Friday, 14 October 2011
Ectopic Pregancy - Baby Loss Awareness Week - My Story
I have wanted to write a post about my experience of ectopic pregnancy for some time and when I found out that it was Baby Loss Awareness Week this week it seemed a perfect time to get on and do it. This week is organised by various charities that deal with different types of baby loss including The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust and it culminates in International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day on 15th October. For more information on the week and the various fundraising events or to buy a ribbon then click on the image above.
I want to write this to help in my own small way to raise awareness of ectopic pregnancy which although a relatively common condition (1 in 80 pregnancies is ectopic), gets very little coverage or awareness. I had no idea what one was until it happened to me and I was completely unaware of it. ALL women of childbearing age should be mad aware of it as even now in the 21st century women die from it -approximately 5 die in the UK every year - this is completely preventable. The following information has been taken from the Ectopic Pregnancy Trust press pack - the full version can be seen here.
So what is an ectopic pregnancy? It is a pregnancy which is implanted outside the uterus. The most common site for ectopic pregnancy implantation is in the fallopian tube, which transports the egg from the ovary to the uterus. As the pregnancy grows and enlarges it causes pain and bleeding and in extreme cases the tube can rupture and cause internal haemorrhaging.
What are the symptoms? Any sexually active woman of childbearing age with the following symptoms may be suspected of having an ectopic pregnancy: abdominal pain, shoulder tip-pain, abnormal or unusual bleeding, a missed or late period, bladder or bowel problems or collapse.
How is it treated? Ectopic Pregnancies cannot be saved. However, if early diagnosis can be achieved, and the appropriate facilities available, then less invasive surgery – or no surgery at all – can be used to manage the condition. Early diagnosis and good care reduces trauma and improves future fertility.
What causes it? The most common cause is damage to the fallopian tube causing blockage or narrowing so the eggs cannot be wafted into the womb. This damage can be as a result of any previous abdominal surgery or condition such as a Caesarean section, Appendicitis, Endometriosis, Chlamydia or from other pelvic infections. In many instances the cause is unknown.
So what happened to me? Well it was back in February 2004 and we had just moved out of London to our little house in the country - something we had wanted for some time and we had decided that once we moved we would start trying for a baby. We celebrated the move with a holiday to Malaysia and Jordan (we were both in travel so long-haul holidays at that time were quite common for us).
We were about 5 days into the holiday and had reached Penang for our beachy bit of the holiday and we were staying in a lovely hotel by the beach. One afternoon I was in the bathroom and felt awful - pain in my stomach and I felt very faint - I found out I was bleeding. I thought maybe it was an early period due to the disruption of travel and moving house. The bleeding and pain continued and I passed some quite large clots of blood - I did think this was odd and thought maybe it was signs of a very very early miscarriage (I hadn't thought I was pregnant, but it was possible). This went on for a couple of days and then I felt better so we carried on with our holiday. I didn't contact the doctors as I just didn't want to see a foreign doctor in Malaysia if I could help it and as I said it seemed to be getting better.
We then set off on the next leg of the holiday - to Jordan in the Middle East - I felt a bit odd at the airport but again by the time we got there I felt OK. We were only staying in Jordan for about 4 nights so I knew it wasn't long before we got home and I planned to go and see the doctor at home. We went to Petra which involved quite a bit of walking and I was getting some twinges and bleeding a little bit on and off but I took it easy and we carried on. After a visit to the Dead Sea we finally got the flight home. It wasn't until we got home and I was having a bath that I began to feel very odd again - pains and feeling faint.
I don't know what made me say that I thought we needed to go to A+E straight away rather than waiting for the doctor the next day but I am very glad I did. We arrived at the Royal Surrey late in the evening and they were excellent. I cannot remember exactly what happened - they did lots of tests and I do remember one lady saying 'congratulations you're pregnant' to me but I knew deep down that something was badly wrong and congratulations was probably not what was on the cards. I was soon installed on the women's general ward with more tests, and scans (including internal ones). Quite bizarre really that the first time I experienced a scan was not to see a baby but to establish whether there was one there or not. They couldn't see one and my blood tests also indicated that the pregnancy was not right (they test levels of hormones which rise differently in an ectopic pregnancy compared to a normal one).
I was wheeled down to surgery shaking and crying but knowing it had to happen. After I came round the doctors told me that I had been very lucky as I was very close to the tube rupturing which could well have killed me but they had managed to remove the ectopic pregnancy and had mended the tube, not removed it. I remember having mixed feelings about this as although this meant it would be easier to get pregnant again, it also increased the possibility of another ectopic pregnancy.
After a few days recovery I went home not really knowing what to feel. I didn't feel the same sense of loss as women who know they are pregnant and then lose babies but at the same stage I had still lost one (even if it was never going to have survived where it was). I was also immensely grateful to be alive. At that time I had not discovered the Ectopic Pregnancy Trust, although my husband had and I think he was more aware than I how relatively lucky we were. Over the next few weeks and months I found the forums on the Ectopic Pregnancy Trust an immense amount of support, I cried buckets at other people's stories and once again realised both what I had been through and what terrible hurt and pain others were going through. I searched for answers to 'why me' but never really found that one as mine was unexplained.
After about 3 or 4 months we tentatively started to try again. I was now very scared of getting pregnant in case it happened again but at the same time it had made me really really want a child. We were exceptionally lucky and I fell pregnant very quickly but I did not want to celebrate until I knew it was all OK. With the support of the Ectopic Pregnancy Trust I realised that I had to ask for an early scan to check the embryo was in the correct place. I visited my GP as soon as I could and explained this, she was lovely but said that this was very unusual and I remember shaking at the thought that this might not happen. I requested that I be put down for the Royal Surrey again as I realised they knew my medical history (most women in my area go to Portsmouth) and I was hugely relieved when I got a call the next day saying that the Royal Surrey wanted me to go for an early scan as soon as possible. This goes to show though that women need to be aware of this and you do have to ask.
I was shaking at the scan a couple of days later. I remembered the last time when I had had one and I really didn't want to go through all that again. Thankfully the embryo was in the correct place and I literally cried with relief. I went on to give birth to my beautiful eldest daughter after a relatively uneventful pregnancy. Realising what could have happened made me much more fearful during my pregnancy and I worried about everything that might happen and I was not truly happy until I held her in my arms. I think had I not had an ectopic pregnancy I would not have worried to nearly the same extent.
I have since been blessed with an equally beautiful second daughter and my husband and I count ourselves very very lucky not to have gone through this again as many people who have had an ectopic pregnancy do go on and have another ectopic (but equally you may not). Once again with my second child I requested an early scan and to the surprise of my GP I got one again (thanks to the Royal Surrey who are brilliant) and again I never really relaxed during my pregnancy but that is a small price to pay for two gorgeous girls.
On this Baby Loss Awareness Day I will be reflecting how lucky I am compared to thousands and thousands of women who lose babies in the womb and when very young in far more traumatic circumstances than mine. My heart goes out to them as I cannot even imagine the grief that some people go through. I would also like to make more women aware of ectopic pregnancy and the symptoms in the hope that with more awareness less lives are lost, we may not be able to save the babies who start this way but we can save women's lives. Thank you for reading so far on rather a long post.