Our Story: Ectopic Pregnancy Loss and Musings on Mythology
John and I were expecting our second child to be born on September 11, 2002. Since my first pregnancy had been normal, I was not scheduled to go to my first appointment until I was more than 8 weeks along. But the Sunday before the appointment, something went wrong.
On February 3rd, 2002, I lost the baby, and nearly lost my life. I started to feel lightheaded and crampy in the late morning. After I had vomited and lost consciousness twice, my husband spoke to a triage nurse at my ob-gyn practice. Unfortunately, she did not recognize the classic symptoms or timing of an ectopic pregnancy. She thought at first that it was morning sickess, then that I was having a normal miscarriage. The ectopic (literally "out of place") pregnancy was in my right fallopian tube, which ruptured. I suffered massive internal bleeding, not unlike a burst appendix. The pain was incredible. I could not lift my head or move from one position. I thought that perhaps I had cracked all my ribs when I lost consciousness. I stayed home several hours too long, but finally we called for an ambulance. I could no longer be moved because of the level of pain and my inability to hold onto consciousness.
I am told by my surgeon that I got to the hospital just in the nick of time - an hour later, and I might have died. After emergency surgery and a massive blood transfusion, my life was saved. The surgeon (named A. Lovelady, if you can believe it) was skillful enough to have been able to save what we ephemistically call "my equipment" other than the ruptured tube itself. And, of course, the 8-week old fetal tissue - which at that point may or may not have been recognizable (and I was afraid to ask).
I don't know whether the baby would have been a boy or a girl. Any of you who believe that this tiny fetus might have a continued existence on another plane somewhere, please wing your good thoughts toward my lost one to guide him or her to a happy place. My feelings about the matter are conflicted. I would like to believe in the images represented by many of the pregnancy loss sites - of a heaven where my baby is an angel welcomed and cherished by Jesus and God. But I don't really believe this very comforting image. On one side, the expectation of the outcome of pregnancy is a living child - and I feel the loss of that child that will never be. On the other side, we don't mourn the loss of the unfertilized egg every month, and I don't believe an 8-week-old fetus is yet a person. I am pro-choice, but if I had to decide whether or not to abort, I would deeply prefer not to do it. I simply don't believe that it is a decision that should be regulated by healthcare systems or the government. My use of these images is not meant to be ironic or hypocritical - they are very comforting images, and many many people do believe in them - perhaps you are one. I see them as a mythology in Joseph Campbell's sense - a set of images and narratives that help us to feel a sense of meaning and place. We have no other functional mythologies for the loss of a pregnancy.
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Joseph Campbell: "Myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestations."
I do know that there was no way to save this baby. Whether God was involved or not, this baby was simply not destined to become a living child - there is nothing anyone could have done to allow the baby to continue to grow and thrive. We are mourning the loss of the child who would-have-been, but are also grateful that our living child (born in 2000) still has a mother. I have not worked through the grief of losing this baby. I am deeply touched by the love and care of friends and family, by my gratitude for my own life. But there have been moments of deep sadness, and I know there will be more. A month after the surgery, when I went for a post-op appointment, I had to fill in a form. When I wrote "2 pregnancies, 1 child" on the form, I felt the first real deep pangs of pain.
A very tiny little snowbird represents our baby's guardian spirit. Birds represent the spirit in several world mythologies (including Christianity). Snowbird is a common name for two species of birds, the junco (here the dark-eyed Oregon junco) and the plectrophenax. Snowbirds are strong enough to survive terrible winters. They are plentiful in number and in kind, bringing cheer to the most severe landscape. Thanks to Pat H for the recommendation, respectfully borrowed from the traditional Nez Perce.
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About Ectopic Pregnancies
Ectopic pregnancy is the leading cause of pregnancy-related death. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the embryo never makes it to the uterus and starts to develop in the fallopian tube. Sometimes the embryo can even develop on the ovary or in the abdomen; in this case, it's known as an abdominal pregnancy, which has been known to go to term (but that's Guinness Book material). If an ectopic pregnancy goes undetected, it strains the tube, which isn't designed to expand like the uterus. Then, 6-8 weeks after conception, the embryo will cause severe abdominal pain. Common symptoms of ectopic pregnancy are sharp abdominal cramps or pains on one side. The pains may start out as a dull ache that gets more severe with time. Neck pains and shoulder pains are also common. Ectopic pregnancies are very dangerous. If the tube ruptures (which mine did), there could be severe internal bleeding, which is a life-threatening situation. (For those of you with a medical background, I could barely breathe by the time I got to the hospital, and they irrigated me for 25 minutes once they had me open.) Once the ectopic pregnancy is confirmed, emergency surgery and a skilled surgeon is required. This is delicate surgery. If the fallopian tube cannot be saved, it will be removed (known as salpingectomy).
In November 2002, we lost a second pregnancy. No heartbeat was detectable at 8 weeks. Read about it here.
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