Let me start by saying this is not a product review or recommendation. This is a life event. I went through this, and when it happened to me, I felt really alone and scared, because no one else I knew had been through it. So it occurred to me that it makes sense to talk about it here, on the off-chance it could help someone else who is feeling the same way.
I’m just going to start at the start, because I actually learned some new things during this whole experience, so there may be things you don’t know, too.
Once a month, one of your ovaries releases an egg. I had always heard that your ovaries take turns – left ovary one month, right ovary the next. As it turns out, although this is often the case, it is not always the case. Sometimes one ovary can make most of the eggs, with the other ovary just chipping in once in a while; sometimes, only one ovary does all the work, always. It depends on the woman. This has no immediate effect on what happened to me, but it’s still an interesting fact.
When the egg begins its travel down the Fallopian Tube (in this picture, “Uterine Tube“), sometimes it meets a buddy, otherwise known as a sperm cell. If the egg and the sperm hit it off, they join forces, and most of the time, go on their first date down the tube and into the uterus, where they move in together, embedding themselves in one of the uterine walls.
Notice I said “most of the time.” This is because, in some cases, for some reason, the egg and sperm decide they just can’t wait to get to know each other better, and have to move in together RIGHT AWAY. Maybe they’re lazy, maybe they’re defective, maybe the road is blocked, there’s no real way to tell after the fact. But they embed themselves in the Fallopian Tube and start making a baby. This is known as an ectopic pregnancy. Sometimes these pregnancies spontaneously abort themselves, and sometimes the embryo keeps growing until the Fallopian tube breaks, resulting in internal bleeding and what is known as a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. The latter is what happened to me. Ectopic pregnancies are never viable long-term.
My husband and I started trying to conceive last spring, and our second month of trying, we got pregnant. I was astounded, scared, and not too thrilled that it happened so fast. Within a month, however, I was getting into the idea. We told our families and a few select friends, intending to make the big announcement after we hit the three-month mark. We bought books and journals, I stopped drinking entirely (we even went to Vegas and I hung out with my husband and our two friends while they got wasted), and generally began getting very, very excited. We went to the doctor immediately to have the pregnancy confirmed, made our first prenatal appointment, and started choosing names.
Around the sixth week, I started having some spotting. I read that this was normal, however – that as long as it was dark brown blood, not bright red, it was probably just a result of the egg implanting, and there was nothing to worry about. In spite of this, I was concerned, and very much looking forward to our first real visit to the obstetrician to allay my fears.
At about week seven and a half, I awoke one Sunday with terrible cramps. I thought I had to use the bathroom (I am prone to stomach difficulties), and did. The cramping seemed to ease slightly, then immediately began to get worse. I was in so much pain I was pacing, and my husband offered to take me to the ER. I declined, sure it was simply a bowel problem. He ran me a bath, which helped slightly, but again the pain returned, worse than ever. By this time I was in sheer agony, and I agreed to go to the ER. He was out of bed and dressed almost before the words were out of my mouth.
I don’t remember parts of the ride to Swedish; your brain really does fog out at a certain pain threshold. My husband dropped me off at the ER door and went to park while I checked in. When the admitting nurse asked how far along I was, I replied, “Seven weeks,” but I was rocking back and forth in pain, and she said, “Seven months?!?” Even in the state I was in, I was a bit offended.
They got me into triage almost immediately. They started pain meds pretty quickly but I was still in pain and kept yelling out. My husband was frantically running back and forth, finding nurses to help me. They called the on-call ObGyn and brought in a tech to do an ultrasound. They couldn’t do a CAT scan because I guess it could be a danger to a baby. The female tech silently scanned my stomach for what felt like an eternity. I finally asked what she thought the problem was. (I should probably say here that while I was at home, my husband had been Googling my pain to see what it could be. We were already prepared for the possibility of an ectopic pregnancy, appendicitis, or kidney stones.) The tech told me she couldn’t tell me anything, that I had to wait for the doctor to interpret the ultrasound. After a pause, she added, “I can tell you that I don’t see a pregnancy in the uterus.”
The doctor showed up before long. After examining me, he told me he was going to have to operate. He wasn’t 100% sure it was an ectopic, but was fairly sure it was either that or appendicitis, more likely the former. I had to sign paperwork and be prepped for surgery while high on pain meds, which was probably for the best – I had never had any major surgery before. I thought initially they could do the surgery vaginally, but the doctor told me that was not possible, that he was going to have to make a 3-inch incision above my pubic bone and go in that way.
A very kind nurse wheeled my gurney towards the OR, and waited VERY patiently while my husband and I said an extended good-bye/good luck. I suddenly realized I could die, and this would be the last thing I would know before I ceased to exist. I could see the fear in my husband’s eyes as we repeatedly kissed and embraced, although he did an excellent job at keeping up a strong facade, acting as though he was certain everything would be fine. I don’t remember anything after that.
I woke up in a nice private room at Swedish. I had a morphine drip that I could control with a button by my bed. I had a 3 – 4″ incision above my pubic bone, and they’d shaved off part of my pubic hair. Moving was very, very painful, but the cramping was completely gone. My husband was beside me, and happy to see my eyes open. The doctor came in and talked to me, explaining that the problem was in fact a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. He had removed the damaged portion of Fallopian tube (a salpingectomy) leaving the other tube intact. I’d had to have a blood transfusion because of the amount of internal bleeding I’d experienced, which also explained the severe pain I’d been in – I guess bleeding internally is excruciating. My right tube was now completely useless for future conception, but there was worse news – he’d tried to probe through my left tube while he was performing the surgery, and was unable to move it. This meant there was a possibility that for whatever reason my left tube also had a blockage, and the only way my husband and I would be able to conceive in the future would be through IVF. In order to determine if the other tube was blocked, I would, some months down the road, have to undergo another procedure, called a hysterosalpingogram, or HSG test, or dye test. He told me we’d talk about that later. It was a lot to process. (Here’s the blog entry about that test.)
I don’t remember a lot about my three days in the hospital. I had a handful of really awesome friends come to visit – they know who they are, and I hope they know I will be forever grateful to them. I remember the nurse making me walk down the hall on day two, and almost passing out from the – not really pain, although it did hurt, but just – I don’t know, it didn’t feel good. My stomach felt weird, I could feel the stitches, and combined with the pain meds, it wasn’t pretty. I slept a LOT. I ate almost nothing. And my husband was there every minute, every hour, sitting next to me, sleeping next to me, answering every question, getting a nurse for my every request. He was a saint, and I will never forget that.
When I went home, I still had strong pain killers, and I slept a lot on the couch. I slept like 18 hours a day, maybe more, and I think it was the best possible thing for me – I healed quickly and well. My first post-op visit, the doctor told me, “You’re probably safe to drive now,” and I’d already been driving for days. Physically, I did as well as or better than can be expected.
Mentally – well, as I weaned myself off the drugs, reality set in. My will to live had kept me pushing, healing, sleeping. But once I was on safe ground again, my brain remembered: I’d been pregnant. And now I wasn’t. And that sucked.
I tucked away all our pregnancy books. I deleted the baby name app from my phone. Losing the pregnancy was hard, even though it had only been 7 and a half weeks in; losing the tube was a lot harder. I’d lost part of my reproductive anatomy, and a big question mark hung over my ability to conceive.
We struggled through the months until it was time to get the HSG test. We weren’t allowed to start trying again, and I felt like we were in a state of limbo, not sure what our next move would be or when we could make it. Plus the more I read up on the HSG test, the more frightened I became.
I’ll do a whole nother entry about the HSG test – it deserves it – but in the end, we got the news that my left tube is open. 🙂 Just typing it makes me feel good all over again. We have been trying to conceive ever since we were allowed to start again – last September, so about six months now – with no luck. So it’s still pretty easy to get down about it, especially after learning that fact about ovaries I mentioned above. What if only one of my ovaries is doing all the work, and it’s the right one? What if I don’t lay eggs with my left ovary? Am I prepared to go through all the madness of IVF? It’s been tough because it seems like I’ve had at least two dozen friends either give birth or announce they were pregnant since this all went down, and as happy as I am for them (really, I LOVE babies), there’s still a sadness in me that I can’t assuage. And part of me is jealous of women, even women I love, who get effortlessly pregnant. I hate that part of me, but it’s there.
So anyhow, I survived! And I continue to survive, and maybe one day I’ll even make a little Katelet. But for now, I am lucky to be alive and happy to vacation where and when we want, and drink what I want, and stay out as late as I want. Still – I hope that changes before too long. 🙂