Life After Loss – Ectopic Pregnancy
When Brian and I lost our second baby, I had only days to adjust to news that we were pregnant. I was finally getting back into the groove at work after having our first son. I had stopped breast feeding and just assumed the fatigue and irregularity of my cycle was a part of my new hectic schedule.
It wasn’t until a coworker commented on my aversion to the smells from the cafeteria and the fact that I hadn’t lost my “pregnancy nose” that I suspected the fatigue might be more than a lack of sleep. I went home that night and took a test. Sure enough we were pregnant.
Our son was only 5 months old, I had just decided to quit my job to stay home with him and now our whole world was turned upside down. We always planned on having more kids just not this close together and the decision to quit my job centered on the fact that we had time to plan and save before we added to our family. After the initial shock wore off the fear started to sink in. Could we do this now? Should I take back my notice and stay at my current job?
Within 24 hours we were laughing at ourselves. Sure, it was unexpected but we were being silly. The kids being so close together will be wonderful! We started talking about names and and nursery themes. Should we knock out a wall and make a kid’s suite? The fear gave way to elation.
48 hours later I knew something was wrong. I could barely move. I was doubled over at my desk. I could hardly breathe. As I made my way to the restroom I just knew… I was bleeding. Trying to choke back the tears I collected myself and called my doctor and then my husband. I needed to go home and lie down but the pain was so intense I didn’t think I could make the 45 minute drive home. We had an ultrasound scheduled for the next morning but we both knew… it was just a formality.
I crawled into bed with a heating pad and just wept. Something happened over night though. The pain was gone, the bleeding had stopped! I kept telling myself that maybe my body was just having a hard time adjusting to being pregnant again so soon. Maybe I had over reacted and everything was going to be all right.
It wasn’t until the ultrasound tech excused herself from the exam room that I felt the familiar sting of tears. My husband squeezed my hand as we were delivered the news that the ER was waiting for us and we had to go “NOW”. She explained that the baby wasn’t in my uterus but that a “mass” was in my left fallopian tube. My baby was being referred to as a “mass”. I was sick.
I’m sharing my story not because I want to separate myself from women who have had a more “typical” miscarriage experience (whatever that means), but because maybe there’s a woman out there who is grieving her ectopic pregnancy and is having a hard time finding someone who understands. I understand that pain and the need to find someone who has walked this road, too.
The short story is that babies belong in a uterus. If they don’t implant there, they may implant somewhere else, most commonly in a fallopian tube. That pregnancy can’t be sustained. Hopefully someday doctors will be able to successfully transplant them to the uterus, but at this point that isn’t a viable option. So here’s what it’s like to experience an ectopic pregnancy.
The pain is incredible: And I’m talking about the physical pain. I couldn’t straighten up or walk during the worst of it. I can’t really describe it other than it doesn’t feel like cramping the way you might expect a miscarriage would. It was like a sharp lump of pain that nothing could fix.
The disappointment is intense: As the mother of that child, you hold on to hope until the last possible moment. Even when they tell you your baby has implanted in the wrong place, you want to imagine that your child can beat the odds and continue to grow, or magically roll into a better position. And all of the sudden nobody cares about your baby anymore and they’re talking to you about the signs that you might be in danger from internal bleeding. It’s hard to really take in that information when you’re trying to understand how you went so quickly from being a pregnant woman to being a woman carrying a child who is now in danger herself.
The questions are haunting: Is this baby alive or not? Is there any hope? What can we do? Why did this happen? Did I somehow cause this? Can’t we move the baby? Is the procedure to deal with an ectopic pregnancy essentially an abortion? All these questions are complicated by the quick timeline required for an ectopic pregnancy. To avoid rupturing a fallopian tube (which along with impairing your fertility could also kill you) decisions have to be made quickly. Doctors know how to deal competently with removing ectopic pregnancies, but I don’t think they always know how to explain it to you… to allow you a moment to grieve and help you feel empowered in the decision making process all in the time frame that feels safe to them. If you don’t get your questions answered, they may stick with you for a long time and can complicate your grief.
The guilt is unexpected: Oh, the guilt. It’s hard to put words around this. I felt guilty because my body failed me. I felt guilty because my initial reaction to being pregnant was less than a joyous one. I felt guilty because I chose to have my child chemically removed. I agonized about if we were doing the right thing to end the pregnancy. The ramifications are longterm: It is a double whammy to lose a baby and then realize you are now at a higher risk to lose another baby in the exact same way. My future positive pregnancy test results were met with fear instead of joy as I felt a correlation between pregnancy and painful loss.
Ultimately we agreed on chemically ending our pregnancy instead of surgically removing the baby along with my left tube. My husband’s rationalization was that treatment could start within the next few minutes rather than waiting several days for surgery to take place. And if we could preserve my left tube our chances of getting pregnant again would be much higher.
We went through agonizing weeks of blood work as we watched my HCG levels increase instead of decrease. The pregnancy was progressing and the medication wasn’t working. I had to undergo another round of Methotrexate. I was living a nightmare that never seemed to end. What doctors didn’t explain to us was that due to risk of future birth defects we would have to wait another 6 months to a year before attempting another pregnancy. It was silly really, since we wouldn’t have “planned” to have tried until then anyway. But someone telling me that I had to wait just made it that much harder for me.
I remember the exact day our pregnancy officially ended. My husband rushed me back to the ER on my doctor’s orders. An ultrasound revealed that the “mass” in my left tube had grown but blood work revealed that my HCG levels were finally dropping. My pregnancy was ending. The unbearable physical pain was my left tube contracting. The decision was made to admit me just in case of a rupture. I never felt more helpless. The grief, the guilt, the fear pretty much consumed me.
I struggled for a long time after that. Depression, guilt… every happy pregnancy announcement on social media was a harsh reminder of what I had lost. I mustered the best smile I could and got up every day to take care of my then almost 7 month old son. I threw myself into my work and soldiered on. I started taking every October 15th off to celebrate my living children and mourn the loss of the one I never got to meet. Then last year the 15th fell on a weekend and I didn’t even realize it… when I checked the calendar this year, it was the same. And with that realization I also realized that though I still mourn the loss, it no longer consumes me.
We were blessed that we eventually got pregnant again. Terror took hold almost as soon as the second line appeared on our pregnancy test. Would we lose this one too? I couldn’t sit still waiting for our first ultrasound. The tech found our son immediately and noted the cyst on my left ovary indicating that he was conceived from my left side. The side of my body that had previously betrayed me. The side that I would have had surgically removed if not for modern medicine and the Methotrexate I had come to hate. And although that pregnancy was complicated, the complications weren’t related to our loss. Our rainbow baby was born 21 months later and is now a thriving rambunctious 3 year old who has a little sister!
What some people don’t get is that you could have a dozen children but that doesn’t make miscarriage hurt less. You may even be blessed enough to “easily get pregnant” but that doesn’t erase the pregnancy you lost. If you have lost your baby, you know how devastating and painful this loss can be. The hopes, the dreams, the expectations for that child dies along with them.
They say everything happens for a reason. I don’t know how much I believe or agree with that. But I am sharing my experience now in hopes that another person reads it, and knows that they aren’t alone. And that above all else, there is hope and life to be lived after loss.