The IVF doctor sighed deeply, looked me straight in the eye and said, “You’re very old and you’re quite deformed. There is no point in you having sex anymore.”
Ok, fine. Maybe I’m paraphrasing. It was more like, “Given your age, and the fact that you have only one Fallopian tube, the chances of you conceiving naturally are quite slim.”
But I heard what I heard.
This was back in April 2021, about 7 months after a disastrous ectopic pregnancy that had resulted in a burst Fallopian tube and emergency surgery to remove it and save me from internally bleeding to death.
Eric and I were trying desperately to have one more child (we had always dreamed of two girls, and by we I mean me, and then I convinced Eric it was his dream too) but, given my various mental health issues, I had been staunchly avoiding a trip to the IVF doctor, fearful of what the brutal process would do to me, both mentally and physically.
I have known many brave women who have gone through IVF, and I have always marveled at their tenacity and strength. I couldn’t imagine having to manage the slew of doctor’s appointments, surgeries, hormone shots, side effects, and overall logistics without going completely insane (particularity given that my depressive and anxious tendencies can be triggered by something as benign as a change in routine, or the fact that it’s a weekday). IVF didn’t seem like something I was built for.
But it had been seven frustrating months of natural trying, and while some of you (men. Definitely only men) , might think “Cool! Sex!”, I can promise you that nothing is less seductive than strictly scheduled, position-coordinated sex, followed by obligatory post-coital bicycle kicks (just me, not Eric, although he was welcome to join) in order to get those sperm a swimmin’. All of this culminating in half-upside-down vertical leg-propping on the headboard whilst scrolling social media to pass the 15 minutes those little champions need to find their way to your ancient egg!**
This ritual was not proving successful in making a baby, but while upside-down Instagram scrolling I did come across a useful reel about how to put a tortilla under my nachos as a vessel for all the crumbs at the end, thus creating a bonus burrito. So not entirely unproductive.
The pressure we were putting on ourselves was making us both miserable, and we finally broke down and decided that intervention might be necessary, both to make a baby and to allow us to return to a non-cyborg sex life.
In the weeks leading up to our initial consultation with the IVF clinic, I still held out hope that we could somehow conceive naturally– hope that was immediately dashed when the doctor informed me of the cobwebs in my uterus and the deficiency of my lady parts. Or however he phrased it.
The doctor was confirming my worst fear since the ectopic pregnancy– that getting pregnant again was going to be extremely difficult, and perhaps not possible at all. I could tell he knew his shit (as I like to assume all doctors do), and so I took a deep breath and tried to process the fact that natural baby-making was no longer an option for me.
The doctor walked me through the process. We discussed timelines, hormone side effects, actual chances of conceiving and the likelihood that I would have to go through the process more than once. In more disappointing news, it turned out I would need to have preliminary tests done before even starting IVF, including testing on my one remaining Fallopian tube, which he was convinced was likely blocked with scar tissue from my two previous surgeries, and might have to be removed in order to optimize IVF results. I asked about IUI, a less invasive intervention, but was told that given my ectopic pregnancy, I was a poor candidate. The only way to ensure that I would not have another ectopic pregnancy was to bypass the tube entirely.
Eric rubbed my back as I sobbed.
The doctor was sympathetic and kind, but firm in his belief that we shouldn’t waste time. “Call me on the first day of your next period, and we can get the ball rolling.”
I never got my period.
Instead I got this:
Turns out, I was already pregnant when we spoke with the doctor, but I didn’t know it yet. My one lonesome, rickety tube beat the odds. And apparently, uterus cobwebs are helpful for trapping embryos***.
So for about the 85th time in my life I learned the slightly terrifying (but in this case fortuitous) lesson that doctors don’t know everything– and despite my propensity for skepticism, I had to admit that miracles really do happen.
I said miracle. I didn’t say genius.
** I consulted an actual scientist who confirmed there is, in fact, no science to this.
On Friday, September 11, in the bullshit, hellfire year of 2020, I peed on a stick and it showed a positive result.
Sorry, I should clarify– I peed on a PREGNANCY TEST stick and it showed a positive result for PREGNANCY. (Just in case you thought I peed on a popsicle stick or a yard stick and that the stick, as a result, felt optimistic. As far as I’m aware, my pee does not have that power.)
One might view this as good news, and generally it is (obviously), but any excitement I felt about the positive result was quickly overridden by doubt and worry because 1) the line was VERY faint and 2) it took four days after my missed period to even show up on a test (My mother, quite the Fertile Myrtle* yet from the Jurassic Era of pregnancy, did not find this latter point suspicious in the least, but we all know that modern pregnancy tests can now detect pregnancy SUPER early, often BEFORE a missed period, and almost certainly on the DAY of the missed period. And by “we all know that,” I mean that’s what happened with my last pregnancy and therefore based on that one situation once, it is filed in my brain under “Facts We All Know.”)
So naturally, I immediately googled “faint line on a pregnancy test 4 days after missed period and I’m freaking out.” I got about 78923392893 explanations, and 78923392892 of them were some version of “Every woman is different. You’re fine, Karen.”
But naturally, I zeroed in on the one article that mentioned ectopic pregnancy as a possible reason for this late, faint-line scenario, and my anxiety disorder immediately perked up and declared “YES. I’LL TAKE ECTOPIC PREGNANCY FOR 500, ALEX!”
For those of you who don’t know what an ectopic pregnancy is and who enjoy getting your medical information from this blog (not advised), it is a complication of pregnancy in which the embryo attaches outside the uterus (don’t worry, I cut and pasted that from wikipedia a verified medical source so that you know it’s accurate). The uterus (again for those of you who skipped 5th grade health class because your parents are religious, or for those of you who are Mike Pence), is the only place in the body that can provide a “hospitable environment” for an embryo. If the embryo attaches outside the uterus, it cannot thrive and grow, and therefore has no chance of being a viable pregnancy.
Reading all this on The Google offset a series of back and forth with my OBGYN. I requested an earlier ultrasound, because the soonest appointment offered to me was 10/14, which would put me at 9 weeks 2 days pregnant. That seemed an absurdly long time to wait, especially considering that my “advanced maternal age” (cue flirty hair toss)
and previous C-section automatically put me in the category of “high risk.” The doctor agreed to do bloodwork to ensure my hormones were rising as they should, but wouldn’t budge on the ultrasound date.
Then I found blood in my underwear.
Finding blood in your underwear is never a sign that today is going to be a good day. Even when it’s the “good” blood (aka your period), it’s a huge fucking bummer. So when you find the “bad” blood, you can pretty much throw out your chances of mental sanity for the foreseeable future. (What you can also do is take pictures of it and send to your BFF, thus solidifying what you already knew was an in-the-trenches-together-for-life friendship. Thank you again to that friend, and I’m sorry if you still can’t eat.)
I called my doctor and she insisted that it was still too early for an ultrasound (at this point I was 5 weeks 3 days), but that we’d see what my blood results had to say. My results came back the next day and showed that the hormones were increasing as they should. And you know what’s great about your hormones increasing properly during early pregnancy? ABSOLUTELY FUCKING NOTHING IF IT’S AN ECTOPIC PREGNANCY. Because technically, you are pregnant (just in the wrong place), so your body continues to supply you with the hormones as it would for a properly-placed pregnancy. It doesn’t yet know the difference. So a blood test early on will reveal absolutely zero helpful information in terms of discovering an ectopic pregnancy.
You know what WILL reveal an ectopic pregnancy that early?
A MOTHERFUCKING ULTRASOUND.
After more pleading (because I was not satisfied with the bloodwork results alone), my doctor agreed to move up my ultrasound to 10/6 (when I would be 8 weeks 1 day). I still found this unacceptable. She continued to argue that it was too early for an ultrasound (FALSE– perhaps too early to detect a heartbeat, NOT too early to detect an ectopic pregnancy), and it wasn’t until I burst into tears with the secretary that she magically found a way to squeeze me in on 9/30, which would put me at 7 weeks 2 days. I still found this absurdly late for a first ultrasound given my age, the suspicious faint line, and the blood, but not wanting to harass them any further and come off as a complete crazy person (big mistake- I should have owned my title as I always have), I accepted that date.
On Monday, 9/28, two days before my scheduled ultrasound, I woke up to more blood.
And about an hour later, I began experiencing cramps on my right side, which quickly devolved into EXCRUCIATING pain. I could not move from the fetal position. Not that the fetal position was even helping. No matter how I contorted my body, the pain was sharp, intense, and relentless. It literally took my breath away, in the absolute least romantic interpretation of that phrase.
Eric called the doctor’s office. My OB was not in that day (OF COURSE), but the secretary told us to go to the emergency room. We drove straight to the nearest hospital in Norwalk.
Due to COVID, Eric was not allowed to stay with me. So I would now like to add “Scared and alone in the ER” to my “Things I Blame on Trump” list.
They took an ultrasound. Fun fact: the ultrasound technicians are not allowed to reveal to you what they are seeing. I don’t know if they take some kind of acting class in order to hone the skills required to stay completely fucking stone-faced while staring at a pregnant woman’s empty uterus, but I gotta say, the Oscar goes to technician Cindy in Ultrasound Room B.
Bitch didn’t bat an eye while gazing into what I would later learn was the hollow, unoccupied abyss of my uterus. She didn’t show the slightest hint of emotion when I asked her, through a cascade of tears, if she could hear a heartbeat. “I’m not allowed to discuss what I see,” replied Cyborg Cindy.
About 30 minutes after the ultrasound was completed, the ER doctor reported his findings. “There are no signs of pregnancy in your uterus. The ultrasound shows significant bleeding in your right ovary, and we believe we see an ectopic pregnancy in your right fallopian tube. The bleeding and pain is likely the result of the tube rupturing, but we will need your OB to come in to confirm.”
He was perfectly nice and sympathetic when he relayed this news, but it didn’t stop me from wanting to light his face on fire.
They called my OB’s office, only to be told the on-call OB was in the middle of performing a C-section. She would get back to us in an hour. I stared at the wall and choke-sobbed, creating a list of reasons (I love lists) why this was happening to me. In true depressive form, they were all my fault.
In a not-at-all-shocking turn of events, the on-call OB at my practice finally called back to say that their doctors are not licensed to practice at Norwalk Hospital, only at Greenwich, and therefore could not come to consult. I would need to be seen by the attending OB at Norwalk.
I jotted down this hour of wasted time in excruciating pain as the final point on my “Ways This Practice Has Ass Raped Me” list (looooove lists), and vowed to never return.
The one bright spot in the story is that the attending OB then stepped in, and she was a lovely angel sent from the heavens. She had the (wee) stature, coloring, and gentle, soothing manner of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and I immediately felt safe in her Jewish motherly presence (she probably wasn’t Jewish, but definitely had that “vibe,” which is a positive trait in exactly one kind of situation, and this was it). Ruth Dr. M was calm and comforting, but also knew her shit and wasn’t going to beat around the bush.
She immediately confirmed an ectopic pregnancy.
Obviously. Of all the “this-pregnancy-situation-aint-lookin-good” scenarios, Of COURSE this was an ectopic pregnancy. Because in no other body than mine would the egg and sperm go through all the trouble to meet and merge, only to then be TOO FUCKING LAZY TO MAKE THE 5 INCH** TRIP DOWN TO THEIR UTERUS HOME.
Sperm and egg were like “Hey, you wanna do this thing? Cool. So let’s just park it, crack open a can of hard seltzer (this embryo was VERY white) and netflix n’ chill here in the fallopian tube instead of, you know, doing all the stuff that requires energy.” Basically the story of my and Eric’s courtship.
And I’m obviously in favor of the whole “meet-and-immediately-settle-down” approach but in this scenario, putting in one more tiny modicum of effort turned out to be necessary for the success of the relationship. They were lazy and they blew it.
So I had immediate emergency surgery.
The embryo had been growing in my right fallopian tube, and because it had grown to a size that exceeded the diameter of the tube, the tube had ruptured. In case you’re wondering what it feels like when an organ ruptures inside your body, stop wondering. You don’t want to know.
They put me under general anesthesia. They preformed the surgery laparoscopically, and removed my ruptured fallopian tube. The internal bleeding and inflammation was so bad at that point, the doctor told me I was extremely lucky that I came in when I did. I took that to mean I very possibly could have died, but I didn’t ask her to clarify. Even I, the masochist, didn’t want to know.
When I awoke from surgery, which took about 2 hours, I was delighted to see Ruth Bader Ginsburg– the ACTUAL Ruth Bader Ginsburg– stroking my hand and telling me I did a great job. She was super proud of me. I thanked her, then asked, “Did you come back from the dead, Ruth? I can call you Ruth, right? That’s ok? Or are you a ghost? You know what, it doesn’t matter. I’m just so glad you’re here.” At which point Ruth lovingly assured me that I was on lots and lots of drugs, and that I should stop saying words.
I stayed quiet after that, but only after asking her to please sign my water bottle.
Idk she must not have heard me.
I am now home recovering, and have been getting plenty of rest and lots of love. My mother-in-law arrived the day of surgery and took care of Nora for the following 3 days. My parents then took over on Wednesday night. They arrived with a full bottle of Grey Goose, 5 bottles of wine, and their own coffee machine. None of it was for us. Those are apparently the supplies they require in order to make it through a 48 hour stay in our home.
My respect for them runs deep.
How am I feeling? I appreciate you asking (you didn’t). I’m pretty much all over the fucking place (hence the choice to start writing. It helps.) Here’s a sample of some of the things going through my mind. Don’t worry, it’s just a pu pu platter. I won’t torture you with the full menu, as I haven’t even worked through that myself.
I’m angry with my OB for not giving me an earlier ultrasound, and angry with myself for not pushing harder. I recognize she could not have prevented the ectopic pregnancy, but she could have discovered it sooner and treated it with medication, thereby saving me from this hell parade of an experience and the loss of my tube. While I know you only need one tube to get pregnant, it’s sure as shit easier with two. Plus no one likes to lose an organ if they don’t have to. Not to sound like my terrible-2 toddler, but that was MY tube, godammit. MINE! I grew it myself!
I’m sad. While I never fully committed to the idea of this baby due to the anxious circumstances surrounding it from the beginning, and therefore can’t really say I feel a true sense of mourning (as I know many women do feel after a miscarriage, no matter what stage of pregnancy, and that feeling of loss and grief is always completely valid), I had still let myself get excited. I was thrilled about the idea of Nora getting a sibling– that she’d have someone to talk to, even though there is no one she’d rather talk to than herself. She’s so ready to be a big sister, and I want that for her. Badly.
I’m anxious. About the future, and what this means for the family we were hoping to grow. The fact that this happened to me once means there is an increased risk of it happening again. I’ll be 39 soon. I’m down a tube. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the odds are bad– but they’re certainly decreasing.
I’m annoyed. On a purely logistical level, this was a perfectly timed pregnancy for a myriad of reasons. That feels silly to even put in writing, but it’s part of the feelings shitnado, so there you have it. I’m pissed that it didn’t work out, that my meticulously planned timing has blown up in my face, and I’m overwhelmed by the idea of starting from scratch.
I’m hopeful. Somehow, I’m able to wade through this shitswamp and take solace in the fact that whatever is meant to be is going to be. I often hate when people say that, but I do truly believe it in this circumstance. In many ways, I feel strong. And I agree with Ruth– I’m proud of myself for getting through this (this part, at least. I know I’m not done). I feel a new, even deeper appreciation for the one amazing, beautiful, dynamic, hilarious child I DO have. I feel once again validated in my amazing choice of partner (not that it ever needs validation– I just enjoy being right), because as always he has stepped up in every way possible. And I have not-new-but-always-growing gratitude for my incredible friends and family, who have always been there for me, this moment being no exception.
But none of this is linear. I’m deeply humbled one moment and back to angry and sad the next. Then back again. The only constant is the steadfast eating of feelings. I would like to thank “snacks” for sponsoring this miscarriage.
My body still hurts. I am still expelling remnants of a pregnancy that once carried endless possibilities, and is now just a visual reminder of hopes dashed. I know I’ll get through it, but I’m still in it.
And it’s pretty dark in here.
So thanks to those of you who have provided some light.
Especially you, Ruth.
*”She got pregnant if I even looked at her funny!” – My Dad. 🤢