Hannah's experience of a tubal ectopic pregnancy treated surgically

30 Jul 2022 | By Kerri
Personal Experience

It had been four days since I had read a positive pregnancy test and I couldn’t quite believe it – as I’m sure this is the way for many women – it’s an almost, ‘wow it worked’ moment. It was the start of a long weekend, so we decided to wait and call the GP when they reopened on Tuesday and just enjoy a relaxing weekend together. 

On Sunday, I started to have some cramps, almost period-type cramps, of course I turned to “Dr. Google” which stated that light cramping can be very normal in early pregnancy, so I just put it down to that as I didn’t want to worry. However, on Monday morning I was still having these cramps. To be honest I thought it was a digestive issue and carried on, I didn’t take any pain killers as I was nervous about what I could and couldn’t take with pregnancy – so I thought it would be best to keep off everything for the time being.   

In the afternoon, we saw some friends and my husband suggested going for a walk, but I could only manage about 15 minutes until I needed to go home. We carried on the evening and the pains were growing worse and worse, to the point where I was hunched over struggling to walk. At this point, my husband said I looked very unwell. I had lost colour and he could see I was in a lot of pain. I was convinced I was ‘being a wimp’ and getting upset about how on earth I was going to cope with a pregnancy, when I’m in this much pain just at the beginning. 

I attempted to sleep it off, but it got to a point where I couldn’t avoid it and I was struggling to stand-up, so we made our way to A&E. This was in April 2021, during which we were in another Covid wave which meant a majority of rules were still in place or unclear. We arrived at the hospital around 10pm. I was seen quickly by triage where they said that I was most likely experiencing a miscarriage, and a doctor would be with me when possible. Three hours passed and I still hadn’t had any pain relief and I had been sitting hunched over in a chair, luckily with my husband next to me. They couldn’t provide an update for when I would be seen, but they said to let them know if I started to bleed and that I just needed to wait. 

It got to 1am and there were only a handful of people remaining in the waiting room. Finally a nurse came over, but it was to explain that they were closing A&E. They then offered to take me through to the main hospital to be seen. At this point, due to restrictions, I had to go on my own. 

I sat waiting to see the doctor, who was standing on the other side of the curtain talking to the nurse. I could hear them discussing that I ‘most likely had a UTI (urinary tract infection) or was experiencing a miscarriage’ and the doctor requested bloods to be taken. By this point, I felt so exhausted, but I knew there was no chance this was a UTI which I explained to the nurse when they came over. They then attempted to take blood from both of my arms without success, and then again both of my hand’s multiple times, which was also unsuccessful. I started to feel incredibly faint by this point and could feel myself starting to panic. I suddenly felt incredibly alone, in a lot of pain, and scared. I begged for my husband to be let through as he was just the other side of the door – luckily, they agreed. As soon as I saw him, I felt relieved and he came over to meet me. I then felt very nauseous and wanted to go to the bathroom – I managed about three steps and then collapsed. I just remember opening my eyes and looking at the ceiling. At this point, I was lifted onto a bed and they called for the doctor from the maternity unit to come and see me. In hindsight, I now understand this is the point I had potentially ruptured – as my blood pressure dropped. I lost all colour and had fainted, but I was unaware at the time. 

This was the stage where everything suddenly felt more serious and I knew I wasn’t imagining this. I am incredibly grateful to the doctor who came to see me, as she said ‘I’m going to talk you through the worst-case scenario’. She explained they needed to monitor me in preparation as if this were an ectopic pregnancy, which could be very serious and dangerous. However, I needed to wait until the morning when the Early Pregnancy Unit was open for an internal scan; they attempted an ultrasound on the spot, but the imagery wasn’t clear, so I needed to wait. The doctor was unaware I had fainted, and as soon as I told her this, things ramped up even more and felt a lot more intense. I was told I wasn’t allowed to stand-up for any reason, and needed to stay horizontal – this included for the bathroom or even being moved to another bed. I really didn’t know much about ectopic pregnancy, but she explained that they were going to start prepping me ready for emergency surgery. They did another pregnancy test which was showing positive, moved me on to a hydrating drip and started morphine. 

By this point, it was about 4am and they needed to move me on to the ward. Due to Covid restrictions, I had to say goodbye to my husband again. I was still convinced it was a miscarriage and that I would see him in the morning. I barely slept as I kept needing morphine top-ups and I had to keep a mask on at all times. Also, I was terrified about what might happen next and felt incredibly trapped not being allowed to stand-up. I had never been to A&E or had surgery before and felt nervous not knowing what was going on and had no one to talk to. 

At 9am, the nurse came to tell me they had booked me in for a scan at 3pm – as this was the only space available. I explained I just couldn’t wait that long and how the doctor had said I would be seen first thing – the painkillers didn’t feel to be working. This was quickly moved-up to midday and I was wheeled down to the Early Pregnancy Unit for an internal scan. 

I remember staring at a painting of Santorini on the wall as they started the scan. It was incredibly painful, and I was trying to detach myself but also listen carefully to what they were saying. This was a time I really wish I hadn’t been alone. The student doctor was carrying out the scan and called over the doctor, between them they discussed what they could see: ‘The uterus is empty’ and ‘You see how there is all this liquid and how it moves? This is blood’. I had guessed by this point it must be an ectopic pregnancy. 

They completed the scan and then explained to me how they had been able to locate the egg, which was stuck in the left Fallopian tube. They continued to say how this had ruptured and I was bleeding internally and a surgeon was on their way. I needed to go straight to the consultant who was going to explain all of the next steps. I asked if I had time to call my husband, they said ‘yes’ but I had about 10 minutes and I needed to stay seated in the waiting room. I called him and explained what was happening – that there was no baby, I was bleeding internally, and I would be operated on imminently. I said I would call him again as soon as I knew more, which I ended up not having time for. I felt awful having to discuss this in front of everyone waiting for their scans – as I could see other women looking nervous.   

After about 15 minutes, I was taken to see the consultant, who quickly talked me through what was going to happen. I was presented with what felt like a million pieces of paperwork to sign, mainly giving permission for possible blood transfusions, dental damage from the general anaesthetic tube, etc. I still don’t think I was quite aware of the seriousness and speed of it all, so I asked him if I had time to read everything properly and call my husband to talk it all through. I also asked what would happen if they didn’t operate (I was terrified of the thought of surgery and being put to sleep). To which he directly explained, no I didn’t have time to do any of the above and that I was currently in a life-threatening position, and that without surgery I could die. I had a flurry of nurses and other medical professionals dressing me, adding drips and quickly moving me to different locations. I was still signing papers as I went into the surgery room. 

I woke up five hours later and was taken down to the ward. I called my husband as soon as I could to let him know I was awake. He explained how he had been calling the hospital as it had been so long, but no one could provide any updates. I really felt for him, as he wasn’t able to get any answers and he had been reading about a ruptured ectopic and worried no news was bad news. He later came to deliver a bag of items, but I still wasn’t able to see him. Covid made it almost impossible for processes to be created and I don’t think there is anybody who hasn’t been impacted in some way. It made for some incredibly lonely times. I felt sad that the last time I had seen him I was pregnant – and so much had happened after that point. 

The next morning, the doctor came to see me and explained that they removed my left Fallopian tube, and while they were operating, they had found endometriosis. Unfortunately, they were unable to remove the endometriosis due to consent. I was then discharged later that morning and able to go home. 

After the surgery, my recovery lasted about two weeks before I went back to work. However, I don’t think it really sunk in until after this time. In the following months, I found it really challenging to process how much I had needed to listen to my body and how it had been ignored both during the ectopic pregnancy and for the years before following countless doctors’ appointments and self-referred CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). This created a lot of anxiety around what it could mean for the future, so I reached out for support – I spoke to a therapist, family, and friends. I can’t express how incredibly grateful I am for their support. 

A couple of months after the surgery, I was out of the blue contacted by a fertility consultant, which I didn’t feel quite ready for. He explained to me that on a positive note, even without one tube my fertility doesn’t become 50/50. However, he needed to make me aware that on average it could take about 18 months or even longer due to the endometriosis, and only having one Fallopian tube could cause extra challenges. Then how following this time, IVF would be a discussion. 

I feel incredibly grateful to write that I am currently 37 weeks pregnant and it happened very quickly after I felt emotionally and physically ready to start trying to conceive again. One of my biggest mental battles was the fear of it happening again. However, my husband reminded and reassured me that even if it did, it would never be the exact same experience. This time, I felt armed with knowledge and most importantly, I reminded myself to listen to my body. As soon as I had a positive pregnancy test, my bloods were taken daily and an internal scan was scheduled for as soon as my human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) levels hit a certain point. It was then confirmed the pregnancy was in the right location. 

I know that there must be a lot of other women who hold this fear of something similar happening again, and I would be dishonest if I said these worries hadn’t affected my experience. I am still cautious and taking each step-by-step. However, I would say that this doesn’t mean it takes over. In fact, I am enjoying my pregnancy and feel stronger and more resilient. I’ve had points where my body has felt the best it has for years. 

I wanted to share my story as I found reassurance and comfort reading other people’s experiences. I also wanted to encourage others to listen to their body, and to be aware of ectopic pregnancy, as this wasn’t something I had previously even heard of. 

I hope that anyone reading this who may have experienced something similar or has similar worries, feels the same support, and is reminded that they are not alone. 

Thank you to Hannah for sharing her experience with us. If you would like to share your experience of ectopic pregnancy, please visit our guide for more information.

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