I am finding it hard to believe that it is almost October again. I feel like this year has flown by. October brings a lot of things; pumpkins, fall colors, and usually sweaters, but this blog post is about something that is very close to me. October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month. Did you know that 1 in 4 women have suffered a pregnancy or infant loss? I can almost guarantee that everyone knows at least one person who has gone through this devastating loss.
I am 1 in 4. Some of you know, some don't. I will tell my story in another blog post, but for now I wanted to share my project for the month. I wanted to do something that would call attention to the fact that we still don't talk about loss or how it affected the women and their families. I put out a call for a few ladies to participate in a photo shoot and to tell their stories. The response I received back was overwhelming and heartwarming. I truly enjoyed meeting all the ladies and their families and so grateful that they were willing to participate.
I will be posting one story a week during the month of October, but starting with the first story today.
My story begins in May of 2016. On the weekend of the 22nd, I had planned to run a 5k. I woke up the morning of and it was pouring rain and windy. It took everything I had to drag myself out of bed that day to go do the run. It was for a great cause, so I figured I should just suck it up and go (Im glad I did-my how husband was waiting at the finish line for me and proposed!) I had been running consistently since January, but for some reason, this particular run felt extremely difficult. At the time, I blamed the weather. I've never really run in those kinds of conditions before. In hindsight I guess it was because I was pregnant! A few days had passed after the run and I realized my period was late. So just to put my mind to rest, I decided I'd go out and buy a test. I came home, took the test, waited the two minutes and sure enough it was positive. I thought to myself "is this really happening?" I was excited bc I've always wanted children but at the same time nervous and scared because this was completely unexpected. I hadn't even told my husband I was taking the test because I truly believed it would be negative. So I immediately drove back to CVS and bought about 4 more tests-all positive. At this point, I told my husband who was equally as shocked and excited as I was. I called my OB's office and scheduled my first appointment for confirmation of pregnancy. I went to my first appointment and received pregnancy education and they drew blood to check your HCG level. When I got my results back, I was told they were lower than they'd usually see at this point but not worrisome. Based on when I had my last period they were estimating I was about 7 weeks, but I had irregular periods so it was an honest guesstimate. She said just to double check, they'd draw a second set in a few days to see if the level was increasing. I went in, had the blood drawn and got my results a few days later. I received the call back that my levels were increasing but not to the degree that they should be. I remember the feeling after I got off the phone was somewhat that of panic. Why were my levels not increasing? Was I going to lose the baby? Is this one of those "everyone is different types of things?" My mind was in a state of worry for about the next week when the bigger shock would be delivered.
The morning of June the 5th I woke up to some discomfort on my right side. After it persisted for about an hour, I called my OB. He recommended I go to the ER just to be checked out. So to the ER I went. I met with the ER physician who reviewed my symptoms and told me it was either likely "normal pregnancy stretching", an ovarian cyst, could be an ectopic pregnancy or "a very rare condition where there is a uterine and an ectopic at the same time". I remember being oddly calm during this visit. He assured me that the last option was unlikely as I was young, healthy and did not receive any hormonal therapy to aid in getting pregnant. He ordered an ultrasound and more blood work. The blood work came back and my levels were still slowly increasing, but it was not to the rate they expect. The next on the list was ultrasound to see what exactly was going on. I work in healthcare, so I know that the tech isn't really supposed to discuss what she sees as the scan needs to be read by a radiologist-but I could tell something wasn't right. She was eerily silent the entire time. I was transported back to my room to wait on the doctor. The doctor came back in and the first thing he said was "Remember that rare condition I was telling you about-well that's what's going on here". So basically I was pregnant with twins, however one embryo was implanted in my uterus and the other on my right ovary. This condition is referred to as a heterotopic pregnancy and only occurs in about 1 in 30,000 pregnancies and most commonly those who undergo IVF or hormonal treatments. My case was even more of a rarity because most ectopics implant in the Fallopian tube not the ovary (only 3% of all ectopics implant on an ovary). In turn this explained why my blood levels were off. I was in fact only 5 weeks pregnant but because of twins, I had an elevated HCG.
He then explained my options-I had 3. 1. I could go be transferred to Johns Hopkins Hospital to undergo emergency surgery to remove the embryo from my ovary. Ectopic pregnancies are potentially life threatening if the ovary or tube were to rupture causing internal bleeding. I was told the surgery presented a 40% chance of miscarriage of the uterine pregnancy and there was still a chance I could lose my right ovary and tube during the procedure. 2. I could be given a dose of methotrexate which would terminate both pregnancies and preserve my ovary and tube. Lastly, I could simply wait it out. Wait to see if the ectopic would grow or develop any cardiac activity. When I was diagnosed, I was only about 5 weeks, neither embryo had any signs of cardiac activity at the time. I decided on the last option, so I waited. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't an anxious wreck during this time.
The plan after diagnosis was serial ultrasounds every few days and to report back to the ER immediately for any increase in pain. I got to the point where I would over analyze any little twinge I got and I went to the ER one other time after that, to which the ectopic had only grown slightly in size but still no cardiac activity. The uterine pregnancy was still growing appropriately as well. On June 14th, I went in for routine ultrasound just to check everything to which I received the results of ectopic fetal demise. My body had recognized that embryo as foreign on my ovary and broke it down-again according to my doctor as being very rare. I think the difficult start to my first pregnancy launched a myriad of emotions that stayed with me through the duration of pregnancy. I lived in constant fear of something going wrong and the loss of my baby.
I now have a healthy 7.5 month old daughter who is the absolute light and love of our lives.
I feel extremely blessed that through all of this I was still able to go on to have a successful uterine pregnancy with minimal complications. I do often think of our other baby and how life would be so different if he or she were here as well. I've shared my story with a few family members and close friends, but I'm hoping that if someone else is going through this they know they are not alone. So many women grieve and go through the emotions alone, I'm hoping that by sharing my story I will help end the stigma that miscarriages have to be something kept silent. I am 1 in 4.