, and my heart fucking broke in that moment. The excitement and happiness I had felt was turning to ash and dust in my mouth. I tried to make the words come out, but all I could do was sob. The sonographer explained what she had found, and gave my husband a report and a copy of my wretched images, telling me I needed to go to hospital and that they would take care of me. She was incredibly gentle and patient, but at the time, I wanted to drown her in my grief. My husband held me for several minutes, before we left the room.
I have cried many times in my life, but I will never forget the way that grief clawed at my throat, crashing over my walls and swirling about my chest, choking, biting, ripping my guts out. I cried from the moment we left the waiting room and all through the 20 minute drive to the hospital. My husband held my hand as we drove, but I had trouble looking at him. I felt my body had betrayed me and that I had let him down, which is utterly ridiculous to think of now, but it gives you an idea as to where I was at. I stared numbly at the faces in the late evening traffic, feeling tiny and helpless, utterly bereft.
I cried again getting out of the car and presenting myself at emergency. The nurse ushered me in almost straight away, and I left my husband in the waiting room, trying to get through to my mum on the phone. There was no way my husband could come in with me. I cannot stress enough that I do not in any way shape or form resent him for this. I know he felt absolutely horrid that he couldn’t physically be there for me and if he could have been in there with me he would have.
I cried some more as the attending doctor in emergency patted me on arm and murmured soft assurances that it would be alright and they would take care of me. I kept hearing that phrase over and over. Take care of me. What I heard was take care of it. That spark of life was no longer viable, and they would have to take care of it so I didn’t die. So I didn’t die. I lay in the bed in the emergency ward, listening to the bustle of the nurses and doctors, and beeps of the machines around me and thought this was so far removed from where I thought I would be when I woke up that morning.
My mum arrived and held my hand as I tried not to cry again as I explained what they had found. The surgeon came to consult with me in emergency and told me I had two options. I could either take a high dose of medication that would target the rapidly growing cells in my fallopian tube, or they could operate and remove the whole affected tube and embryo. However, the wrinkle was that as I was only 6 weeks pregnant, they were scared that there would be nothing to see, and it would all be for nothing. They will only remove the tube if they can see that it is the right one.
I really didn’t want to take the medication. That stuff would have messed me up; my kidneys and liver would have taken a huge beating. For what was explained to me, they give this stuff to cancer patients when other options have failed. Not only would it have left my possibly damaged tube in place, making future ectopics more likely, I’d have to have ongoing blood tests for some time after. I opted for surgery and after looking at my blood work, they scheduled it for the next day. I was formally admitted as a patient and found a bed in the maternity ward.
That first night in hospital was the hardest. After they transferred me to the ward, my mum went home for the night, with the promise of returning in the first thing in the morning. After she left, I think I probably cried the hardest I have ever cried in my life. Maternity was the absolute last place I wanted to be. Here I was, about to lose the new life that was growing inside me, and I was lying there listening to newborns cry and murmur all around me. Every wail was a stab in my gut. This was probably the lowest point in the entire ordeal and perhaps indeed in my life. Thankfully, the nurse gave me something to help me sleep and after a fashion I managed to nod off.
The next day saw me trapped in what I can only describe as a time paradox. I was both rushing forwards at full speed and crawling backwards through wet concrete towards surgery. Mum had indeed returned with the sun, and tried to spend the day distracting me from my fate. We watched Antiques Roadshow (the British one, not the terrible US version) and filled in crossword puzzles. She nearly got into a fight with one of the maternity nurses when she left to grab a sandwich from the café downstairs and they told her she couldn’t come back in due to ward visiting hours. She had quite a few choice things to say to them about the wisdom of putting me in the maternity ward in the first place and that they would have to restrain her to keep her from her daughter. Suffice to say, they decided to let her back in.
I spent a long time talking to my husband on the phone, talking through the procedure and my choice of going for surgery. He supported my decision all the way. I tried to stay positive, and not cry and he told me that I was one of the strongest people he knows. We both knew this wouldn’t be the end of anything for us, and would be a tiny chapter in the story of our lives. I tried to focus on that, knowing that the only thing I could really control through all of this was how I reacted to it.
In the early afternoon they arrived with my surgery socks, and prepped me for the operation. The assistant surgeon explained the procedure again and gave me reassurances that it was going to be okay, and that he was confident they would find what they were looking for. I won’t lie; at this point I was terrified that they wouldn’t be able to see anything, and I would either have to repeat the process or take the wretched medication. I tried not to lose my hold on my emotions and quietly shredded a few magazine covers while I waited.
They trundled me down to the pre-op room and left me alone while they prepped the surgical room. It was a large room with a number of empty beds, and a desk against one wall which they used for pre-op checks. A number of nurses and surgical assistants filed in and out and asked me over and over for my name, date of birth and if I was allergic to anything. They eventually left me alone again and I could hear them moving about in the next room, talking and seemingly cheerful; someone knocked something over and cursed and there was soft laughter from their colleagues. Just another day at work for them while I felt like my world was pitching about below me.
This was definitely my second lowest point. The date on the calendar on the desk beside me read the 08 March, International Women’s Day. The fact I was about to have part of an intrinsically female organ removed on that day, of all days made me want to laugh at the absurdity of life. So, obviously I started crying again instead.
The head surgeon came in about that point and found me sobbing with my head in my hands. He managed to talk me back around to some semblance of calm and was nothing but kind and compassionate. They wheeled me in to the theatre shortly after that, and even through my grief I still managed to feel surprise that there were at least 8 people in the room. All these people where here to fix me. The oxygen mask went over my face and I was told to take in some deep breaths; I don’t remember much after that.
The surgery went fine. Turns out it was timed perfectly, as my tube was starting to leak fluid and swell, sure signs that it would have ruptured in the next few days. There were so many things in this entirely shitty nightmare that were truly awful, and yet, I find myself feeling mostly thankful. Ectopic pregnancy is a serious condition; it could have gone sideways, very quickly and in the worst possible way, and I am extremely fortunate, all things considered. I am so thankful to be born in this period of time and extremely privileged to be born in a country like Australia, where I had access to the medical care I needed and can do so without the threat of a huge medical bill at the end of it; thank you Medicare. I am grateful to the wonderful people that helped me through those dark hours. I am grateful I went for the scan when I did, and they managed to catch it early.
I guess to sum all of my experiences over the past week up, it would be that life certainly offers me no guarantees. I have to keep reminding myself that life owes me nothing; it’s neither fair nor unfair and it didn’t single me out for a bad time – it is what it is. I have to deal with the things life puts in front of me and sometimes those things are bastard-coated bastards, with a gooey shit centre. But even during those terrible times, I must always remember to look for the things to be thankful for. My emotional hurts in addition to my physical ones are still raw and open, and I won’t disregard or diminish that pain in any way. It is real and my husband and I are grieving our loss, but we choose not to let that be our entire world.
At any rate, these are just my truths, and my experiences. I wanted to share them, as I don’t recall reading any firsthand accounts or experiences about ectopic pregnancy, not that I’ve really gone looking – it’s mostly been about miscarriages in general. But I also wanted to get some of this off my chest so I can continue to heal. And maybe someone who’s been through this as well might read my ramble and not feel quite as alone.
Stay strong, friends.