early pregnancy complications: My Experience of Ectopic Pregnancy
This is my experience of early pregnancy complications. This happened to me this time last year when I was in a very different situation. I really did not know that these things could happen to you in pregnancy or I hadn’t contemplated them happening to me. I hope my experience will help others as I was very shocked so little is known or really spoken about regarding this topic.
I will tell it as it was so please be aware of this, and apologies if it’s too much information.
We had been trying for a baby although not too seriously. I was tracking my periods and was aware of when ovulation was etc. We were going by a ‘wait and see’ basis.
Anyway, January last year I knew when my period was due. And funny enough it came. However, it wasn’t right and I had a niggling feeling that it wasn’t right and I wasn’t supposed to be having one. The period was lighter than normal, and looked different – it was pinky/orangey red. I had period pains which were usual for me. I put my feelings down to disappointment that I had my period and carried on for the rest of the weekend. But there was a niggling feeling in the back of my mind that I was pregnant. I looked online (a dangerous thing to do in any situation) and on conception forums. Thoughts going through my mind after looking at these sites were that it could be implantation bleeding, perhaps I really was pregnant. Or perhaps a ‘chemical’ pregnancy – in that it ended before it really began. Thoughts raced through my mind and I was confused about what was happening.
On the Monday I went to work, and I felt pretty lousy. I had terrible period pains, across my back, and I was almost doubled over in pain at work. I went home early in the afternoon, and I do not know why but on the way home I stopped and bought a pregnancy test. I just needed to know one way or the other – I thought I would prove to myself I wasn’t pregnant.
Later that evening I took the test at home. It was a digital test and as I saw the egg timer flash away I was sure it would say ‘not pregnant’. But it didn’t – it said ‘Pregnant 1-2 weeks’.
I was shocked. I was scared. I didn’t know what the hell was happening!
My partner asked me what was wrong. I showed him the test. He was shocked too. I explained to him what was going on, and that I wasn’t sure if this was a ‘proper’ pregnancy or not.
When you see it on a pregnancy test it is very hard not to start thinking about it. A baby. 9 months. When would it be due? My partner was getting excited about the news. I felt worried and unsure. Why was I bleeding if this was what was happening?
Something Not Right
I carried on as normal at work although it was very hard to concentrate, I hadn’t tell a soul apart from my partner and my sister. She was great and helped to reassure me. I also confided in a friend who was a midwife in a different part of the country. I asked her what I should do. This was the first time I realised that early pregnancy is a big unknown – my friend said she didn’t really know much until it was further on (8-12 weeks when booking happens) and that if I get worried to go to the GP. I had always assumed that midwives knew about these things and would be able to help me, I hadn’t realised that they didn’t get involved this early on. She said I could call the midwives and see if I could be seen by early pregnancy unit. I had no idea there was one, and so looked this up – it said on the website that they were referral only. I called the midwives and they were not very useful to be honest. Instead of giving me advice I was told that I was ‘very early pregnancy’ and these things sometime happen. The woman on the phone booked me in for an appointment with the midwife and an educational session for when you are 8 weeks pregnant. She told me to call GP with any issues.Although I knew something wasn’t right I was confused about where to get help and support, and also a bit of me wondered if I was making a bit of a fuss.
The week went on, and by this time I was about 4-4.5 weeks pregnant. My sister had come to see me for the weekend, and during the weekend the bleeding had stopped. I felt much happier and started to feel a bit positive. However on the sunday the bleeding started again. It was redder and clotty at times. It was not very heavy but it was continuous – every time I went to the loo (this was a lot – you start to become very obsessional) every time I wiped there was blood. I couldn’t sleep at night and dared not move at night in bed. I got up every few hours to go to the loo and every time I felt heartbroken when there was more blood. I was really confused and lost as to what to do. On the Monday I called in sick from work. I called my GP surgery who were very nice and I was booked into the end of the morning surgery with a woman GP who specialised in fertility/family planning. Being there was a major relief. I had to wait a few hours to be seen but as soon as I went in to see the GP I explained everything and I felt so much better. The GP was lovely and very helpful. She examined my stomach, took my BP and filled out the form I needed to attend the early pregnancy unit. The GP advised me to get there early the next day and that they would assess me and possibly scan me (using an internal ultrasound). Most of all she was very nice, reassuring and she believed me. I suddenly felt that this was all real. She also told me that this does sometimes happen in perfectly normal pregnancies.
However as soon as I left the GP I went to the loo and a massive amount of bright red blood was there in the loo. I felt in despair and didn’t know what was happening to me.
The Early Pregnancy Unit
The next day my partner and I went to the early pregnancy unit at 8.30am. I hadn’t slept and just needed answers. The early pregnancy unit is at the local hospital. It runs a ‘first come, first served’ type of service and it only runs in the morning. When I got there, there was already three people ahead of me and the clinic didn’t open until 9am. We gave our names and started to wait.
About an hour later we were seen my a midwife. She was lovely and asked me all the details – the dates of period, pregnancy test etc. She wrote this in a set of notes. She told me I would be having a scan and needed to go and wait outside, and to drink water so my bladder was full.
And then I had to wait again. There were all sorts of people in the room and priority for a scan all depended on what the midwives assessed, Some people were from the ward which was attached to the clinic and went in for their scan. I can’t remember how long I waited to have the scan but it was likely 30mins-45mins. When I was in the room I was highly anxious. I know I needed to have an internal scan and not having had one before I wondered what it would be like. The sonographer was a woman and whilst she was perfectly OK she was rather ‘clinical’ and without emotion. In hindsight it must be the worst days she has being in that unit.
I got undressed from the waist down (I had worn leggings and a dress so I felt a bit more dignified) and the scan began. I couldn’t see the screen but my partner could. There was an eery silence and the sonographer looked at the screen and moved the scanner around inside me. it was uncomfortable but not painful. She kept asking me if it hurt in certain places and I said it didn’t.
In the end she said that she couldn’t really see anything, and that it could/could not be an ectopic pregnancy. I would need another scan in a week to be sure either way. I wasn’t sure what to think about this although a small part of me was clinging to the ‘it may be alright’.
Once I was dressed again We had to wait outside again, to see the midwife again. Again I can’t remember how long this took but it was some time. The midwife explained to me what was happening and took some bloods from me as well to look for my HCG levels – this is the pregnancy hormone which should double in numbers every 48 hours. From what I understood from the midwife, the HCG level in ectopic pregnancy can be too high. If the numbers doubled, then it was looking like the pregnancy was going on normally. The unit would call me in 48 hours with the results of the test.
To say it was nerve-wracking and anxious throughout this 48 hours is an understatement. I was still bleeding and now had a back ache which I used a hot water bottle and some paracetamol for. I had gone back to work and then came home again as I was feeling unwell and anxious. I lay on the sofa and just wondered what was happening to me. I felt so miserable – no pregnancy should be like this. I was worried about whether or not it was ectopic and the leaflet they gave me about ‘pregnancy of an unknown location’ was not reassuring for me. Most of all, I didn’t trust my own body; it wasn’t my own and I didn’t understand what was happening inside it.
The next day the call came – My HCG result was low, but it had doubled. Just to be on the safe side they asked me to come in on the Monday for another scan. However the midwife on the phone sounded positive. I was reassured by this – it meant things appeared to be going normally – it meant that perhaps things were alright after all. I was concerned about the result being low but looked online again (I know, baaad idea!) and it said that it didn’t really mean much about numbers as long as they doubled. And so I began to feel positive.
On the Monday I went to the scan with my partner. We were both very nervous but I was feeling better and even the bleeding had practically stopped or was very faint. I thought that this was the start of looking forward. We had to go again, wait again, and this time there were lots of people there. The clinic was very full and we had to wait a long time to be seen. We saw the midwife first and then waited for the scan. Having the internal this time, I was shaking. The sonographer took a very long time to say anything, the longer it was, the longer my hope ebbed away. My partner could see the screen and he was looking worried. She asked me if I was in pain in certain places but I wasn’t. She seemed confused by this. Eventually she told us in her clinical manner that it looked like the pregnancy was ectopic and that I would be taken to a room to wait in to be seen when they would explain what would happen next. So then we were taken to a relatives room. This was not good news. Panic overtook me and I wondered what on earth was going to happen to me. I called work and explained what was happening, and I told my sister. We waited in the relatives room for a long time – 45 mins – it transpired that the midwives were looking for me and hadn’t been told we were in the relatives room!
We saw the midwife again and I must say they were all so lovely, comforting and sympathetic. Bloods were taken from me as they needed to find out HCG levels before deciding what to do. We waited again in the main waiting room and were given a cup of tea. I was told the bloods could take 2 hours to come back. By this time the clinic was finished and we were the only ones there. Disbelief was engulfing me as well as fear of what was going to happen to me now.
All of a sudden a midwife told me to follow them. We walked down to the ward area and I was told to sit on a bed. I was weighed, my blood pressure taken, lots of questions were asked about my health and personal details. I suddenly looked down to find a patient ID band on my wrist. All of a sudden I realised I was admitted. I was a patient on a ward. As a nurse myself and never having been a patient in hospital before, I found this a surreal experience, being on the other side.
I suddenly realised when the nurse on the ward was talking to me about DVT and what I had eaten or drank today – I might have to have an operation. AN OPERATION. panic was really setting in now.I’d never been a patient on a ward before let alone have a general anesthetic. I also didn’t have anything with me other than the clothes I was wearing. My partner was very supportive and he then went to get some things for me (luckily we didn’t live too far away from the hospital) as well to call his mum and my sister.
I was in a trance, I’d gone from hoping everything was OK to suddenly the situation changing and being a patient and needing treatment. The ward I was on was full of older ladies who were having ovaries or wombs removed, I presumed due to cancer and such conditions. I lay on the bed and didn’t know what to do with myself. No-one had really explained what was happening or what was going to happen. I just knew I had to stay where I was until someone told me something.
My partner came back about an hour later, and I changed into some PJ’s – that’s what you do when you’re in hospital, I remember thinking. It was very frustrating not knowing what to do, and not having any information. The thought of an operation terrified me.
It was late afternoon by the time a doctor came to see me. She told me the scans and blood tests indicated an ectopic pregnancy near to my right ovary. I needed treatment and there were a few options. As my blood results were low, it looked as if the cells were starting to die and break down. This meant that I could go home and see how it went for 48 hours although there was always a chance of it rupturing. The second option was surgery to remove the fallopian tube – however as my HCG level was low it was felt this wasn’t neccessarily the right option for me. The third option was to have an injection of a very powerful drug called methotrexate which would take all the folic acid out of my body causing the cells to break down and die.
The doctor was very nice and explained to me that the pregnancy was never viable and never really was a ‘true’ pregnancy as being outside the womb it wouldn’t have developed properly. In a way this was reassuring. It was afterwards I began to think about this description and how I felt about it.
I decided to have the injection of methotrexate. There were side effects which were fully explained to me. It’s a powerful drug and sickness was a big side effect as well as tiredness. I couldn’t go home without some sort of resolution and I was terrified of an operation or of going home and collapsing. It was also explained to me that I wouldn’t be able to try for another baby or take folic acid for three months afterwards as methotrexate affects all your cells and could affect a pregnancy such as deformities etc if you got pregnant within three months of taking it. At the time I was OK with this – I didn’t want to think about pregnancy again and I just wanted this nightmare to be over.
As I was given the injection into my thigh, I felt loss, relief, sadness all at once. Most of all I just wanted to go home.
I ended up walking home as I said before I lived near the hospital, in my pyjamas. When I got home my parents and sister were waiting for me. It was when I got home I started to cry – I hadn’t cried all day. I cried and cried. I felt cheated, I felt conned, by body had fooled me and I was angry with it. Why couldnt it have done what it was supposed to do? Now here I was, in the aftermath. I had a sicknote and was off for at least 2 weeks. The midwives told me that it was ‘cruel’ that the HCG results had doubled normally giving me some false hope. I felt the whole thing had been a disaster and that was the cruellest thing of all. Now I was asking myself – What was I going to do now?
Afterwards I was lucky as I didnt have as many of the side effects of the medication as I was told. I was very tired and lethargic, and felt pretty lousy. Emotionally it hit me the day after; I felt alone, sad, cheated. My dreams had been shattered and I was confused and upset that my body could do this to me. I was eager to get better so that it would all be over. It was very hard for my partner too; he had to go to work; he didnt have time off which meant he didnt have time to come to terms with things and I didnt have any support during the day. I kept thinking about what the Doctor had said at the hospital – this hadnt been a real pregnancy. But to me, it had been, and it had been very real. I kept thinking about the baby I knew I could never have. Even it it had been a bunch of cells, it was still something of mine and my partners. Overall it was the promise of something so lovely and exciting that had been taken away from me that hurt the most. It also hurt as the due date would have been around my birthday.
I bled a few days after having the injection and this lasted for about a week. Once this had happened I had my first period again about 4 weeks after I had this bleed. I had to keep going to the early pregnancy unit for blood tests to test my HCG levels to make sure they were dropping. Going back to the clinic was very hard and it was difficult sitting in there with other people, some going through what I had some weeks before, and others getting the good news I never had. After 3 weeks my HCG was less than 10 and I was discharged from the unit. One thing I would say is that I didnt really feel when I was discharged a lot of information was given to me. I was told not to take any folic acid for at least three months and not to get pregnant for at least 3 months. And that was that. By this time I was feeling that I wanted to try for another baby but as I couldnt I felt frustrated.However in hindsight I needed this time to grieve, to reflect and to get healthy again. I put my mind to getting fitter, losing weight and ensuring I was eating a balanced diet with lots of vitamins and minerals in. I focussed on getting as healthy as I could so that when I could try again, I would be ready.
It is very odd for me to be thinking about all of this now, when I am three weeks away from having a baby. You see I got pregnant exactly three months after having the methotrexate injection – literally the first moment I could. And it was positive. i had to take a stronger dose of folic acid to ensure I had enough in my system. However this time around everything has been OK. I will write another post about my early pregnancy experiences with this pregnancy as you can imagine I was rather terrified to be pregnant again so soon and very worried that it would all happen again.
Although my experience was terrifying for me, I know I was lucky. I didn’t need to have an operation and my fallopian tubes are still intact, although I am unsure whether any permanent damage has been caused. They didn’t talk to me about future pregnancy, any long term damange caused by an ectopic or what to do if you get pregnant again – as I said I will post again with what happened to me this time around.
What I would say to anyone reading this, is that I do feel that not enough is told to us about early pregnancy, what complications there could be and what you need to do to get help. If I hadn’t taken that pregnancy test that day I could have assumed this was a normal period and I dread to think what could have happened. I didn’t realise that 1 in 10 pregnancies are ectopic, and I didn’t really understand what ectopic pregnancy was. I didn’t realise I had one and a lot of the descriptions of ectopic pregnancy online did not really cover what happened to me. One source of help and support to me whilst I recovered was The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust. Their information and forums were a source of essential information to me and I wish that I had known about them sooner. Their explanations of the treatment and what happens after you have an ectopic, were very informative. It helped me to come to terms with what happened to me when I was at home recovering.
If you feel you have any issues in early pregnancy, speak to your GP or call an early pregnancy unit who can tell you how to get referred. In early pregnancy the thing that matters most is your health and you – really serious things can happen and if you have any feeling at all that something is not right, get some help.
But please remember that there are positives and things do work out – look at me now, almost a year to the day, when I am due my baby who I am very much looking forward to meeting after all this time.