My pregnancy journey was just over 24 hours, and was the day that has had the biggest impact on my life. I was finishing up nightshift in the Emergency Department on 24th March, when I suddenly had abdominal pain. I brushed it aside, these things are usually nothing, dosed myself up with painkillers and drove home. Throughout the day I woke up with painful shoulders – again, I brushed it aside, it was probably how I was sleeping. When I woke up I’d noticed I’d had a small amount of bleeding – not particularly odd given I had the Mirena coil and had irregular spotting. Looking back, I can’t believe I ignored these ‘red flag’ symptoms.
I decided to do a pregnancy test when I got to work – I’m not sure what prompted it as I was certain I wasn’t pregnant. It came back positive within a minute. I was so shocked that I was convinced it was a false positive, but a second test showed the same result. Standing alone in the emergency department sluice was not how I ever anticipated taking a pregnancy test, let alone how I imagined finding out I was pregnant for the first time. I quickly went from doctor to patient; being taken into resus, cannulated, bloods taken, fluids and morphine given. I was transferred by ambulance to the nearest gynaecology unit in the early hours of the 25th.
This was the very start of the Covid pandemic – I was so lucky that my fiancé Stuart was allowed with me during the transfer and initial assessment. However, it was the first and last time he was able to be with me, visiting was being stopped that morning. I tried so hard not to allow myself to feel excitement or happiness about this baby, as being a doctor, I knew what the most likely outcome was going to be, but I just couldn’t help it. Stuart was excited and it was infectious, and it broke my heart listening to his hope.
A few hours later I was having my first and last ultrasound. It confirmed I was pregnant; however, it was an ectopic pregnancy, which had ruptured. Within an hour I was in theatre about to be anaesthetised for the removal of my fallopian tube and my baby. Telling Stuart over the phone was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do – I was heartbroken and scared, and Stuart was feeling the exact same at home, alone. I spent a further 24 hours in hospital before being discharged and reunited with Stuart. I cannot fault the wonderful nursing and medical staff who cared for me during this time, wiping away my tears and treating me with such compassion when no family or friends were able to.
It took me a long time to accept and process what happened. I didn’t only lose my baby, I lost so many other moments alongside it. I lost the excitement of my first positive pregnancy test; it was riddled with fear and worry. I lost the excitement of telling Stuart and our families – it was done in a tearful, terrified phone call to Stuart and to my parents who were the other side of the country. This pregnancy was not filled with excitement as I had always thought it would, it was filled with worry and heartbreak and lack of support given the pandemic situation.
The thing that worried me the most about telling people is that I thought people would think my grief wasn’t valid. We hadn’t been trying for this baby, this pregnancy was a complete surprise. I was so worried that people wouldn’t understand that whilst this baby wasn’t planned, it was so wanted and loved in this short time. There’s was no doubt in our minds that this baby would’ve been home with us if things had been different. I would have a very loved 1 year old right now if things had been different. I felt so much guilt that our baby had been growing inside me for 7 whole weeks and I didn’t know. I felt guilty that I got pregnant on contraception, whilst there are so many women who are struggling with conceiving. I felt embarrassed for not knowing and not realising sooner – I’m a doctor who didn’t diagnose herself.
One of the hardest parts about accepting this is that there was no reason for my coil to fail and for us to have to experience this. It wasn’t due to be changed for 18 months, it was in the correct place, my uterus anatomy was normal, it was just… bad luck. I think if there was something that could explain why Stuart and I had to go through this it would’ve been easier to accept. I know I am not alone in this feeling; most pregnancy losses are unexplained. I spent the next few weeks scouring the internet and social media – given my medical background I didn’t come away not knowing what had happened, however I wanted an answer as to why this happened to me. I wanted to see that other people felt exactly as I did. I wanted an explanation for this trauma.
I initially made the decision for ‘sensitive disposal of products of conception’. I have hated that term as a medical professional and hate it even more after being a patient. It feels so impersonal and insensitive. I didn’t have time to process what was going on when the consent form and disposal form were handed to me as the porters were waiting to take me to theatres – it was all so rushed. I ticked hospital cremation as I had no idea where I would even begin organising a cremation, I didn’t even know if we could cremate our tiny baby. This decision kept me awake every night once I was discharged, I hated the thought of my baby being alone in a mortuary, and never being with me again. We had nothing to mark this life changing event, no scans, only fearful memories. We found Special Care Cremations, who were able to provide ashes for early losses and organised this for us. The day our baby arrived home, Stuart and I lay in our bed with our baby’s casket between us, the three of us finally together.
The pandemic made everything harder. Not only did I have to go through it without Stuart by my side, but I couldn’t grieve in the way I wanted to – I wasn’t able to have my family and friends around me to be the shoulder to cry on or to be the distraction I was wanting. It was hard and impersonal to cry over facetime and to not have that loved one there to support me in person. I found early on all I wanted to do was talk about it, and I am so lucky to have a supportive network who allow me to. I reconnected with my wonderful therapist who helped me acknowledge and understand the trauma surrounding this all – worsened by the pandemic. I am now so open about my pregnancy loss; I regularly talk about my baby with my friends and the emotions I am feeling that day. My colleagues and seniors know at work and are supportive of me, especially when I am struggling with it.
There have been positives that have come from this loss. I am sure that Stuart and I can face anything together, we have experienced one of the hardest things a couple can and I am so grateful for him. I could not have survived this without him. Whilst in work I haven’t shied away from women who are in the department and experiencing loss, I am now more likely to be their doctor. I want to be able to provide these women with the best possible care and support and compassion in this awful time, made so much harder by the pandemic, something I can completely relate to. It is still hard, and I often cry after but if I can make these women feel a bit more supported and cared for in this situation, then it is worth it.