From the second I found out I was pregnant, I knew there was something wrong.
Actually, let me rephrase that: part of the problem was that there WAS no “second” when I found out I was pregnant.
Instead, it took four days.
The first test was negative.
The next one – a day later – was faulty. Seriously, what are the odds?
The one after that showed a very faint positive… and the one after that was negative.
Thinking that maybe the batch of cheap pregnancy tests I’d bulk-bought from eBay were faulty, or had been kept too long in the wrong temperature or something, I sent Terry out to buy me a proper, brand-name test.
He came back with a brand I didn’t recognise… and it was ALSO faulty.
Out he went again, this time returning with, not one, but TWO different test kits, from two different brands. In absolute despair, I took both of them simultaneously, by using the very dignified method of peeing into a cardboard cup, and then dunking both tests together, so they were both taken under exactly the same circumstances.
One was positive (but only just, the other was negative.
I. Was. Beside. Myself.
A few hours later, I got a slightly stronger positive, and then, not one hour later, I started spotting.
I was in absolute despair by this stage. I knew you can’t get a false positive on a home pregnancy test (or that it’s very rare, anyway), so I was pretty sure I was pregnant now, but… well, if there’s such a thing as a little bit pregnant, I was it. It seemed very obvious to me that this very fragile little pregnancy wasn’t going to last, so, over the next few days I tried to steel myself for what I assumed was the inevitable miscarriage.
It didn’t come.
The spotting didn’t stop either, though, and I was having absolutely no pregnancy syptoms, so, on day five or so (The timeline’s all a bit of a blur now, I’m afraid) we called up the early pregnancy unit – who I was, unfortunately for me, very familiar with, following my miscarriage, just two months earlier.
The nurse in charge of that unit is called Jill, and she is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. This was some small comfort to me as I sat in a hospital room, just a few hours later, having my blood taken for the very first time in my life.
Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t to be the last time, either. Far from it, in fact.
That initial blood test, you see, doesn’t really do much more than confirm you are, in fact, pregnant, by measuring the level of the pregnancy hormone, HCG, in your blood. What’s important here, though, isn’t the initial number – it’s what that number does over the next 48 hours or so. In a normal, healthy pregnancy, your HCG level should more-or-less double in that period of time: so I’d have my blood taken for the initial reading, Jill told me, and then I’d have to come back two days later, to have the HCG level measured again. Awesome!
Although we’d been told the initial number wasn’t really important, we still had a pretty tense wait for the phonecall confirming it: and, when it came, the news wasn’t great. As I’d expected, the test confirmed I was pregnant… but my HCG had measured at just 192 – which was really quite low for my stage of pregnancy. Jill reminded us that this number wasn’t the important one, and even said she’d known women with very low initial HCG, who’d still gone on to have totally normal pregnancies – but she also admitted that the number wasn’t encouraging, and when we ended the call, we both had a bit of a cry, knowing this was likely to be yet another miscarriage, and that it was really just a matter of time before it happened.
I was absolutely devastated, as you can probably imagine: I still wasn’t over my first miscarriage (I actually don’t think you EVER really get over something like that… ), and now I was faced with going through the same thing again, which was just… yeah. Oddly, though, the spotting seemed to reduce, and no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t quite bring myself to stop hoping that maybe everything could still work out: maybe the next blood test would show the HCG doubling after all, and everything would be OK?
Yeah, it wasn’t.
The next book test showed the HCG increasing to 221 – which was more than we’d expected, granted (We still thought it was “just”a miscarriage at this point, so we’d expected the levels to DROP…), but not nearly enough to indicate a healthy pregnancy.
“I’m really sorry,” said Jill, when she called with the news, “But we don’t think the pregnancy is viable. We think you’ll probably miscarry within the next couple of days.”
So we waited for that to happen: and if you’ve ever had to wait for a pregnancy you know isn’t viable to end, you’ll know EXACTLY how heart-breakingly awful those next two days were.
The miscarriage didn’t come, though: and here’s the thing that amazes me when I look back on all of this:
It STILL didn’t occur to me that the pregnancy might be ectopic.
That probably sounds a bit odd to most of you. I mean, why WOULD I think that, right? Ectopic pregnancies aren’t uncommon, but they’re spoken about even less than miscarriage is: when mine was finally confirmed, I had to explain to quite a few of my friends what it actually WAS. I’d always known about ectopic pregnancy, though, because my mum had had one a couple of years after I was born. I’d grown up hearing the stories about it – and I’d also grown up absolutely convinced that, if I were to ever get pregnant, the same thing would happen to me. In fact, I was SO scared of that happening that, the first time I got pregnant, I actually paid for a private scan at 6 weeks, just to rule out the possibility of it being ectopic.
This time around, however, it hadn’t even occurred to me – probably because, by that stage, I already had one recent miscarriage behind me, and now THAT had become my biggest fear. Also, what were the odds that I’d end up getting the same pregnancy complication as my mum? Or of the one thing I feared more than anything else actually happening?
Er, pretty high, as it turned out.
When the results of my third blood test came back, it was the same thing again: the numbers had risen, but not enough to mean the pregnancy was viable. And now, for the first time, the word “ectopic” was being mentioned.
It was late on a Friday afternoon when we got the call. The doctor didn’t THINK the pregnancy was ectopic, Jill assured me…. but he wanted me to come in on Monday for an ultrasound scan just to rule it out.
Jill was doing her best to be reassuring – but I completely lost it. So much so, in fact, that Terry ended up having to get me an emergency appointment with my GP, who prescribed valium to try and calm me down.
It didn’t work. I was SO terrified that I was going to need surgery – or that, if the pregnancy WAS ectopic, that it would rupture the tube while I was waiting for the scan – and I just couldn’t stand the thought of having to live with that fear all weekend. I begged Jill to try and get me an earlier scan, but the ultrasound department at our local hospital was already closed for the weekend, so Terry called the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, which carries out scans all weekend, to try to get me an appointment there.
They refused to give me one – right up until the point where the nurse on the phone heard me sobbing in the background, and grudgingly agreed to fit me in the next morning, while making it clear that it was a huge imposition, as she’d looked at my chart, and thought it was unlikely the pregnancy was ectopic. (I got just a tiny bit of pleasure out of the contrite look on that nurse’s face when she was proved wrong the next day…)
I just KNEW it was, though. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that the scan would confirm my worst fears – so much so that I actually brought a packed hospital bag with me the next day as we drove to the hospital.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget that waiting room, with it’s little Christmas tree, its Adele songs playing on repeat, or its depressing posters detailing all of the different things that could go wrong with a pregnancy. We seemed to sit it for an absolute eternity, but finally Terry and I were shown into a scan room, where a very serious looking sonographer, and a stern faced nurse were waiting.
The scan was an internal one, and seemed to last forever. Eventually, though, the sonographer turned away from the screen and looked me in the eye.
“I can’t find any trace of a pregnancy in the uterus,” she began, getting straight to the point. “But then again, I wouldn’t really expect to, given how early it is.”
My heart leapt. Maybe it wasn’t ectopic after all?
Er, no, Amber. Sorry.
“I can, however, see a small shadow in the right fallopian tube, right next to the ovary,” the sonographer continued. “I can’t be 100% sure it’s a pregnancy,” she said. “It could just be the side of the ovary.”
My heart leapt again. But not for long.
“Amber,” the sonographer said, looking even more serious than before, “I’m not telling you you have an ectopic pregnancy: it’s too soon to really be sure. But given the blood results, I think they’ll want to treat it as if it is one, so I’ll go and get the doctor, and she can talk to you about what happens next.”
And then I burst into tears, obviously.
I can still vividly remember the next few minutes, and how utterly surreal they were. I just couldn’t believe my worst fear had come true: that I ACTUALLY had an ectopic pregnancy, and that now I might need surgery. I was still shaking with fear as we were shown into the office next door, and I kept on shaking until the doctor arrived – looking implausibly young and fresh faced.
Like the sonographer, she got straight to the point.
“We’re 99% sure your pregnancy is ectopic,” were her opening words to me. “So we need to act really quickly to make sure the fallopian tube doesn’t rupture.”
By this point, I was actually too freaked out even to cry. All I could think about was the fact that I might need to have surgery (I have an extreme phobia of general anaesthetic, and of hospitals…), and the need to avoid that at all costs, so I was relieved when the doctor told me I had three options.
The first was to do nothing, and just hope the pregnancy ended on its own. This option wasn’t, however, one the doctor was willing to consider, as my HCG was still increasing, meaning there was a real risk of the fallopian tube rupturing.
The second option was to treat it with methotrexate – a drug normally used in chemotherapy, but which would basically stop the pregnancy growing, and dissolve it in the tube.
And the third option? Was surgery.
“I’d literally rather die,” I told the doctor, aware of how ridiculous I sounded, but already past caring.
“Well, we won’t go for that option, then,” she said kindly. “Or not as long as option 2 works, anyway…”
And so it was that I found myself leaving the hospital with a pile of paperwork on ectopic pregnancy, and strict instructions not to do anything too energetic – even housework was forbidden, as it could cause the tube to rupture – and to come back the next morning to have the methotrexate injection. (In my ass, naturally. I get all the luck…)
I was just BEYOND devastated. I’d been prepared to be told the pregnancy had ended – I already knew it wasn’t viable – but absolutely nothing can prepare you for being told the pregnancy HASN’T ended….but that, unless it does, it’ll kill you.
I didn’t get much sleep the next night, needless to say – or any night after that, for that matter.
It took the best part of a month, one more methotrexate injection, and yet another scan, for the tube to finally clear. During that time, I had blood tests every two days to make sure the HCG levels were dropping – and I got more and more anxious as time went on. I was very lucky: I didn’t have any side effects from the methotrexate, so I really just had the anxiety to contend with. The anxiety, however, was absolutely off the charts. Every time we drove to Edinburgh to have blood taken, I’d be almost sick with nerves. The wait for the phonecall with my results, meanwhile, was absolute agony – to the point that just the sound of Terry’s ringtone would send me into a complete panic.
During my month long wait, I continued to be so scared that the tube would rupture, or that the methotrexate wouldn’t work, and I’d have to have surgery anyway, that I had to continue taking valium, and was basically unable to function normally. I spent most of the time in bed (On the plus side, I DID have time to re-read the entire Harry Potter series, so hey! Silver linings and all…), and… well, I wasn’t very easy to be around, let’s put it that way.
The HCG levels, meanwhile, rose to over 500 at their peak, and, at one point seemed to level out – at which point I had another (horrifically stressful) scan, and a second dose of methotrexate. The wait felt endless. At times, I honestly worried that my sanity was going to break because of the prolonged stress, which didn’t get any easier to deal with, even when the levels started to drop.
By Christmas day, my HCG had dropped to just 28 – to everyone around me, it seemed obvious that the nightmare was almost over, but, for me, my anxiety had never been worse. I knew it made no sense, but I was still absolutely TERRIFIED that the process was just NEVER going to end, and I got more and more scared with every blood test.
It wasn’t the best Christmas ever, tbh.
Finally, on New Year’s Eve 2016, I got the news I’d spent the whole month waiting for: my HCG levels were finally at zero, and the ordeal was over. I was relieved, obviously, but it was relief tinged with sadness. Yes, I was OK… but the reason I was OK was because another pregnancy had ended. What’s more, if we decided to try again, I now had an increased chance of having another ectopic – which I knew I wouldn’t be able to cope with.
It had been the worst month – and the worst experience – of my life, and it’s something I don’t think I’ll ever really “get over” exactly. And now we were left with the difficult decision of whether or not to try again…