TRIGGER WARNING – This is a raw and personal account of what can go wrong during pregnancy. I am going to explore sickness and loss and it’s going to be a little fucked up but I can promise you that it will be candid and honest. Stop reading now if this topic is going to be too heavy for you.
Exactly two weeks ago, I was about to get on a plane back to New York when the most horrible day of my life began. We were seven weeks pregnant and had already been told that there was an 80% chance we were miscarrying. Then things went from bad to worse…
Not only was the pregnancy not viable, it was ectopic and needed to be terminated immediately. I was already in a life-threatening situation and had to make a decision to end my pregnancy that night. It wasn’t a matter of “if” but a matter of “how”.
Backtrack to that Sunday night, I was trying to fall asleep and all I could think about was the blood test I had to get at 8AM the next morning before my flight. All I wanted was for my hCG levels to increase because that was our only hope for not miscarrying. I had a lot of women trying to comfort me by telling me how the bleeding could be perfectly normal, some women bleed for their whole first trimester and have healthy babies, I was told more than once.
But I think somewhere deep down, I knew it wasn’t good. I remember telling Terrence on the phone that I didn’t think we were ever going to meet this baby. I only told a few other people, but when I did, it went like this: “We’re pregnant” – and as soon as their eyes would light up, I would quickly say, “But it’s not going well”. I couldn’t stand to watch them try to find hope where I instinctively knew there was none.
I was ecstatic when I found out that my levels had increased on Monday. The doctors weren’t expecting it either, and I thought that it could only mean good news. I was at Enterprise, about to return my rental car to get on a flight back to NY, and the doctor’s affect had totally changed: “You cannot get on that flight” she told me. I resisted. I needed to get home. I needed to be with my husband and my dogs. I needed to get to South Carolina in a couple of days.
There were three doctors in the office all talking about my situation. They were concerned because my levels were so high and suspected an ectopic pregnancy. They went on to tell me that they absolutely had to find my baby that day, but my stubbornness persisted. Her tone became even more stern, “If you get on that flight and your tube ruptures, you could bleed out before they can land the plane”. Okay, point taken. I wasn’t getting back to New York.
So back to Westminster I went. I remember sitting in a coffee shop trying to pass time before the scheduled ultrasound. The barista offered me their seasonal Juniper latte – the name we had already casually picked out if we were having a girl. I accepted the offer, thinking that maybe superstition would turn everything around. The drink was gross, and it hit my empty stomach like a cinderblock.
I was trying to be chipper when I went in for the ultrasound. The tech and I were making casual small talk about photography and dogs while she was reviewing my file. “Okay, I see we’re ruling out an ectopic today” she said optimistically. It sounded like a no-big-deal thing at the time. She told me that our due date would probably be somewhere between July 25 (Terrence’s birthday) and August 1.
She rubbed the gel on my belly and began scanning. We were still chatting about dogs when she started tilting the machine away from me so I couldn’t see what was happening. I had asked her what her dog’s name was and she didn’t respond. Her eyes were fixated on the ultrasound and I saw her lips fall away from each other. “I’m sorry, what did you say?” she kindly responded a minute later. I knew then that it was all over.
She was sweet, but couldn’t tell me anything. I was in there for almost forty minutes while she just kept taking screen shots. She stepped away to talk to a doctor and when she came back, she was grabbing my backpack and telling me that I needed to check into urgent care immediately. My worry turned into panic, which quickly turned into rage. She insisted that she couldn’t tell me anything, but when I began tearing up and shaking, she just placed her hand on my shoulder and whispered, “You know, I think you know, it’s the thing that they, well, try not to worry too much”. And then she just turned around and left. No goodbye, no good luck.
I had to go through the same slew of tests and questions trying to get into urgent care. What’s your date of birth? Are you a smoker? Let’s do a quick blood pressure test. How much do you weigh? When was your last period? What’s your favorite color? Okay, obviously not the last one, but I was so mad that I had to answer all of these stupid questions for the second time that day when nobody would tell me what the hell was wrong with me.
I sat in urgent care for another hour while one doctor told me that my case was ‘complicated’, that this was not his specialty, and wanted to transfer me to OBGYN. I was getting moved again with no answers. Finally, I made it to a specialist who had apparently already run my ultrasound past two other doctors. She was an older woman, with a silvery ponytail and caring eyes. She was also the first person to be straightforward with me, and the news hit hard.
I think she spoke slowly, but it all felt like such a blur that maybe I just processed it slowly. She explained that at seven weeks, they normally hear a heartbeat and can see the fetus safely embedded in the uterine lining. Instead, I had what was called an ‘empty uterus’ and they had eventually found the pregnancy – which was described as a mass – near my right ovary. I remember her assuring me that there was a zero percent chance of viability and there was no wait-and-see option.
She immediately began discussing the pros and cons of medication versus surgery. Absolutely none of what she said was registering, and I just heard ‘blah blah blah scar tissueblah blah blah rupture blah blah blah copay blah blah blah save the tube’. That was my breaking point. I officially lost my shit and just began sobbing. In the first act of humanity that I got from a doctor in that whole weekend, she began also welling up and just held me. Neither of us said anything for a long time. She rubbed my back and I just cried into this stranger’s scrubs.
She told me that she would step out of the room and I should call my husband. She would come back into the room in a few minutes to go over our options again. She did and we decided that we would try the medication before surgery in an attempt to preserve my fertility. Another woman came into the room to give me the methotrexate and the fifteen or so minutes that followed would prove to be some of the darkest moments of my whole life.
I had to sign a bunch of consent forms that could be summed up into: (A) I understand that by accepting this medication, I am terminating my pregnancy; (B) I understand that by denying this medication, I am putting my own life at risk. It was harsh, but it was true. I wasn’t given time to process, nor was I given time to grieve. Time was not on my side because every passing hour meant that my hCG levels would climb, putting me at greater risk of a tubal rupture and imminent surgery. I was only given five minutes to use the bathroom between making the decision to try the methotrexate and actually receiving the injection.
I walked down the sterile hallway at the OBGYN like a zombie. I was sobbing so hard that I didn’t even try to wipe my tears. I forgot to shut the door in the bathroom and instead just ran ice-cold water over my hands, trying to feel anything else but the raging pain inside my chest. A few minutes later, I walked back into the room and the doctor was patiently waiting, holding the needles. I tried not to look at them, but I was fixated on the bright yellow fluid inside. I stared at them the way that Americans watch a car accident – horrified – but unable to turn away. This would ultimately end my baby’s life (or at least that was the “hope”) and no amount of rationalization could shake that fact.
“Are you ready?” the nurse asked softly. No– I don’t remember if I said it out loud or not. Of course I wasn’t ready, how the fuck do you feel ‘ready’ for that moment? But I had no choice. It was the first time that I felt like my body no longer belonged to myself; I was a prisoner aflame in an incinerated cell, and I just had to roll over on my side while the nurse prepped the injection site. The table was hard and the florescent lights were stinging into the back of my eyes. The needles felt like a thousand bullets piercing my flesh and the chemicals burned through every ounce of maternal instinct that I had recently found deep inside my psyche.
I had to lay on my side with my knees up to my chest while she prepped the injection site. I was crying so hard that I was sure that she wouldn’t be able to get the needle in the right place, but I just laid there completely helpless while she pushed the shot into my hip. It ruined me, and I felt the burning chemicals raging into my muscles. It was the point of no return: this was the bright yellow fluid that would kill our baby, and I had to roll over onto my other side to endure it all over again.
By the time the second injection was done and I sat up, my hips were already on fire. She went over the side effects and left the room. The other doctor came back again and we talked about success rates and what to do in case I begin to rupture (a very real possibility still). She handed me the whole box of tissues and told me to take them home. I think I used half of them in the elevator where I stood next to an older woman who was obviously uncomfortable by my breakdown. She gave me that half-smile that suggested that she might exit the first floor that the doors open even if it’s not where she was trying to go.
It was horrible. It was the worst day of my entire life and I can’t undo any of it. Two weeks have passed and my body continues to fight against the toxins that are raging through all of my cells, desperate to stop anything that is rapidly dividing. I am still technically pregnant and trapped in this hormonal warfare while I go through everything from nausea to dizziness to contractions and cramping and bleeding and clotting. I get hot and I get cold. My muscles are sore and my heart is just so heavy. I am grieving a loss that isn’t over and I am still at risk of rupturing or ending up in surgery.
I had believed up until that moment that pregnancy was about wellness, not sickness. But the reality was I was sick, my baby was sick, and there was no amount of meditation, positive thinking, or God that would get me out of this one. I had taken immaculate care of myself: I eat like a monk, I’m active, I don’t smoke, I wasn’t on birth control, I’ve never had any pelvic conditions, and I’m under the age of 35 – which is to say that I didn’t fulfill a single risk factor. It felt so unfair that somebody who could be so health-conscious could be suddenly fighting to save their own fertility.
For now, we are stuck in CO and have no choice but to live through this hell until my levels return to zero. We have already missed my sister’s wedding and will not be home for Christmas. I feel like I could collapse from sadness at any moment. This body was supposed to be able to create life, and almost destroyed itself trying. It is simultaneously trying to create andundo another human while I have to live in this battlefield of hormones and toxins raging through my bloodstream. I am merely existing under the weight of fear and loss, and I think I for the first time I finally understand the true meaning of womanhood. Femininity is not about being delicate and sexy, it is about being a warrior when your only weapon is the primal strength that resides in the very fabric of our DNA.
I will not meet this baby and yet I knowthis baby with the resonance of a thousand spirits. I will not know whether it would have been a boy or a girl, and I will never know if its heartbeat pulsed inside of me. If all goes well, I will absorb our baby back into my own body, the same place where it came from. It is the most tightly woven circle of life, so tight that I wonder if this is even a loss at all. I have lost nothing more than blood and innocence and I think maybe motherhood is the ability to love our babies whether or not they ever make it earth-side. I have found a fortitude that I wish I never knew, but it is one that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.