I have been pregnant three times in the space of ten months. Three pregnancies, three deeply imagined and much wanted future lives. Zero live, healthy babies in my arms. While friends have safely birthed their babies, I have been cramped over my bathtub sick from contraction-like pains and rushed to theatre to be cut open.
2023 has been a year full of loss for myself and my partner. We lost our first pregnancy back in April; the baby had stopped developing just after nine weeks and I didn’t find out until twelve weeks. The night I miscarried was my first, real experience of trauma.
I lost a pregnancy in July, much earlier this time, the pregnancy test changing from positive to negative in the space of a weekend. It was two days of cautious hope, conversations around our future softened by the overuse of the word if. If this baby grows. If I don’t miscarry.
My third pregnancy in October was an ectopic pregnancy, resulting in emergency surgery. This was unexpected as I’d had what I’d believed to be a normal period at the end of September. The only difference was that I spotted on and off for a week and a half after my last period day.
Spotting after period, I typed into Google, desperately hoping to find an answer that would reassure me for at least ten minutes until the intrusive thoughts started their march around my brain.
Spotting can be normal.
It can also be a bad sign.
It can also be a very bad sign.
Anyone who has ever got pregnant, or supported a partner through pregnancy, understands the impossible duality of pregnancy symptoms. It can be incredibly stressful trying to listen to your own body, but after a week and a half of spotting and the beginnings of cramping on my right-hand side I went back on the internet. I was aware of ectopic pregnancy; as someone who suffers with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and intrusive thoughts I had done due diligence on researching everything that could possibly go wrong with pregnancy.
I found The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust website and found the personal story that saved my life. It was a woman who had experienced similar symptoms after having a period. Like her, I didn’t even think that pregnancy was a possibility so soon after what I believed was a period. I learnt about the reproductive system in biology classes at school but was woefully underprepared for the realities of life.
After reading that story, I messaged my partner and asked him to stop off at the shop on the way home to pick up a pregnancy test. And bread. We were out of bread for toast the next morning.
As soon as I took the test, the two lines appeared as quick as a finger snap. After everything else this year, there was no excitement. Only fear.
We went to A&E (accident and emergency) where I advocated for myself as best as I could. I told them I had a suspected ectopic pregnancy, and it wasn’t long before my blood was taken and I found myself lying on my back again, waiting to be scanned by a kind, but stressed consultant. He passed the ultrasound wand over my stomach and said it could be one of three things: an early pregnancy, a threatened miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy. I was told to go home, to try to get some sleep, and that someone would call me with my hCG (Human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone produced during pregnancy) levels as soon as possible.
I slept on and off throughout the night, the pain not yet excruciating. In the early morning, I received a call that my hCG levels put me around the 5 ½ week mark and that I was to come in for an ultrasound at the early pregnancy unit as soon as possible.
I only managed half a slice of toast before we left for the hospital. I had no appetite.
My partner and I were seen by two wonderful, compassionate women who informed me that there was an ectopic pregnancy in my right Fallopian tube, close to the ovary. She couldn’t tell whether it was stuck to the ovary, but that I would need emergency surgery as soon as possible to remove the pregnancy and possibly, my Fallopian tube.
The next hour or so was a blur as I was poked, prodded and seen by my consultant and anaesthesiologist who explained the procedure to me. Then I was taken away to surgery, waving goodbye to my partner. I was terrified and could only think of him, wandering around the hospital waiting for an update on me. The anaesthesiologist team did their best to calm me down as I waited to fall asleep. I’m a children’s author and they asked me to tell them about my books so they could buy them for their own children. I was grateful for the distraction but felt triggered that they were talking about their children while I was waiting for a pregnancy to be removed. Triggers are everywhere for those who’ve suffered pregnancy loss. We experience a hundred little deaths every day, but we continue. We live. We survive.
After the surgery I found out that the pregnancy was in my Fallopian tube, not on my ovary. My right Fallopian tube was beginning to leak and so the pregnancy and tube had been removed. The consultant was able to assure me that my left tube looked good and that my future fertility shouldn’t be hugely affected. I was grateful for his words, but at that moment thinking about being pregnant again was the last thing I wanted to do.
It’s almost been three months since my surgery and my wounds have healed. Yet the fear lingers. Fear that in trying to create a life, I could’ve died. The irony is not lost on me. My partner and I dream of being parents, but we need a break. After a year of consecutive loss, we want to enjoy life without worries for a little while. When you start trying, everyone tells you just to live your life as normal. I think when your experiences of pregnancy have always ended in loss, you know that you can’t live life like that. I’ve missed friend’s hen dos and a holiday this year because of pregnancy loss. The only way I can enjoy life for a while is to not try, and to reclaim my life, until we feel ready to try again.
Two months after my emergency surgery, I joined a support Zoom call ran by The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust. It was an absolute tonic to talk to women who’ve experienced the same tragedy, trauma and heartache. If you are reading this and wondering if the support group is for you, I urge you to give it a go. It is a safe, non-judgemental space where you can choose to share as much or as little as you’d like.
So many people have called me and my partner strong, but I’m not sure what other choice we have. I prefer the word resilient; it’s something I’m learning how to be. My partner lost his mother at an early age, and lost his brother some years ago, and I am in awe of how he moves through life’s most difficult experiences with a self-compassionate perspective.
I’m working through the self-pity and choosing to focus, as best I can, on perspective. I am grateful to live each day with the love of my life, who possesses the ability to make me laugh when I am in the middle of floods of tears. I am grateful for my family and my friends, who’ve allowed me the space to process and work through my grief. I’m grateful for brilliant colleagues and a workplace that has a pregnancy loss policy. I’m grateful for my life.
I don’t want to confuse my gratitude with toxic positivity. I think often of a quote from Marian Keyes who said, ‘I think there is pressure on people to turn every negative into a positive, but we should be allowed to say, ‘I went through something really strange and awful, and it has altered me forever.’
I did go through something really strange and awful, and it has altered me forever.
But forever is a long time and I still, hopefully, have a long life to experience. There will be hard times, most definitely more tears and ‘ugly’ feelings, but there will also be happiness, laughter and a whole lot of silliness. I am learning how to co-exist with the duality of life.
And in a way, aren’t we all?
Clare is a children’s author and is generously raising money, with the support of Ann, of Bookmania, for The EPT through sales of her books: The Unexpected Tale of Bastien Bon Livre and The Unexpected Tale of the Bad Brothers. To ensure the £1 donation please select the option to continue shopping with Ann Morris.
Thank you to Clare for sharing her experience. If you would like to share your experience of ectopic pregnancy, please visit our guide for more information.
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