I didn’t know that I was allowed to feel sad

I am aware that I haven’t ever written about my first loss, yet I have found my mind contemplating this a lot over the last few weeks.  Long days of driving alone have allowed my mind to meander through a number of events and as it is Baby Loss Awareness Week, it felt right to write something now.  I’m also aware that I haven’t read many accounts of ectopic pregnancies before, which is interesting seeing as this is the outcome for 1/100 pregnancies.  Not all end in the way that mind did, as some are caught earlier and can be managed less invasively.  But for me, I was suddenly made aware of the many dangers, some life threatening, that women can face on their journey to motherhood.
It was a Monday morning when I started bleeding.  We had been trying for a baby for four months and I had just finished my period the week before; no baby this month.  I called the GP in a bit of a panic as I was feeling unwell and shocked by the heavy unexpected flow.  She was blunt and to the point – ‘the last time someone described these symptoms to me, they were pregnant’.  I responded by asking if this meant that I would be miscarrying and she curtly replied that this was ‘a possible theory’ and that I should come in and see her that evening.
I stayed at work, but felt progressively worse throughout the day.  I joked with colleagues that I needed them to wheel me to the bathroom in my chair as I was struggling to walk.  But the thought of going home and being stuck with my own thoughts was unbearable, so I chose to stay.  I toyed with the idea of getting a taxi home, but then decided that I’d be okay with the train.  I lugged two laptops in my rucksack, somehow knowing that I wouldn’t be in work the next day and walked very slowly between the station and home.
When I arrived at the GP surgery, she exclaimed that at least I’d calmed down.  I was in too much pain to argue with her or explain how scared I was.  She disappeared behind me with my sample while I breathed through my pain; by this point my stomach had changed into a strange cone shape which I later discovered was as a result of me bleeding into my stomach cavity.  She appeared over my shoulder with two positive pregnancy tests calming stating ‘well you’re pregnant’ before returning to her computer to type out a referral to the Early Pregnancy Unit (EPU) for the following day.  ‘Get there for 8am and wait in line; if things get worse overnight then go to A&E.  If everything works out remember that this isn’t your booking appointment – you need to come back’.  And off I went with my two positive tests feeling as though I had just been slapped in the face.
Waiting for Andy to come home was excruciating.  I broke the news, allowing myself to feel a glimmer of excitement, but deep down we both knew in our hearts that something terrible was wrong.  I continued to bleed and lie curled up in agony on the sofa all evening before trying to go to bed.  It was impossible to sleep and I lay awake crying and writhing around, desperately trying to get comfortable.  But I was still conscious, so surely this wasn’t bad enough to go to A&E?
The next day I couldn’t walk.  We had to drive the short distance to the hospital and I rolled out of the car and up to the EPU, dutifully collected my ticket and sat down to wait.  Head between my legs, trying to remain in control but feeling as though I was dying.  Three and half hours later I was called in and the first scan began.  No baby.  The scan continued, I cried in pain.  Maybe it’s just too early to see a baby?  More pain, more tears.  A dark mass on my left side.  Maybe this is just a cyst or where you ovulated from.  We could wait a few days and see.  The consultant called in for a second opinion.  Another scan.  Then confirmation: ‘I’m really sorry, this is an ectopic pregnancy and this mass is internal bleeding’.  Suddenly the mood in the room changed.  I am sat in a seat having my blood taken and being asked when I last ate.  Calls are being made to the theatre team, ensuring that I am put at the top of the list for that day.  Suddenly I am observing the process that is emergency surgery in the NHS.  The one that exists to save lives.
We were put in the quiet room in the EPU as there were no beds on the ward.  A woman came in, sat next to us and started breastfeeding her newborn baby.  I was in too much shock and pain to complain at the inappropriateness of being exposed to this, knowing that my baby was going to die that day before it killed me.  Time passed and still no beds were available.  The surgeon came down to talk to us there and explained the procedure; keyhole surgery, three incisions, removal of the baby and probably my left fallopian tube, removal of the internal bleeding, quick check of my right tube and dissolvable stiches.  He informed me of the impact on my fertility with a helpful diagram.  The anaesthetist came and fitted my cannula.  A nursing assistant helped me into my gown and surgical stockings.  And then I was wheeled out on a bed, through the waiting area of the EPU where I had been just a couple of hours before, down to theatre.
Andy was given all my belongings to take with him as I had no ward bed.  Every item of clothing, jewellery, purse, phone and keys.  The fresh polish on my toes was crudely removed and I was checked one final time before being taken into the prep room.  The kindness of the anaesthetist made me cry and I was suddenly aware of the gravity of the situation.
I woke in recovery feeling numb and disconnected.  I was checked for bleeding and given morphine regularly.  Eventually a bed on the ward was found and I was transferred.  The surgeon visited and explained that everything had gone to plan: left tube removed and internal bleeding drained.  I asked when I could go back to work and he said that I should take the rest of the week off but should be fine by Monday.  My stitches would dissolve and there would be no need for follow up.  He explained that the bloating was due to the air they needed to pump in to see what they are doing during surgery.    I was advised to wait one cycle before trying again and that I would always require an early scan as my risk of a repeat ectopic was increased.  He was kind and professional, but it all felt so clinical – as though I had just had an appendix removed rather than losing a much wanted baby and being left with compromised fertility.
I lay awake most of the night, sending emails to work to rearrange appointments and googling ectopic pregnancies.  How many people went on to have another?  How much later did other people have successful pregnancies?  I was discharged the following day, looking six months pregnant.  I was sore physically and emotionally.
Monday came and I realised that I was still bleeding too heavily to return to work, so I worked from home.  By Friday, it hadn’t improved, but I had appointments I couldn’t miss, so travelled very slowly after rush hour, did what I had to do and left.  By chance, the following week we had a holiday booked to Cornwall so I was able to spend some time recovering away from home.  And then that was it – back to work, back to normal as if nothing had ever happened.
I did not go back to the GP and was never contacted by anyone for any aftercare or follow up.  None of my friends at the time had experienced a miscarriage so I had no one to talk to.  No one understood or could offer any advice.  I didn’t realise that you were allowed to feel sad about losing a baby before you got to see it.  I thought that everyone just got on with life and accepted it as ‘one of those things’.  It wasn’t spoken about.  I didn’t realise that there was a community of women out there who had also experienced loss.  I didn’t know that a baby after loss is called a rainbow.  It took me losing Orla at 37 weeks, just over a year later, to understand that I could feel sad and that this was okay.  But by this time I had nothing more to give.  All my love, my pain, my grief has been consumed with Orla and I almost feel guilty sharing any of that with this first pregnancy.  I look at other people who mourn the loss of their baby early in pregnancy and I feel guilty that I don’t feel the same about mine.  But maybe it was because I wasn’t given permission to at the time, and now the loss of Orla, so suddenly and so close to her due date has completely and utterly engulfed me.
I sometimes think that this loss could have killed me physically, yet Orla’s death almost killed me emotionally.  With time, I hope that I can find a way to honour and acknowledge this baby.  They existed, even if momentarily and they deserve to be remembered in the story of my life.

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  • Reply Louise October 14, 2016 at 5:03 pm

    Thank you for talking about this, and I’m very sorry for your losses. You write so eloquently about your grief it’s moving to read and feels like a virtual hug from someone that understands the depth of my emotion. I’ve experienced two ectopic pregnancies this year resulting in very compromised fertility after 2 lots of surgery. I’m lucky to be alive, I was bleeding internally for a couple of days both times, but I’m a midwife and I’ve left my job in the hospital due to the lack of care I received. I’ve been traumatised by a clinical system that lacks the emotional support that you desperately crave during that time. This week has been the first time I’ve really sat and thought about my lost babies, probably because I felt my losses were so early at 7 and 8 weeks, it seemed inappropriate to even call them babies. It’s so strange that I don’t give myself the same empathy that I feel for the women I care for. My losses have changed me, so much, when I read your posts about Orla I feel less alone. Huge hugs to you this weekend. I suppose I just wanted to thank you for talking about your feelings, it’s brave, and it’s helped me acknowledge my own xxx

  • Reply thelegacyofleo October 14, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this aspect of your story – ectopics are so misunderstood and don’t seem to be view outside the Loss community as the same as another loss, perhaps? I don’t know why really – it’s not less a loss just because of the biology of its nature. Xxx

  • Reply Marianne October 15, 2016 at 5:57 am

    Thank you for writing about this experience, it is eerily similar to my own, right down to my particularly sympathetic anaesthetist.
    It is such a surreal experience, after the excitement of seeing a blue line appear on the test, to having a longed for opportunity to have an ultrasound scan, but once on the bed to be told there is nothing in your womb but that the pregnancy is ectopic.
    At one point, in my naivety, I even asked if there was a possibility that the pregnancy could progress.
    The shift to that sudden emergency surgery mode was terrifying. My confusion was such that on signing the consent forms I misunderstood the kind, and very patient, registrar and thought that I was agreeing to my own cremation, not that of the embryo. There were a great deal of darkly absurd moments that added to how surreal the process was.
    I so rarely hear of ectopic pregnancies until I mention my own and others then share their experiences. What we all seem to have in common is the need to emphasise how early it was and almost apologise for any sadness.
    I have been incredibly lucky and have gone on to have a baby, but the impact of this loss and the lack of any space for grief or allowance of it, meant that this experience haunted my pregnancy and the grief poured out in waves during my early weeks with my son.
    My partner very much associates pregnancy with grave risk to my life following the shock of seeing me rushed into emergency surgery and it took a great deal of work together to be ready to try again.
    There absolutely needs to be greater support available and aftercare. When I eventually sought help with my panic attacks, I was offered only barbiturates as there was no specific counselling available and community based services were already overwhelmed by their waiting lists and ill equipped to deal with these issues.
    Again, thank you for opening up this space for discussion and grief, your eloquence when talking about your loss has been very healing and I wish you well on your journey. Xx

  • Reply Gillian October 19, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    Having suffered a miscarriage earlier this year at 7 weeks, I can relate to your 1st loss. The words you use to describe your feelings echo exactly how I felt at the time and how I am currently feeling. Guilt for mourning the loss of something that wasn’t really anything yet and unsupported by those around me who have no idea what I have experienced or what it could possibly be like to be told your baby has died. My husband is quiet in his grief and I don’t have the strength to support him as well as myself. The NHS has been far from supportive. Stuck me on a load of tablets and I am on a 15 week waiting list to see a counsellor so I have resorted to paying for it privately. We tried trying again but my heart isn’t in it and every month my period arrives I feel like I’m mourning another loss. However I should count my blessings as I am very lucky to have a happy healthy 3 year old.
    I am so terribly sorry to hear what you have experienced with Orla. She was clearly too beautiful for this earth. I hope that you are blessed with a baby in the future and will keep you in my thoughts. X

  • Reply Keely October 24, 2016 at 7:50 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. We have had similar experiences. I too have lost a baby daughter. She was born at 36 weeks but died at 19 days old. It took us a while to conceive once we were ready again and that pregnancy was ectopic. I lost my right tube. It was a surreal experience and felt almost a cruel joke after what we had experienced with our daughter. Keeping you in my thoughts.

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