We are incredibly grateful to Erin, Oli, and their son William who have challenged themselves to walk, run and cycle 150 miles during April. They are passionate about raising awareness and sponsorship and have beautifully documented their challenge progress. The challenge is giving them a positive focus after their traumatic ectopic experience. It is reassuring to know that Erin found our forums and they provided a space for her in her darkest hours.
Our second pregnancy was long-awaited but unexpected. We couldn’t quite believe it but every test said “Pregnant”. We calculated how far along I was, reconsidered holiday dates, felt our lives start to shift around this new person who would be coming to join us in eight months. I started to feel a bit fatigued and was off my food. I’d been dead on my feet and sick as a dog with our son four years earlier; I mentioned to Oli in passing how the symptoms didn’t feel as strong this time around.
And then there was blood. Brown and thin, just the tiniest smear really. But three days later it was still there, without fail, every time I went to the toilet, and then the pain on my right side started. Sharp and sudden, it took my breath away, I had to go and lie down. Eventually it passed to a dull stitch-like ache. The blood kept up. So I rang 111, who told me to go to A&E where I sat alone, masked, for hours, just to be told that I was too early along to be scanned. They took my blood, confirmed my hCG was high and so I was definitely pregnant, but sent me home to wait out the ten days or so until I would calculate at seven weeks and could come into the Early Pregnancy Unit to be scanned.
And for those ten days I continued to bleed that watery, brown blood. I continued to ache on my right side. But I continued to feel my pregnancy symptoms, even if they were more muted than they’d been with my son, so I held on to hope that I wasn’t going to miscarry. I scoured the internet looking for hope, other women who’d bled and pained all through their first trimester and gone on to have healthy pregnancies and children; that’s when I came across The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust’s website. And as I read and absorbed the information I felt a chill – so much of what was described here was what was happening to me.
I went to the seven week scan. Oli was allowed to come into the room with me. The technician looked so hard, I could feel through the wand just how much she didn’t want to give up that there was a sac there somewhere. But eventually she withdrew the wand without turning the monitor to me and said she was sorry, there was nothing in the uterus, and it didn’t look like there was anything in the tubes either. I went to have my bloods taken again – they said they would take them every 48 hours to make sure my hCG dropped, otherwise I’d have to come back in for further investigation.
The next night I started to bleed in earnest. And I was relieved. This was the miscarriage I’d been dreading, but I’d been dreading needing any sort of medical or surgical intervention more. I rang the Early Pregnancy Unit and told them I was bleeding. They told me to take a pregnancy test in three weeks’ time and come back if it still said Pregnant.
It was more than a week before the bleeding stopped. The food aversions and nausea slipped away. We put our positive pregnancy tests away in a little box. And then, a few days later, I was working and rocked back in my office chair – it felt like I’d been stabbed, on that same right side. I ran to the bathroom. I was bleeding again, but this time it was bright red, like I’d just cut my arm. The pain was so awful I was doubled over. I drove myself to A&E. I begged them to help me, to scan me. I said repeatedly I feared it was a ruptured ectopic. I lay out all the reasons why I suspected it. They kept me in a side room on a straight backed chair for seven hours. I paced and rocked through the pain like it was early labour, watching the clock and popping paracetamol at every opportunity.
The A&E gynaecologist came in and out. She listened to me but she didn’t seem convinced. I asked her to examine me because I was sure that the red blood I was bleeding wasn’t normal in relation to a miscarriage. She didn’t – she told me that a wide range of bleeding and pain was “normal” in baby loss. They were waiting for that night’s blood tests to come back to confirm I was still “pregnant” but there was a delay. I begged them to let me do a urine test, which turned positive straight away. Again, I asked them to scan me and she said they didn’t have the keys to the ultrasound rooms.
At 3am the gynaecologist returned and told me to go home. I was stunned. She said she’d finally received a copy of my seven week scan and it showed her that I had last ovulated from my left hand ovary and so it was “very, very, very unlikely” that my right hand side pain was due to an ectopic pregnancy. “You don’t need to be in hospital,” she said. “You’re not in dire straits.” She told me to medicate with over-the-counter painkillers, hot water bottles and bedrest. “Unfortunately, miscarrying is painful,” she told me, with a shrug. Then she told me to call the Early Pregnancy Unit after the weekend and go back under their care until they could confirm my hCG was down to negative. In a daze I left the hospital and drove myself home in the dark.
The next night my right Fallopian tube ruptured. The whole night is a bit of a daze. I remember being on my bed on my hands and knees groaning through the pain. I was so gaslighted by what the doctor had said to me I just considered it a miscarriage, and pressed a lukewarm hot water bottle against the intensity of the pain. In the morning I got up with my little son, went through the motions of my Sunday, the pain in my side now reduced to a sluggish throb.
On Monday morning, I went to the Early Pregnancy Unit for another blood test. But the nurse couldn’t get a vein. She sent me away to have a walk, have a drink. But nothing. My blood pressure was through the floor. She started asking me about what had gone on at the weekend and her face turned more and more alarmed as I recounted my symptoms. She disappeared for a while and the next thing I knew I was back in the sonogram room where I’d received that bad news weeks earlier. And there it was – right up by my right ovary. I’d been internally bleeding for days at this point and (after a hurried Covid test and a hyperventilating call placed to Oli) I was immediately rushed to surgery. I cried and cried as they put the oxygen mask on me. I’d somehow known this is where we were going to end up. I couldn’t help but focus on the thought that if I’d been listened to earlier I could have saved my tube, although of course, not the baby.
The next day I came home, a little bit sore, a lot heartsore. I was straight back on The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust website for details on what to expect going forward. I scrolled through the forums when my head kept me awake at night. Knowing that I could call the helpline and speak to someone about how I was feeling and get answers to my many, many questions quietened my anxiety. But I was still so angry about what had happened to me and I didn’t want to talk about it aside from with closest friends and family.
Eventually, I realised something. If I’d had a ruptured appendix, I’d have had no problem shouting from the rooftops about the trauma I’d been through. Why was the fact it involved pregnancy and baby loss stopping me from doing that? If anything, it was more important to speak up. I kept thinking that if I had only had one friend who had experienced an ectopic pregnancy to speak to back when I had my early suspicions, I might not have felt so alone, I might have had more strength to push further with the medical professionals who kept telling me to go home and wait and see what happened. I hope that one day I can be that experienced friend for someone else.
Giving something back
So Oli and I decided we wanted to both raise awareness about ectopic pregnancy and give back to the charity that had underpinned and supported our experience. As a family of three we decided to walk (or run or cycle, as opportunity arose!) a collective 150 miles around our full-time jobs during the 30 days of April. Given we are with our little son (who stops to pick up every stick, examine every bug, kick over every mound of earth) for the majority of the time, this is a real challenge! We opened up about what had happened on our social media and the outpouring of love and support was amazing. Friends who I’d never known had experienced baby loss reached out and we grieved together. We had a £300 fundraising target – as I’m writing this, halfway through April, we are on £1,420 and counting.
It means a lot to us to both be able to honour our lost child while we give back to a charity and a community that has given so much to us; The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust simply needs to be around to do exactly that for many other women and families in the future, and it will always be a cause close to our hearts.