Like many difficult things in life, distance from my ectopic pregnancy has given me perspective. Time has passed and I am able to articulate my emotions around it and even find purpose in doing so. My thoughts are also more coherent as opposed to some of my choppy, nearly Hemingway-like journal entries while I was in the hazy thick of it: “I am in pain. My left-side is hurting. It is almost unbearable.” You get the picture.
And so, I feel compelled to write this because I have taken away the life lessons learned from my ectopic pregnancy that I feel ought to be shared and even if only one other woman has an ectopic pregnancy and feels less alone having read this, than it is so worth it.
I had not yet been to the doctor even though several home pregnancies tests had confirmed that I was indeed pregnant. When I began spotting while on Spring Break with my 2-year-old daughter, I was directed to visit an emergency room where my suspicions of a miscarriage were confirmed.
I had lost a baby before my daughter so I felt like I knew what to expect moving forward, but in the weeks following Spring Break, nothing felt like how I remembered it. We had returned home to Austin and I was still continuing to bleed and a pain on the light side of my body would come and go unexpectedly. The pain, when there, was the worst I had ever felt, but when it was gone, it was completely gone. I was left wondering if I was going crazy and if it had really hurt that bad.
Finally, I decided something was not quite right and this was my first lesson. I had to call my doctor’s office and ask them to move up my appointment by one week. This was an exercise in prioritizing my own health. Over my work. Over my daughter’s schedule. Over everything else. When I called, the nurse who helped me move my appointment was gracious and kind, but she had to work hard to find me an earlier appointment. I was on hold for an hour at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and at one point was attempting to pump up a flat stroller tire with one hand, stay on hold with the other, all while my daughter ran circles around a life-size jack rabbit statue. A part of me kept saying to myself, “You are asking for too much. Look what you are making this nurse do for you. You are totally disrupting everyone’s day.” But despite this inner voice telling me to hang up, I stayed on hold, booked the appointment and went to the doctor’s office the very next day. My first life lesson in listening to my body and prioritizing my health.
At the doctor’s office, the sonographer began humming to herself after she said we were going to look at my fallopian tubes. I have a friend who does this when she is anxious and I immediately was on high alert. I was shuffled around and told I would be meeting with a different doctor, someone more senior and with special expertise. She gently told me what I had not yet even considered. I had not miscarried but rather, I had a rare ectopic pregnancy in my left fallopian tube. “Tubal pregnancies” as they are sometimes called, are never viable. It explained the pain and bleeding I had been experiencing. Thankfully, nothing had ruptured yet and the first course of action was to receive a shot (Methotrexate) in hopes surgery would not be necessary. Unfortunately though, the pain intensified over the following days driving me back to the doctor’s office for a second sonogram. This time, my left fallopian tube had swollen so much that it had ruptured and I was now internally bleeding. I was on the fast track from the doctor’s office, to the emergency room, and then the operating room. Everyone I encountered in the hospital was working so efficiently and quickly and though I knew I was in good hands, I was still frightened. I had never been rushed on a gurney before let alone been told that I would be in surgery as soon as possible.
I needed to appeal for strength and courage beyond what I could muster from within and this is when I learned by second life lesson. I texted a close group of friends and my family and told them what was happening and I asked them to pray for me. For others, I believe asking for good vibes or for friends to send love and light has the same effect. Whatever you may choose to call it, I almost immediately felt a physical presence or sense of peace because I knew that I was not alone sitting on a bed with my mask and blue hospital gown. And yet, this moment taught me how important it is to put in the extra effort. We need each other and though we never know when the need will arise, it is important to be vulnerable and lean on those friendships when the time comes.
My left fallopian tube was removed during my surgery and though I will have Methotrexate in my system for about 8 more weeks, I am now fully physically healed from the surgery and my ectopic pregnancy. Before I went under, a nurse told my husband who was clutching my hand, “We want her here, don’t we? Let’s get this surgery done. We are so glad you are here right now.” The life-saving nature of my surgery and the critical nature of ectopic pregnancies are unsettling for me to think about, but it is also an important point to dwell on. Having never experienced anything like it before, my compulsive reaction to research has taught me the biggest life lesson of all. According to one NPR article I read, “The rate of life-threatening complications for new mothers in the U.S. has more than doubled in two decades as a result of pre-existing conditions, medical errors and unequal access to care.” Additionally, “More than 50,000 American women nearly die from childbirth every year, according to a CDC estimate. These catastrophic complications can come at a terrible cost emotionally, financially and medically.” And perhaps most horrifying of all, the maternal mortality rate in the U.S. is highest for African American women. This is so much more for me to learn on the subject, but my recent experience has been a key motivator for me to dig deeper, learn more, ask questions, and use my voice to tell my story in hopes that it benefits others. Though I wish it was not my story to tell, I know these lessons will take me far and they are important lessons to learn.
To learn more, I urge you to look up the Maternal Health Equity Collaborative in Austin as well as well as the NPR Special Series: Lost Mothers: Maternal Mortality in the U.S. They both have been helpful resources for me in my journey.