10 September, 2014

Gifts of Infertility Series - #10 – Accepting my mortality

When I had my first ectopic pregnancy, I realised that – if I had had this decades earlier, or with a different, less vigilant, less suspicious GP who might have misdiagnosed me – then I might have died. If I had been living a century earlier, I would almost certainly have died. When I had my second ectopic pregnancy, the doctors were concerned that, because of the location of my pregnancy, if it grew too large and ruptured, I could/would bleed out before I could get to the hospital. So I was hospitalised for a week. During that time, the doctors suspected I might have a pregnancy-related cancer - choriocarcinoma - also known as trophoblastic disease. A few months later, during a surgery to remove the last of the pregnancy tissue, there was still a risk that I might bleed out, as I had developed a new, large vein. A nurse helpfully told me how nervous my surgeon was about the surgery, and how many bags of blood he had ordered. (In the end he cancelled the surgery, opting for another procedure first, to reduce the risk of haemorrhage).

On the ectopic site, we frequently told women suspected of or diagnosed with ectopic pregnancy who were displaying concerning symptoms that they needed to ensure that they were not left alone. Collapse and bleeding out was always a possibility. Many women are rushed to hospital for emergency surgery with an ectopic pregnancy. They are often later told by their surgeons that they were “lucky,” even though they didn't feel lucky at all, and that they were only an hour away from dying. (Later, they will often report PTSD-like symptoms.)

One of the reasons ectopic pregnancy (or other serious pregnancy-related or gynaecological conditions) can be so traumatic is that, for many of us, it is the first time we have had a serious health condition, often our first time in hospital, our first surgeries, and our first potentially fatal condition. Sometimes it hits us straight away, and sometimes we don’t react to the reality of this till later, depending how we've dealt with the competing grief and immediacy of a loss of a pregnancy. Each time I was told of the dangers of my condition, I was more upset about the lost pregnancy and the fact that these continuing issues might put an end to attempts to conceive, than about the dangers to my life. It didn't seem possible that pregnancy could kill me - not in the 21st century!

But in due course, it is possible to reflect. I had been lucky. I didn't die, though I could have. Good health care meant that I was fine.  But I had come face to face with my own mortality. I realised that my previous lucky good health didn't protect me or guarantee freedom from danger in the future. I had been on the wrong side of the odds – 1 in 400,000 (for the particular type of ectopic I had the second time) – and so suddenly, being that “one” seemed very possible. I realised that I faced danger everywhere in life. Initially it made the world a scary place.

But after some time, it also made the world a place to be treasured, a place full of wonders, and much love. I realised that – beyond limiting extreme risk - I can’t control my mortality. I'm okay with that. Maybe it is because I realised that if I can’t control it, there’s no point in worrying about it. There's a freedom to this realisation. Death will come to me when it does, and all I can do is live, and live well, in the meantime.


  1. Beautiful perspective on mortality. Yes, there is a freedom in accepting the things which we can't control.

    Thanks for visiting and commenting on my blog :)

  2. I totally, totally get this. You summed up the feelings I've had about mortality in recent years. After cancer, I felt my mortality so heavily. Much like you, I had a diagnosis that is very uncommon - only 7.8 women in 100,000 in the US will be diagnosed with cervical cancer. Overall, less than 1% of the population. I also went through a phase of seeing danger everywhere. Any time I felt ill or had a pain, I imagined it was something awful. But much like you, after time, I began to see how good it was to be alive, how happy I was to have made it. It made want to enjoy life more - take the opportunities available to me and not waste any time. I agree with you - all we can do is live and live well. Also, thank you for all the information you share on ectopic pregnancies. This is not something I knew much about previously and in the years of reading your blog, I understand it quite well and feel I could support any friend who may suffer this.

    1. Nicole, I was particularly thinking of you as I wrote this, and hoping that I didn't in any way belittle what you have been through, or exaggerate what I faced. I was lucky - I got the "all clear" from a potential cancer diagnosis. I never had to hear the words "you've got cancer."

  3. How poignant and true about our mortality. Some people who don't seem to take good care of themselves and are riddled with lots of illnesses can still outlive some very healthy people. You can be in the wrong place at the wrong time and that'll be the last second of your life. The beginning of this post made me feel tensed at the seriousness of ectopic pregnancy and the risk of bleeding and dying, but the end of the post made me breathe easily.