26 August, 2014

Gifts of Infertility Series - #4 – Saving Lives

Infertility, or loss, helped me save lives. Literally. I got involved in volunteering after having two ectopic pregnancies. The volunteers at our website were largely women who did not go on to have pregnancies after our ectopics. A couple did, and one woman adopted, but several of us never did. The reasons were twofold. One was that we wanted to make sense of our losses, and by helping others we were doing this. The second reason is more practical. We had the time. If I’d successful got pregnant and had a child after my ectopics, then I doubt I would have volunteered. It was a big commitment, and had I been working full-time (rather than self-employed) or been caring for a child, I would never have had the time.

You may (or may not?) know that ectopic pregnancies are life-threatening, and even now, in 2014, there are women dying in developed and developing countries because they are not properly diagnosed, or don’t know to seek medical help. I was lucky. I had an alert GP who didn’t make assumptions, and even though she thought I probably had had an early miscarriage, she sent me for serial bloodwork to ensure that this was the case. Other women are not so lucky.

I have, over the years, seen countless examples of women who had exactly the same presentation as I had, or even more serious presentations, who were sent home multiple times by their doctors, or by the emergency departments at their hospitals. I've talked to an American who had very concerning symptoms, but who was reluctant to go back to the hospital that had already sent here away, because her insurance didn't consider ectopic pregnancy to be an emergency. I have counselled many women who have been sent away, their concerns and instincts dismissed by busy doctors, and who are then embarrassed to go back in case their concerns are invalid.  I've said the words “I would far rather you feel silly for worrying and keeping yourself safe, than a few days later you (or your doctors or I) feel silly when you collapse because you’re bleeding out or worse.” I've had to say those words multiple times.  I've had to tell women to "go to the hospital.  NOW!"

I have, with my fellow counsellors, under the leadership of a very dedicated medical professional, worked with women who have been at their wits end, women who didn't know what to do, women who didn't understand what was happening to them, and women who didn't know if they should seek medical help. There were times, just a few, when it was very clear that one of us, or all of us, had saved someone’s life by sending them to the hospital, giving them the right questions to ask, and the confidence to insist on answers and investigations and treatment. 

Knowing that I did this? It feels good. Having the ability and opportunity to do that? It was undoubtedly a gift.


  1. Hey, I didn't know that ectopic pregnancies are life-threatening. Now I know, so thanks for letting me know.

  2. I can imagine it's a pretty terrifying experience that some people would prefer not to risk repeating. Prior to my own pregnancy, I don't think I'd ever heard of ectopic pregnancy. By the time I started spotting early on, I had read enough in my pregnancy books to know what it was and be worried I might be experiencing one. Once I lost my baby (stillbirth) & went online, and to a "real life" support group, I heard some pretty hair-raising stories about ectopic pregnancies. I always encouraged anyone pregnant & spotting/bleeding to get it checked out immediately. I have no doubt you saved some lives!