Today we hear from Kristin, an HMHB Member Mama who experienced a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. Although her story is a “worst case scenario,” our intention is not to create fear. Ectopic pregnancies occur in 1-2% of all pregnancies in the United States. Our hope is to share a realistic picture and personal story of a real life situation that one mama experienced and how she healed. Kristin shares her story in her own words.
Our First Pregnancy
I got a positive pregnancy test the day before Valentine’s Day. My husband, Brad, and I had just started trying for our first, so we were pretty stoked. An October baby sounded like perfect timing. We enjoyed our romantic weekend, and I scheduled an appointment with my gynecologist for the following week.
A few nights later I fell HARD on some black ice while walking home from work. I landed on my left hip and felt my lower back seize. That night, I was up every couple of hours in pain—lower abdominal cramping and some back pain—and I was nervously visiting the bathroom often. I felt that as long as there was no blood, I could trust that my baby was fine.
My gynecologist appointment was that day and I was anxious to ask her about the lower abdominal cramping. It had to be related to my fall, right? At the appointment, she was a little concerned and ordered a blood test for hCG and had me schedule an appointment with an OB. At this point, I was 4 weeks, 6 days, and my appointment wasn’t for about 4 more weeks.
I did the blood work, and my levels weren’t doubling as they normally would. My gynecologist assured me that it was still early. She asked me to go to the lab again. Meanwhile, I was traveling for work, no one knew I was pregnant, and I was growing increasingly worried that something was wrong. I didn’t have pain or bleeding–besides one day I did have a tiny bit of brown spotting, but I read that that was normal in some pregnancies.
I got back from my work trip on a Friday to a call from the gynecologist. My hCG levels were still not rising, so she scheduled me for an ultrasound the following Monday. By now, baby would be big enough to see and they will be able to determine baby’s location and viability. That was a long weekend—no pain or anything out the ordinary, just … the waiting.
Monday, February 29 (Leap Day 2016)
I was 6 weeks 4 days. My appointment was at 10 am. Brad couldn’t come with me because he had an important client meeting, so I went by myself. The ultrasound tech was really nice, but was quiet the whole time. Afterwards, he said the radiologist would review the results and come talk to me.
The radiologist didn’t come talk to me. Instead, my gynecologist called into the room to let me know that my baby was growing in my left fallopian tube. My stomach sank as I heard her say, “it’s ectopic and the pregnancy isn’t viable.”
What happened in the next few hours is still a blur. They escorted me to the ER. My husband was by my side as soon as he could be. They admitted me immediately, even though I really wanted them to know that I wasn’t in any pain. My Google searches had told me that no pain means it hasn’t ruptured yet. We caught it at the right time, I thought.
I asked to go to the bathroom—the first time since the ultrasound, which felt like a lifetime ago by now. It felt good to pee, but that’s when the blood came. So much blood–I knew it was bad. Then the pain started, like heavy period cramping–and rapidly getting worse.
My Emergency Surgery
Back at my cot, I told them about the pain. The nurses provided pain meds and a lot of calm, reassuring phrases like, “You’re in the right place.” Doctors came to see me within minutes and determined a swift course of action—I needed surgery. I’d had surgery before, so I wasn’t nervous. I knew these doctors wouldn’t send an otherwise healthy young woman to surgery unless it was necessary. We learned later just how necessary it was.
Within 4 hours of my ultrasound, they wheeled me into surgery—but not before the anesthesiologist grilled me about what I’d had for breakfast. “Two eggs and some chicken thighs over a bed of greens, around 7 am,” I said. “Wow, that’s a lot,” he said. Yeah, man. I eat predominately Whole30, and I feel awesome. Also, I’ve been growing a human.
He was concerned that I’d had too much to eat to go in to surgery but the risk of not having surgery outweighed other factors. I looked to Brad for reassurance, and he said: “You’re gonna be great. They’re gonna make sure that you’re safe, and I’ll see you when you’re done.”
He was sort of right. I was fine, but I wasn’t great. Once I came to, I was sick and loopy from the drugs and adrenaline and stress and shock, but… I was fine. Here’s what I learned:
- Most importantly, the doctors saved my life.
- This ectopic was no indication that I couldn’t have more children.
- It wasn’t my fault and there was nothing I could have done to stop it.
- My baby implanted in the wrong place and had grown enough to rupture my tube wall without my knowledge.
- I had been bleeding for a while (days, maybe a week) without knowing it.
- This was not my fault and there was nothing I could have done to stop it.
- They had to remove my left fallopian tube but not my ovary.
- I was lucky to already be in the hospital that day. Timely healthcare is crucial to surviving ectopic pregnancies.
- This was not my fault and there was nothing I could have done to stop it.
The Healing Process
What happened in the following hours, days, weeks, months and years is not a new story to many women, but it was new to me. The aftermath of a loss like this is not just physical. It’s mental and emotional and hormonal and spiritual and familial and social and existential … and often feels endless.
There were many, many weeping tears. There were hugs and laughs and mood swings and big thick underwear pads that made me feel like I was wearing a diaper. I had anxiety and depression and grief and loneliness and weird periods. My husband also had anxiety and depression and grief and loneliness (but no weird periods for him, lucky).
But, we got through it. Brad, our families and friends … we all got through it. They felt the loss, too, and it helped me realize that I am not alone. None of us are alone. Because I shared my story, others who had also experienced loss shared. Brad shared, too, and his male colleagues and friends opened up that they and their wives, too, had lost. My female family members and friends shared, too–stories I had never known and made me want to hug them through the phone.
We are not alone. You are not alone.
I still had to grieve in my own time and in my own way. Focusing on myself helped me heal and be whole again. I was selfish in that season so that someday I could be a good mother, wife, sister, daughter, and friend. My capacity to give to other people in the months after I lost my baby was greatly diminished. I wanted to recover faster; I didn’t like feeling miserable. Eventually, I learned to give myself grace. It took some time, but now looking back on it, I did heal.
My life now
I am happy to report that our daughter, Madeleine, was born in March 2017. She’s 21 months old now–feisty and sweet and healthy. And we have another on the way! I’m 18 weeks along with our son. I hope he’s just like his dad–sweet, smart, and protective. I would not have these two if I had not lost the first, and for that, I am thankful.
If you are dealing with loss, I hope you can find camaraderie and connection with others who have similar heartaches, pains, and desires. I hope you give yourself permission to seek the help you need–whatever that looks like. Lastly, there is no official “timeline” on healing. It is your journey to take; you make the rules. And please remember: you are not alone.