Up until June 2023 I didn’t think I could conceive naturally. After years of trying, we went through IVF (In vitro fertilisation) in early 2020 and were very lucky to be successful. Our little girl was approaching three and we were happy with our family – and very surprised when out of nowhere I received a positive pregnancy test!
This came just five days before a holiday to France, at around five weeks pregnant. As a self-confessed hypochondriac, I was worried about being abroad at this point, especially when I started spotting and cramping a little. I started researching the worst-case scenarios to look out for when away from the security of the NHS (National Health Service) and concluded that ectopic pregnancy topped the list. I contacted my local early pregnancy unit about the spotting and cramps, who told me scanning before six weeks couldn’t tell me much. “Wouldn’t it at least tell us if it has implanted in the right place?” I asked. The answer was vague, and the schedule too busy anyway to get me in before my holiday, so off I went trying to be pragmatic that light spotting was probably nothing. It thankfully stopped within a day or two and we enjoyed a week of our holiday.
Unfortunately, things went badly wrong a week later as I was walking round a French supermarket and was suddenly hit by what felt like severe period pains. I had to sit down on the floor as I was in so much discomfort and felt very unwell, dizzy, and honestly like I may have a bout of diarrhoea in public. I was with my daughter and my husband was outside, so I had to keep it together as much as possible and get her through the checkouts and out of the shop. As soon as I’d handed her over to her dad, I collapsed on the floor in the foyer of the centre. I felt faint, sweaty and generally out of it. I couldn’t muster the willpower to speak to the shop first aider who arrived. I just pulled out my phone and typed something in for my husband to show to her in Google translate; Grossesse ectopique – ectopic pregnancy. For maybe a minute or so after the pain started, I’d hoped it was just something I’d eaten, or that hormones were giving me cramps. But the harsh reality came very quickly with the sweating and dizziness. I’d done my research; I knew the signs. This was my worst-case scenario happening as feared, in another country.
An ambulance arrived quickly, and after 15 or so minutes of assessment I was off to hospital, alone – I didn’t want my toddler exposed to any of this. The next few hours consisted of being checked into triage and then left on a trolley in a corridor. I still don’t know whether my strong suspicion about what was going on hadn’t been passed on by the paramedics, or whether it had been, but the triage team thought I was just another anxious mother ‘making a fuss’. Either way, my condition was deteriorating due to what I suspected was, and later had confirmed, internal bleeding. After about three hours I messaged my husband, with the NHS webpage open in front of me stating how serious untreated ectopic ruptures are and told him I thought they were going to leave me to die there. He called me and told me I had to just start shouting for help. Being British (!) I didn’t quite do that but did grab the next health assistant to walk past and showed her my trusty Google translate again. “I think I am having an ectopic pregnancy – this is an emergency.” Thankfully, after prodding my abdomen low down and establishing I was indeed in severe pain on one side, this seemed to do the trick.
The rest of my story is like many others. A scan that showed an empty womb but a little heartbeat elsewhere, a hastily signed form, a dash to surgery, and then the physical and emotional post-surgery battle that you fight, knowing you’ve lost your baby and come close to losing your life.
So many of the stories shared here focus on people who wished they had known the symptoms, how it would have made things so much better for them. I wanted to share my experience of the opposite – knowing with almost complete confidence that what was happening to me was because of an ectopic pregnancy rupture and having to fight to be heard. I don’t mean to suggest it is a good thing to be a worrier and hypochondriac, it isn’t! But it is a good thing to be informed. You probably haven’t casually started browsing these pages – if you are reading this you have probably suffered this fate, or someone close to you did. And most likely you didn’t know what was happening to you then and wish that you had. If you feel able, I’d encourage you to tell your friends what happened, what your symptoms were. They might tell their friends. And there might be a day that because you shared your experience, it gives someone else the chance to say “no, this is an emergency, you need to help me now.”.