Loss, Love and Hope: A Journey Through Miscarriage and Ectopic Pregnancy
Hi, friends. April here with a special guest post from my brave friend, Brittany Brooks Brim. Over the years, I’ve encouraged and helped other women to write their birth stories. A few months ago, when I shared the story of my second pregnancy loss, Brittany reached out to me and asked if I could help her tell her story. Not a birth story, but one of her journey through five pregnancies, four of which resulted in losses. Brittany’s hope in sharing this is that other women who’ve struggled with infertility and pregnancy losses will know they’re not alone.
Five years ago, when my husband Chris and I got married, we never imagined having children would present any challenges. We are both healthy, active people with no medical problems, so what could possibly go wrong? We knew we wanted a family and started trying right away.
In November 2015, I was six weeks into my first pregnancy. We were just like any newly expecting parents — excited, nervous and ready to start sharing our news with family and friends. I had just scheduled my 8-week appointment when I started to bleed at the gym.
Because miscarriage was not on my radar, I began Googling and convinced myself that the bleeding was from an invisible twin or some cause other than miscarriage. When I went to the doctor, he told me I was having a miscarriage, most likely from a chromosomal abnormality.
At the time, that doctor and his personality were what I needed. He told me I was healthy, and I would be OK. “Go home, order some sushi and have some wine,” he said. “This is a loss, and you need to treat it that way. You need to mourn.”
The miscarriage happened naturally, and I didn’t need any medical intervention. Chris and I were devastated. We never thought something like this would happen to us, but we let ourselves mourn and moved forward.
A few months later, in May 2016, I got pregnant again. I was extremely nervous the entire time, but there was no bleeding during the first trimester, and I carried to term a perfectly healthy baby girl we named Isla. She was born February 2, 2017, and is now three years old. Beautiful, sassy and sweet, Isla is the best thing to ever happen to me.
Feeling Emotionally Wasted by 2019
Toward the end of 2018, Chris and I started trying to conceive again, with the hope of giving Isla a sibling. I got pregnant in February 2019, but I started bleeding around six weeks. We went to our doctor, who said I was having another miscarriage. The bleeding went on for about two weeks, and it did not seem at all like my first experience. I was losing a lot of blood, though, and after talking with my mom, I decided to call my doctor and get an ultrasound.
I was shocked to learn that I was having an ectopic pregnancy in my right fallopian tube. It was a horrible experience and, again, something I did not expect at all. To treat it, we were sent to labor and delivery, and after waiting eight hours and witnessing a lot of miscommunication between the nursing and pharmacy staff, I was finally able to get an injection of methotrexate. The medicine, which is meant to stop the growth of the fertilized egg before it ruptures the tube, did its job, and I didn’t need surgery or other treatment.
Emotionally, however, I was devastated. There was no explanation for an ectopic pregnancy. I had no history of endometriosis and no pain during periods. I had spent two weeks bleeding and thinking I was having a miscarriage. I was trying to get through that; I didn’t think my health was in danger. I was so focused on getting it over with and feeling all the pain that I neglected my health.
I allowed myself time to grieve that loss, and we started trying again a few months later. In August 2019, I got a positive pregnancy test at home. Blood tests showed my hCG levels were trending up, but I had another miscarriage at five weeks. I was emotionally disconnected from this pregnancy, as it was so early. Had we not been trying, I likely would have thought it was just a late period. I think this was a defense mechanism for me. If I didn’t allow myself to think of it as a loss, then I could move on more quickly and not feel the emotions I had felt a few months prior.
I felt emotionally wasted in 2019. Our house flooded twice, our dog passed away, and I had gone through two pregnancy losses. So many bad things were happening, I decided I didn’t want to get pregnant again in 2019. I was convinced things were not going to go well, and with the support of my husband, we decided to take a break to focus on my health and our family.
Receiving More Bad News in 2020
Going into 2020, I was hopeful it would be a better year for a fresh start. The day after Isla’s third birthday, on February 3, I got a positive pregnancy test. I almost didn’t want to tell Chris because I didn’t want him to get too excited due to our past experiences. The next day, however, I told him and we both remained cautiously optimistic. A week later, knowing I would need support if this pregnancy did not succeed, I told my mom and dad, and everyone was really positive this time.
I felt pregnant. My boobs hurt, and my blood work was normal. I was hoping I’d start vomiting and continue to feel all of the symptoms I could feel. Every day, we let ourselves get a little more excited. It was hard to grasp, but we started planning for Isla’s sibling.
Just a couple weeks later, though, I began feeling pain on my left side. Terrified, but trying to listen to my body this time, I called my doctor. He said everything could be fine, but he recommended an ultrasound just to be sure. During the ultrasound, the technician started out excited, but then she got really quiet, which I knew meant bad news. It was another ectopic pregnancy, this time in the left tube.
The treatment for this ectopic pregnancy would be the same, but my doctor really wanted us to have a better experience this time, so he told us to go home and give him time to talk to the emergency department staff. We went in later, and I received the methotrexate injection. Although it was still a bit of a nightmare, we were in and out in four hours. I couldn’t believe I was living through this again.
A week after the injection, I was still feeling pain on my left side. Then, the pain subsided, and ironically, I felt great. I later learned it was because my tube had slowly started to bleed, which relieved the pressure on the tube. I also learned that shoulder pain can be a sign of internal bleeding as well, but shoulder pain is common for me so I didn’t think anything of that symptom at the time.
That same morning, the one when I woke up feeling great, my doctor called with my hCG test results. My level had tripled — a critical value, according to my doctor. He told me to go to the emergency department right away and pack a bag in case I needed to stay. Our neighbors picked up Isla, and friends took our dogs.
We waited for six hours in the emergency department before I could have surgery. Most of the same people who had been working a week before when I had the injection were there, and they remembered me. A surgeon came to talk to me and said having ectopic pregnancies in both tubes is rare. She planned to remove my left tube and possibly the left ovary and the right tube.
The surgery went well, and I still have both of my ovaries. The surgeon did not remove the right tube, but it’s damaged — so much so that getting pregnant naturally is no longer an option for us. After the surgery, I recovered at home. With three incisions, I had to be careful and take it easy. For me, the worst part of recovery was not being able to pick my daughter up and get the snuggles I so badly needed.
Reflecting on My Losses and Looking to the Future
I’m grateful the last ectopic pregnancy was caught when it was. As soon as it became life-threatening, it was easy for me to disconnect from the loss. If something went wrong, I wouldn’t be here for Isla, and I can’t imagine not being here to see her grow up.
This experience has shown me that my life is important. After spending months so focused on creating a future, I am trying to just be present and enjoy what I have. Having nowhere to go during quarantine helped me with that. Conversely, it also made me have dark moments I wouldn’t otherwise because I had nothing to distract me. But I have learned that going through those emotions is a good way to move forward.
I have also learned that I need people to lean on, and I’m so thankful for a wonderful support network. I am lucky to have a great group of girlfriends in my life, who rushed to be with me after this experience, bringing mimosas, grocery shopping and even cleaning my house. I knew I leaned on them a lot before this, but not being able to have that social time during this quarantine was extremely hard, especially at a really tough time in my life.
Being quarantined at home also made me grieve for Isla. She sees her friends playing with their siblings and doesn’t understand why she can’t join the fun. It makes my heart hurt that she doesn’t have a sibling to play with, and she yearns so badly for child interaction right now. We are trying our best to be everything she needs, but I know she’d be over the moon to have a little friend to play with.
My doctors can’t explain the ectopic pregnancies and why my tubes became damaged. They said it could be endometriosis although I’ve never had acute issues — no irregular periods and no pain. We are now embarking on a journey through IVF, our last chance to have another baby.
If I do get pregnant again, I think I want to announce it early on, during the first trimester. Why wait eight or twelve weeks? As a society, I think we’re weird about that. If you have a miscarriage, it’s really hard to tell people after the fact, and it is so difficult not to have that support when you find out something is wrong because nobody knew you were pregnant. I’m not ashamed of my losses, and I think pregnancy loss needs to be talked about since it happens to so many people and is rarely discussed. It is so easy to feel alone in the situation, when in reality we all know multiple women who have had similar stories of loss.
Before my journey, I wasn’t aware that miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies are common, even when you’re healthy. Chris and I went into this pregnancy journey thinking we would get pregnant and have babies when we wanted to, but we have now realized it is so much more complex than that.
Maybe IVF will work or maybe not, but I am grateful not to be at the mercy of Mother Nature anymore. Being told to “keep trying” month after month takes a toll on you — both physically and mentally. Now it will be our decision, and I love having that sense of control again. After all we’ve gone through for five years, it’s good to have another option. With open minds and open hearts, we feel like it’s worth trying, and we’ll give it a shot.