09 June, 2011

Ectopic Awareness Raising – Part 1

I came to the world of infertility through an ectopic pregnancy.  Ectopic pregnancies*, or pregnancies outside the uterus, are relatively rare; 2-3% of all pregnancies are ectopic.  Diagnosis is not always easy.  Doctors often send women away, telling them they are having a miscarriage.  This is understandable, as miscarriage occurs in maybe 1 in every 3 pregnancies.  But because they don’t – as my GP says – maintain a high degree of suspicion when a woman of child-bearing age presents with pain or bleeding - women die.  Ectopic pregnancies grow, fallopian tubes (or worse) can’t stretch any more and rupture, and the mother bleeds out.  Ectopic pregnancies are dangerous, they kill.  Left untreated and growing the mother will die, and the pregnancy itself is never viable. Any increase in awareness is going to help save lives – and this is why I feel the need to talk about my experience.

My husband and I had been trying to conceive for about 18 months.  We weren’t doing it scientifically, I wasn’t tracking my cycle, and I was travelling a lot for work, reducing the opportunities for conception.  Then I returned from an overseas trip realising my period was late.  A positive pregnancy test was followed by shock (considerable), jubilation (muted but growing), and disbelief (when I began bleeding).  To keep this brief, it led to a diagnosis by my excellent GP of a potential ectopic pregnancy.  She didn't dismiss my bleeding - heavy though it had been - as a miscarriage.  She made sure, and ordered serial blood tests to see if my hormone levels were increasing or decreasing.  They were increasing, but not normally, and a subsequent scan confirmed an ectopic.   

I found myself in the women’s hospital on a warm, light December evening,  with Mr Bean’s Christmas playing annoyingly on the waiting room TV, waiting to be treated medically with a drug called methotrexate that is commonly used as chemotherapy.  I was asked to stay close to the hospital, going no further than 40 minutes away, given the risk of rupture.  So travel plans for Christmas (to family in the South Island) had to be cancelled, and as a result people had to be told.  For the first time Christmas was something to be endured, not enjoyed.

My treatment was uneventful.  My hCG (pregnancy hormone) levels were relatively low, at about 1000.  The methotrexate worked, and after seven days my levels started to drop.  It still took five weeks to get the all clear.  Five weeks of regular blood tests, of feeling as if there was a time bomb inside me.  Five weeks of grieving our lost baby at the same time that we felt relieved that I was alive and well. 

*  It would be remiss of me to try to raise awareness without directing you to the Ectopic Pregnancy Trust's website, the most reliable site on the web for information about ectopic pregnancy, and a personal lifeline for me in my time of need.


  1. it is so wonderful that you had a really good GP who thought to check for this. I read another woman's blog who had an ectopic pregnancy, and it wasn't caught right away and the tube ruptured and she had to have an emergency surgery. She obviously lived, but it was a very traumatic and difficult experience for her. It was the first I had heard of it. I think it is wonderful you've written this blog post, and are helping to increase people's awareness of this issue.

  2. There are always a few great doctors in the bunch; thankfully!

    On a different note, C and I are starting to look into adoption...how did you begin to pick an agency? The amount out there is quite overwhelming!

  3. I am glad you were in good hands. It still sucks that you had to go through that. I am so sorry.

  4. As always, thank you for sharing your story.

  5. I'm glad that it wasn't worse and you had a doc who was cautious.

    I was given methotrexate following our miscarriage because i didn't dispel all the stuff i needed to. It was a hard thing.

    I've long been aware of ectopic pregnancy issues, and because i have only one ovary and tube, i insisted on an early ultrasound to rule out the possibility, tho the whole thing seems pointless for us now, anyway.

    Thank you for sharing your story. I wish there had been a happier ending for you.

  6. I am at home, laptop on knee... guess what's just come on the TV? Mr Bean's Christmas (don't ask me why, it's June). I will never see it in the same light again.

  7. I've been trying to comment on this post for days but I've been having some technical probs. Well done for raising the issue of eps and promoting the Trust. They're so dangerous but so many doctors don't seem to know anything about them.

    On a separate note, I hope you and yours are ok right now :(

  8. I was also very lucky to have my first pregnancy diagnosed as ectopic before irreparable damage was done. I had never heard of an ectopic pregnancy before I had one (I remembered seeing it in my pregnancy book but dismissing it because it was so rare and not reading about it). Thank you for sharing information about this important health/pregnancy condition. I wish I'd known more about it before it happened to me.

    Esperanza (here from Prompt-ly)

  9. So glad your dr recognized the possibility of an ectopic. Truly a scary situation. Like the others, I'll never be able to think of Mr. Bean's Christmas in the same way...! For several years in a row, it was the inflight entertainment as we travelled to be with my parents at Christmastime. It was screamingly funny the first time we saw it (trying not to laugh too hard or loudly in a plane full of people...!), but the novelty wore off on the third or fourth viewing...!