Our Ectopic Pregnancy Loss: I have been struggling to find the words for this blog post. After taking a week to process my grief, care for my body after the surgery and put my thoughts onto paper, I am ready to share this experience with the My Cancer Chic community. I will start by staying that every pregnancy no matter how short is special. As women, the biological bond we form with a child begins immediately. Before we even know what the changes in our body represent, our hormones tell us that something has changed forever.
Though I only had this sweet baby within me for a few weeks, I experienced great joy and great loss that will always be a part of me. I hope that by sharing the story of our ectopic pregnancy loss, you will feel less alone in your own experience of loss and more empowered to help loved one through similarly painful experiences.
Cancer History & Fertility
For those of you who have with me throughout my cancer journey, you know I went off hormone blocking treatment in January of 2018 in hopes of getting pregnant. My period returned and we spent the last 3 months trying to make a baby. I learned to notice every small change, every smell, every feeling and every emotion in an effort to become more in tune with my body and my cycle. Despite the pressure of time and the looming 2 year limit off hormone blocking medication, we were doing our best to live in the moment. The joy of planning for a family kept us grounded and brought Mac and I closer together.
The Joy of a Positive Pregnancy Test
Last week after having some odd spotting and positive ovulation tests for over 10 days I started to get excited. I was hesitant to take a pregnancy test too early, but the butterflies circulating in the back of my mind kept telling me I was pregnant. Something just felt different. By Wednesday I was 2 days late and woke up ready to take a test. I left the house early, and bought FOUR pregnancy tests at Walgreens.
Waiting for that pee stick was the longest 3 minutes of my life. My heart was racing and somehow I already knew it would be positive. Seeing the “YES” on that tiny stick, my heart exploded with joy!!! I spent the day floating on a cloud with a goofy grin on my face all day long. The excitement of planning a surprise for Mac was the only thing that kept me grounded all day. I made him a beautiful graphic, bought a frame and spent all day thinking about the little peanut growing inside of me.
The Pregnancy Confirmed
The doctor confirmed my pregnancy with a blood test – it all felt so surreal. I couldn’t believe we had made it to this point after all the sadness we had endured. I vividly remember the days following my breast cancer diagnosis where I feared we would never reach this moment. We immediately starting planning how we would surprise our families, and welcome a baby into our lives.
The thought did cross my mind that it may be too early to tell anyone, but I will never forget a friend once telling me that waiting to tell her friends before her miscarriage robbed her of sharing that unique joy she would never get back. I knew I wanted to share this joy with a few special women who have gotten me through the darkest hours. If something were to happen (which at the time I had no fear that it would), at least I would be surrounded by my tribe. Little did I know I would need them sooner rather than later.
Warning Signs of an Ectopic Pregnancy
Thursday around 4:45pm, a wave of pain washed over me. The pain was so similar to another experience in early May that I almost brushed it off as gas pains, another long term side effect of cancer. With the recent pregnancy news though, my panic took over. My heart rate skyrockets, I began to shake and sweat dripped down my face. It took me about 20-30 minutes to calm down and I slowly crept to the car as the pain ebbed and flowed.
That night the pain lessened and we were more and more inclined to think it was gas pains. I had nothing to compare the pain to other than stomach issues and I had no idea that these were warning signs of an ectopic pregnancy. We were in contact with the doctor and scheduled to see her the next morning for routine tests. The words concern and possible problems circulated, but I pushed them from my mind. As long as the pain remained stable I was in the clear.
Ectopic Pregnancy – It’s Not Just Gas!!!
Friday morning, we were up early heading to the beach for my mother in law’s wedding. Filled with excitement, we made a quick stop at the doctor for my second HCG test and decided to forgo the ultrsounds because my pain had lessened. Embracing our favorite fertility nurse who has been with us since my cancer diagnosis made the pregnancy seem so real. Joy enveloped us and there was no hint of fear.
Shortly into the ride, my pain returned worse than ever and once again the panic set in. I could barely walk to and from the rest stop and sat dizzy on a bench. Though doubled over in waves of pain, I kept holding onto hope that it was just gas. We made it to a Walgreens to get medicine and as I was waiting at the counter talking to the pharmacist, my phone rang.
Dropping HCG Levels
Instead of the nurse on the other line, I was met with the sympathetic voice of my fertility specialist. Her tone said it all. Something was wrong. She informed me that my HCG had dropped from 189 to 139 when it should have doubled. She was concerned that the dropping HCG in combination with the pain may be evidence of an ectopic pregnancy, which could be life-threatening. If the pain returned or worsened in anyway, I was instructed to go to the ER immediately.
My Heart Shattered
I blindly stumbled to the car and promptly shattered into a thousand pieces. It felt like all the air had been sucked from my lungs and my body was collapsing. Ectopic pregnancy… I knew what it meant, but couldn’t process the words. The embryo had implanted in the wrong place. I could not bare the emotional pain and tried to hold onto hope. A part of me already knew something was very wrong with my baby and there was nothing I could do. Mac held me in his arms and I sobbed uncontrollably. Every fiber of my being seemed to be dissolving – I hurt beyond repair.
Pregnancy Loss – Surround Yourself With Love
So thankful for those I had told about the pregnancy days before, I texted my girlfriends for support. Of course there was nothing anyone could say to relieve the pain and fear but lines of communication kept me from drowning in panic. I immediately felt the love around.
The rest of the drive to the beach was a blur. We stopped for food and I clung to Mac unsure of myself, my ability to walk, constantly wondering if we should drop everything and rush to the hospital. The pain was still present but more dull. This is embarrassing to say now, but I was afraid of going to the hospital and finding out it was all just constipation. At the time, I had no idea that these signs are common in ectopic pregnancies.
You Know Your Body Best
When we arrived at the beach condo, a new wave of pain took over. This wave was worse than the others. Every minute I sat in pain I thought more of the ectopic pregnancy fears. The panic was unbearable. I collapsed to the floor, unable to move paralyzed by panic and pain. Mac held me, wiped cool towels on my body and whispered in my ear as we waited for the ambulance to arrive. Knowing the ambulance was on the way brought me a great sense of comfort. I may be broken and shattered emotionally, but they would take care of my body. Professionals could “fix” this.
Non-Viable Ectopic Pregnancy
Blood tests, urine tests and an horrifically painful ultrasound later we heard the dreaded words, “non-viable pregnancy”. Once again I slipped away from this word. Overcome with emotion and physical pain I gasped for breath. It felt like those words alone had ripped my child away from me. 24 hours before I had been over the moon, planning for our child and now I felt the doors of motherhood slamming in my face. Would I ever be a mother again? Could I get pregnant moving forward? How would I survive this emotional pain and live day to day? I wanted to curl up and die as these emotions coursed through my veins. It was a visceral reaction unlike anything I had ever experienced.
Ectopic Pregnancy Treatment
The ultrasounds showed liquid outside my uteras that could be ruptured fluid, so instead of using a chemical treatment such as methotrexate, I was told I would have laparoscopic surgery. If not for the morphine I don’t know how I could have processed this news. With my pain under control, survival took over. A ruptured ectopic pregnancy can be life-threatening and I knew this is what needed to happen to keep me safe.
By midnight I was drugged up and wheeled into surgery, somehow with a smile on my face. My stomach was filled with gas and they went in to remove the ectopic pregnancy as well as my damaged right Fallopian tube. The doctors informed us that was better to remove the damaged tube to help minimize risk of future ectopic pregnancies. This alone gave me some sense of comfort talking about the possibility of future pregnancies. The body is truly an amazing thing, and I now have to trust my body to heal.
There is No Right Way to Handle Loss
I spent a lot of time following the surgery thinking about how on earth I would recovery and carry on. Cancer knocked me down before, but nothing prepared me for the emotional pain and devastation of a pregnancy loss, never mind the ectopic surgery. Despite an army of love surrounding me, I felt alone in my grief unable to see hope for the future. No one, not even my caring and loving husband understood the grief in my heart. One minute I would be crying, the next I was smiling. Each smile was followed with guilt for experiencing even a minute joy after the loss of a child. My mind was filled with expectations for how I should be handling this horrific experience. My therapist reminded me – “There is no right way to handle loss. However you handle it is exactly right for you”. It’s taking time to internalize that perspective, but I am getting there.
Drawing on Past Struggles
I tried to think back to my cancer diagnosis and the days that followed. If only I could remember how I made it through. What got me through those horrific moments of fear and sadness? The tear-filled nights of anxiety and pain following chemo? Little by little I realized no one thing got me through that pain. It was the small routines of life, the day to to day steps towards physical recovery and sharing my pain with others that helped me begin to heal.
Each and every day I got up, and every night I went to sleep. It did not mean the sadness, and fear was gone. It just became a part of me. With time, that part of me lessened, but I had to learn to accept. I assume the same will be true with this loss. I never imagined I would have an ectopic pregnancy, but now it’s a part of my story.
Surviving is Recovering
Recovery is an odd word because it makes us think the pain is gone. It makes us think we are completely healed and disconnected from the awful experience. In reality recovery is just surviving one moment at a time for a long time until the joy begins to outweigh the sadness In time surviving can transition to thriving, but after cancer that took me a lot of hard work, reflection and self-care. It didn’t happen over night. I am sure the same will be true as I rebuild myself after pregnancy loss.
One Day at a Time
I will take it one day at a time, embracing each and every emotion that I feel. My tribe will continue to surround me with love and kindness and I desperately hold onto our hope for the future. We will try again and we will deepen our love for each other and our future family. This experience will not destroy me.
Little by little I will rebuild, heal and become stronger than ever. Not only will I have new immense sense of gratitude and love for the child we someday welcome into this world, but I will have the strength and resilience to raise a child who is able to thrive in the face of adversity every single day. If you are in your own moments of darkness, do not give up hope. You are not alone in your grief and I send you comfort and love in hopes that one day you pain will lessen.
If you are looking for more information about ectopic pregnancy, I found this website very informative and comforting.