I did not want to get pregnant, our family was complete, and I had recently had the coil inserted. My periods went a bit haywire after this so it was difficult to track what was normal and what wasn’t and the GP reassured me that this was to be expected whilst my body got used to the coil.
A few months later my period came. 2 weeks later it was still going and I had strange tummy pains I had never felt before. They felt gastric..not like any kind of womanly/period pain. I went to the GP who felt my tummy and told me I had wind and that the pain was indigestion and I had probably developed IBS. The bleeding, he said, was just the coil settling in! I told him I did not believe I could suddenly develop IBS aged 39 and that I had suffered from indigestion many times and I was 100% sure it was not that! I also told him that my coil’s settling in was taking much longer than expected. He shrugged and sent me off to buy some over-the-counter drugs for IBS. For good measure I headed to the health food store stocked up on golden flaxseed which I heard was the holy grail for IBS sufferers! It felt like I needed to do an epic fart and that would make the pains go away.
The pains got worse, and my period kept coming, so I ate more flaxseed and took more pills and bought more tampons. I went back to see another GP the next week who agreed that I had IBS and that the coil was still settling in.
That afternoon the pains became as painful as labour, but different to labour, they seemed to be inside my bottom, I felt like I had trapped wind or was about to have awful diarrhoea. I lay on the floor and my son Gus, aged 3, sat by my side sucking his thumb and asking if I was ok. That evening the pain became unbearable. I had to breathe through the waves of pain like contractions. My husband said he was going to call an ambulance but I told him I was fine – I just needed a giant fart! I told him I felt bad for not being sympathetic to my friend who suffered from IBS. I didn’t know that IBS sufferers went through this kind of pain. Then suddenly the pain stopped. I got into bed and slept 8 hours.
In the morning I felt very strange. The pain had subsided considerably but I felt shaky and weak and my tummy ached and I knew something wasn’t right. I called the GP and told him I was going to take myself to hospital for a scan. He told me that I couldn’t just turn up and ask for a scan, that he would schedule one for me over the next few weeks.
I called my dad. He is an obstetrician and gynaecologist. He appeared at my door within 20 minutes. “Have you done a pregnancy test?” were his first words. My husband ran down to the chemist and bought one. I peed on the stick and sat there with my dad, my husband and my sons and watched as two blue lines appeared. I lay on the sofa and my dad examined my stomach and I screamed in pain at his touch. His face changed. He phoned my brother, an A & E Consultant, they conferred for 30 seconds and then he said “We think you have an ectopic pregnancy, your tube has ruptured and you have internal bleeding, we need to get you to hospital now”.
20 minutes later we were at the Early Pregnancy Unit at the Chelsea and Westminster. 5 minutes after that I had a scan that didn’t show much as my abdomen was too full of blood to see properly. The doctor made a phone call and pulled a cord and people came running. Suddenly there were so many people in the room. Someone pulling my clothes off, someone putting a drip in my hand. I blacked out. I woke with someone lifting me onto a trolley and I remember being pushed through the EPU and seeing nervous-looking women waiting for their scans, now looking horrified at what had just happened to the woman they saw walk into the scanning room before them!
And then, about 20 minutes after arriving at the hospital I was under a general anaesthetic having a tube removed and 1 litre of blood drained from me.
As I healed over the following weeks, I had so many mixed emotions that took me ages to figure out and separate from each other. I could not work out how to feel about it all. I wonder if other women who have an experience like this feel the same?
I asked myself so many questions about baby loss…
Are you allowed to grieve a baby that you didn’t even want?
Can you feel sad for the loss of a baby that you did not even know was growing inside you?
Is it normal to cry over a baby that could never have survived?
Is it the same as a miscarriage?
Is it worse or better than a miscarriage?
I had questions about how the situation had played out and lots of “What ifs?”
How could I not have noticed I was pregnant?
How could I have let the GP fob me off 3 times?
Why did the GP not ask me if I could be pregnant?
What would have happened if I hadn’t called my dad?
What would have happened if my husband had gone off to work and I had just bled to death at home with my son?
I kept replaying the experience over and over again in my mind and berated myself for not having been more aware of my body and what was happening to it. And then on top of that, the recovery was slow. I slept for a week. I felt awful for about 4 weeks. I completed my mum-job on auto pilot.
I was angry at my GP. I made an official complaint and this helped somewhat. I had to go and meet with him and he had to apologise to me. It was awful to watch him squirm and I couldn’t meet his eye. But he said he has learnt from this mistake. He had signed up for some further studies and education on women’s health and all the GPs in the surgery had been reminded of something that they had all learnt at medical school…ALL women of childbearing age, complaining of stomach pains should be given a pregnancy test.
I went back to the Early Pregnancy Unit for a check up after my operation and I was struck by how sad and worried everyone looked. I was the only person who was not nervous as my appointment was not to assess a pregnancy but just a routine one to make sure all my bits were healing as they should. Being there brought back really strong and upsetting memories. I sat there and I watched women clutching their bags and phones, their faces straining with anxiety, then go in for their scans and come out again…beaming and clutching their photo of their precious little growing bean…OR devastated, clutching tissues and being ushered into the counselling room.
Watching this happen was like being part of a human roulette and my heart hurt so much. I cried when I got down to the car park as I felt so sad for all those women whose dreams were shattered in a moment. I cried too for me as this whole experience had been so strange.
Miscarriage is a sad fact of life. 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage and 1 in 90 pregnancies are ectopic, so it’s not as rare as you might think.
The two most important lessons I learnt from my experience, that I am passionate about sharing are
To know the signs and symptoms of ectopic pregnancy. Treatment of ectopic pregnancy does not need to be as dramatic as my experience. If caught earlier it can be dealt with conservatively and far less painfully.
To keep talking about it and help support those going through it. There is no right or wrong way to feel, but just knowing that you are not alone is more helpful than you can imagine.
Bleeding – which may be dark or watery
Severe pain in your tummy
Pain in your shoulder tip
Feeling dizzy or faint
Pain in your bottom or diarrohea
If you know you are pregnant and experiencing any of these symptoms please go straight to your EPU or A&E.
Becca Maberly is the founder of A Mother Place which she runs with her father Roger Marwood, an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist. Their first book “Nobody Tells You… 101 Truths about Pregnancy, Birth and Parenthood” is out in December 2019. They share 101 stories and photos from real mums and dads covering everything you need to know but were never told, ranging from ectopic pregnancy to episiotomy and piles to postnatal body image and everything in-between! You can order it here now.