It Happened to Me: I Had An Ectopic Pregnancy

After struggling to get pregnant, I had to have a misplaced pregnancy surgically removed. When looking for comfort, I found reasons to be angry, and reasons to be persistent.
Publish date:
April 26, 2013
grieving, pregnancy, loss, grief, ectopic pregnancy

I saw the circle with a dot inside.

After weeks of rising hcg levels and blank ultrasounds, I saw the dot of an embryo. After almost two years of trying to get that dot, I saw it.

"What's that?" I asked the ultrasound technician, even though I knew.

She put her hand on my knee and said, "It's ectopic, honey, I'm so sorry."

"Fuck," I said, and put my hand over my eyes and looked away. The tears began. "Fuck."

"There's the heartbeat," she said quietly, instinctively.

I didn't look.

She started talking about surgery. "This is your life, sweetie," she said. I was lucky, because it hadn't ruptured yet.

Everything moved in slow motion. A nurse came in who remembered me from almost exactly a year ago, when I had an early miscarriage. I kept crying. The doctor came in and hugged me.

I text messaged those who were waiting and watching for this little dot along with me.

In a cloud, I walked out through the waiting room full of couples and pregnant women.

A month prior, I saw two lines on a pregnancy test. It felt unreal and cruel, as had so many parts of this reproductive journey. I was spotting. Sometimes more than spotting, with cramping and painful bloating. But my numbers looked OK, and the doctor told me to be "cautiously optimistic." They just couldn't find the dot on the ultrasound screen.

I went in for ultrasounds and appointments, only to hear the swishing of a baby's heartbeat in the exam room next to me.

And when they did find my dot, it was growing. It had a heartbeat. But I couldn't keep it.

I checked in to the hospital, and a nice old woman asked me a list of questions. She told me about her brother and sister-in-law, who had a surprise baby after ten years of infertility. People always tell you some variation of this story.

In the waiting room I picked up the newspaper. I read the comics. Andy, my husband, quickly walked past the waiting area, not knowing where he was going, and I looked up, waiting for him to come back. He did, and we just sat.

In pre-op, everything was foreign, like some sterile Narnia behind the waiting room door. Giant socks, a plastic-paper dress, blood draws, injections, an IV and paperwork to sign. What did I want to do with the fetal remains? I chose cremation. It didn't make sense, but nothing made sense.

They gave me a small pile of badly designed brochures about miscarriage, stillbirth and infant loss. Those things aren't the same, I thought.

They wheeled me somewhere more private, and Andy sat with me. My doctors came in, anesthesiologists and nurses came in, and I was calm--because I had no choice.

The anesthesiologists asked dozens of questions about my health and surgical history. I'd had an extra tooth removed at age 7, but that was it. Almost 30 years old, and I'd never so much as had prescription pain medication. I remembered the strawberry laughing gas and hot pink stitches in my mouth, and the $5 bill from the tooth fairy 23 years ago. This time would be so different.

I drifted off as the drugs took hold. I knew I was in a small operating room, and the last thing I remember was apologizing as they lifted me onto the operating table. "I'm sorry I'm so heavy," I thought and probably said out loud. "I'm working on it."

I woke up confused, and laughing to the nurses: "Just another life experience for the books!" I tried to make jokes for a few more hours, until I couldn't anymore.

Dark humor and uncontrollable sobbing have punctuated fertility problems and pregnancy losses.

All I wanted was Andy and some apple juice. And I wanted the catheter out as soon as I realized it was there. My throat ached from the trach tube. It would be a couple of days before I could make myself really examine the incision marks in my bellybutton and on either side of my lower abdomen where the laparoscopic tools and camera had been.

They encouraged me to stay overnight, but I refused. I just wanted it all to be over. My parents visited and everyone told me what the doctors had told them. I had to lose my right tube, they said. It was probably mild endometriosis, they said. All of my organs were beautiful, they said. I was very proud of my beautiful organs.

My father, a biology instructor, spoke science. My mother, tear-stained, reminded me that she got pregnant with me with only one ovary and fallopian tube. Everyone was hopeful, and some part of me was thankful that the month-long anxiety attack of analyzing the blood on my toilet paper and waiting for the end was over. Part of me always knew this wouldn't have a happy ending, but it kept dragging on.

I wanted to go home. Andy helped me into the yoga pants I'd had him bring after I secured a postpartum diaper into my underwear. They wheeled me out and he brought the car around. I wondered what it would feel like to get to take something home instead of having something taken away.

Halfway through our long drive home, the residual effects of the drugs started wearing off and everything became clear. NPR was airing a show about gardening. As I sat in the car waiting at the pharmacy as Andy picked up my Vicodin and Xanax, I listened. They were discussing how hardy but fragile lavender could be, and how a cold snap in the spring could end it overnight.

It's dangerous to get attached to something that can be destroyed overnight.

But isn't that everything?

I slept on the couch the next few nights, not wanting to climb the stairs to our bedroom because of the pain. The next few days and nights I stayed on the couch, watching episode after episode of Ally McBeal, drifting in and out of reality. I'd wake up early every morning and see the pink sunrise. I'd pause. The whole sky, the whole world would be beautiful for a moment, and then it wasn't.

Andy finished putting in our garden that weekend, and I remained on the couch. We'd started vegetable seeds a few months earlier. Even in their tiniest form, tomato seedlings smelled fresh and green, just like a four-foot-tall tomato plant covered in fruits. But they had to be thinned, and they weren't yet tomatoes. There was potential. A frost that snuck under the small greenhouse took some of our plants, and we moved on.

The summer brought record heat and drought, and our neighbors harvested their corn early, just to try to salvage some silage. Nothing thrived that summer, in me or outside of me.

When the bleeding started -- big, dark purple chicken livers dropping out of me after pulsating cramps -- I needed more solace. I looked online for support, mostly to be greeted with pastel butterflies and tickers about angel babies.

I started becoming angry, not only about my loss, but also about the fact that it was clear I wasn't mourning properly. I felt like I should feel guilty for mourning the potential instead of mourning the baby. I was angry that the brochures from the hospital didn't delineate between miscarriage and infant loss.

I was angry about increasing legislation about women's bodies and reproductive choices, knowing that "abortion" was written on some of my medical documents, and being comfortable with that, because my health and my life pulled rank. I was angry at "personhood" legislation that could have mandated I risk my life further rather than have surgery. I was angry whenever I saw a billboard or Facebook meme meant to guilt women into being against abortion that reminded me what stage of development my embryos were in.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm not ready to be pregnant because I'm not finished being angry.

When I drove to the doctor's office the morning of the ultrasound, I was on the interstate between a truck filled with turkey cages and a bus filled with prisoners. Turkey feathers were flying into my windshield, and I kept staring at the birds, many of which looked dead, while the prisoners looked at me. I kept thinking of Amy Hempel's "The Harvest": "Aren't we all, I thought, somebody's harvest?"

My due date would have been in two weeks. Seed catalogs are coming in the mail. I have to continually think about the next harvest -- every month when a dark red gut punch signifies failure, and always with the threat of a cold snap in the night ruining what we've worked so hard to grow.