You may consider me a control freak but so much of our stories all too often come back to the notion of control. We can control what we wear, what we do with our days, how we wear our hair and just about everything else that makes us who we are. Yet when it comes to the most fundamental choice we have – we are left so out of control it leaves us begging for answers.
We decided to start a family in March 2006. We had been married for three years and the time just felt right. Looking to my genes, my mother and my sisters, I didn’t think for a second that it would take any amount of time to get pregnant. It was a presumption of mine that this was my body, I was in control, this was my decision and therefore it would happen.
Eventually in January 2007 I found out I was pregnant. I had been starting to get concerned prior to this positive test, but with building a house, doing a masters I put it down to distraction and maybe an element of stress. Doctors say give it a year, and the closer it was getting to the year mark the more anxious I was getting, but the positive came and I was delighted. My husband, even though he wanted kids too, seemed less excited, this is hindsight of course but he did tell me afterwards, that he often wondered why he wasn’t excited about the pregnancy – he has strong instinct and must have just had a bad feeling from the beginning.
Our GP confirmed and we registered the pregnancy with the hospital. Never for a minute did I think anything could go wrong, again, in fact I joked to my GP when he asked was it my first pregnancy, because it was an alien idea that a pregnancy would not result in a baby.
So everything went fine. I had a small amount of blood at about 5 weeks, but it was tiny and was told it was probably implantation, I was feeling fine so didn’t think anymore about it.
I began to get some pain / uncomfort on my right side, it was never excruciating, but one evening at 7 weeks I rang my GP to be sure. My GPs locum asked if I had bleeding (no), if I had shoulder pain (no) amongst other things, but I had no other symptoms. She told me to monitor these things and if I had any of the symptoms she had listed to go to hospital. That was a Saturday and the ‘niggle’ and the pain then disappeared.
I say niggle because even without the major symptoms I had been reading up on ectopic pregnancy, it kept coming into my mind, but I had dismissed it because I was so asymptomatic. I went for a week without any pain or uncomfort and I was feeling really well.
The following Monday morning, 8 days after the call to my GP, I woke early to go to work, I felt faint, thought I needed the toilet, but fainted in the bathroom. I got myself up and went back into the bedroom and told my husband I felt unwell – I tried again to go to the toilet but again felt faint. Looking back it is hard to say I was in much pain, I remember the weakness mainly. My husband rang the hospital and explained I was 8 weeks pregnant, fainting and in pain. They said to come in, but we then realised I wouldn’t even make it down the stairs, so he rang an ambulance. By the time the paramedics arrived (about 10mins) I was losing consciousness and my husband reports me having convulsions on the bedroom floor. The paramedics kept checking for bleeding and because I had none, they suggested I had a virus and would take me to the local general hospital, In terms of pain at this stage; I recall being asked on a scale of 1 – 10 how bad was it. I answered 9, but to this day I can’t remember the pain. This is why they use the scale I suppose!
I was aware of the conversation about bringing me to the local hospital instead of the maternity hospital. My husband insisted I went to the Rotunda and I was carried into the ambulance. I was slipping in and out of consciousness all the way in and remember little of the trip in, other than the sun rising over the hill of Howth which I glimpsed out the back door of the ambulance.
In the emergency room, they again checked for bleeding and seemed confused that I wasn’t bleeding. I was put on a bed, wired up to machines and scanned – I remember all this quite vaguely, my husband was not allowed in and he later told me there was an announcement for doctors to come to the emergency room and people running from all directions. He talks of a very scary experience
At one stage there was a crowd of medics around my bed and then I heard one doctor tell me ‘we think it might be an ectopic pregnancy and we must operate, this will affect your future fertility’. This was thrown at me in the midst of mayhem - this doctor was quickly removed from the room.
I asked for my husband who came in and a new doctor explained things to us better. All this time I was conscious of another noise in the ER, that of a fetal heart monitor, emitting the wonderful, promising sound of someone else’s baby, it was a most confusing sound and looking back now it was such a surreal experience – this wasn’t happening to me.
I remember little else until I woke up in recovery. I will always say that morning in February 2007 was so much harder on my husband who was watching the whole thing unfold. He was told to prepare himself for the worst as I was taken into surgery and afterwards we were told another 15 and I wouldn’t have made it. I had massive internal bleeding from the rupture of my right tube, I had 2 blood transfusions during surgery and I lost 5 pints of blood, but most importantly my baby.
I remained in hospital for 3 days and was given a leaflet on miscarriage. There was a page in this leaflet about ectopic pregnancy which I read over and over and over again. This couldn’t have happened to me. It explained nothing.
My recovery was slow, I was very weak, I was very shocked. I think I operated in limbo for a few weeks post surgery. When the stitches fell out I wanted to keep them, it was my only link to my baby. Everyone kept telling me how lucky I was, I felt like the unluckiest person in the world. I never appreciated the fact I was lucky to be alive – to me it was all about the baby I had lost and I know my attitude was frustrating for those around me.
Recovery from an ectopic is a most confusing time, surgery, grieving, fear of the future, mingled with well wishers, not understanding what an ectopic is, ‘lots of people have miscarriages’, ‘I had a miscarriage too’ telling you ‘its Gods way’, ‘there must have been something wrong’ etc, makes the process very isolating. Nobody gets that the baby was fine, just in the wrong place at the right time
The statistics imply most ectopic survivors are pregnant within the year and the loss of a tube does not massively impact on fertility. Unfortunately this was not me and after 2 and a half years of follicle tracking and clomid. I recall one day during the follicle tracking I was told the follicle was on the left side; I was delighted and convinced that this meant we would conceive that month. I was back in control, but this wasn’t to be and eventually in May 2009 we moved forward to IVF. Pre IVF tests indicated an underactive thyroid and within a month of this being balanced I was pregnant. The positive test came on the due date of the baby we lost, a positive message and time to look forward not back.
A good friend, when I told her a few months after the ectopic that I wasn’t quite 100% yet, looked at me strangely and matter of fact simply said ‘you’ll never be 100%, a little part of you has gone’.
We are not in control of our own bodies when it comes to having the babies we all so greatly desire. There is a science to what should be ours to dictate and this is difficult to accept. We don’t have the answers to the questions and we can’t just fix it. Babies we long for get surgically or medicinally removed to save our lives and this is also difficult. The strength of the maternal instinct this early in pregnancy is so strong – why can’t you save the baby?
I write this with my little boy asleep in the next room and it still doesn’t feel real, it is amazing how the 4 years that went before become irrelevant. Do I wish I never suffered an ectopic pregnancy? Of course. Would I change it? No – it’s who I am now; it’s my story and that part I can control.