Ectopic Pregnancy Loss 9 Year Anniversary

Ectopic Pregnancy Loss 9 Year Anniversary

Nine years ago today, I kissed Death. Death let me go.

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. The Sunday before the appointment, something went very 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. I took a bath, and fainted when I tried to get out of the bathtub. My husband found me doing a wet and naked army crawl toward the bedroom. 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 sickness, then that I was having a normal miscarriage. The ectopic 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 without losing consciousness. 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.

It was extremely difficult to move me into the ambulance, and they spent almost 45 minutes sitting in the driveway for no apparent reason. However, once we got to the hospital, I got a quick ultrasound and was in the operating room within minutes. As I started to go under, I heard a bit of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” in my mind.

I am told by my surgeon (A. Lovelady!!) that I got to the hospital just in the nick of time. After emergency surgery and a massive blood transfusion, my life was saved. If I had still been a Jehovah’s Witness, I would have refused the transfusion and would have died.

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 continue to wing your good thoughts toward my lost one. 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 do not 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.

It turns out that despite all the rhetoric of the pro-life movement and all the references to God, there is no official spiritual status for an unborn. There is no ritual, no ceremony, not even a prayer. I called on other resources, and my friend Pat bent the rules a little to comfort me. Thanks, Pat, for the recommendation, respectfully borrowed from the traditional Nez Perce.

Snowbird Guardian Totem

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.

This image comforts me, in the sense of Joseph Campbell’s’ definition of myth – a set of images and narratives that help us to feel a sense of meaning and place. We have no functional mythologies for the loss of a pregnancy.

“Myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestations.” ~ Joseph Campbell

I do know that there was no way to save this pregnancy. 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 never completely worked through the grief of losing this child-to-be. I am deeply touched by the love and care of friends and family, and I am deeply grateful for my own life. There have been moments of deep sadness. 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 year later, I lost another pregnancy – perhaps because my husband and I are Rh-incompatible. It’s possible that the loss of this baby prevented us from ever bringing another to term. There was so much blood – the shot of Rhogam might not have worked.

There is one saving feature of this whole experience in that by putting our story up on my site, I might have helped to save other lives. I received several emails from women who got to the hospital in time, thanks to a search that found my site before there were many other resources on this topic.

What is an Ectopic Pregnancy?

An ectopic (lit. “out of place”) 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.

If an ectopic pregnancy goes undetected, it strains the tube, which isn’t designed to expand. 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. 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 critical 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.

Some people consider those who have had to have surgery in this situation to have “decided to have an abortion” and feel free to judge them. I can only hope that this view is based more in ignorance than in disregard for a woman’s life.

Ectopic pregnancy is the leading cause of pregnancy-related death.

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12 thoughts on “Ectopic Pregnancy Loss 9 Year Anniversary

  1. “It turns out that despite all the rhetoric of the pro-life movement and all the references to God, there is no official spiritual status for an unborn. There is no ritual, no ceremony, not even a prayer.”

    I really want not to comment on this very moving thread with a criticism, but this is so untrue it’s nagging at me. Where did you get this impression?

  2. Maybe I’m misunderstanding.

    I won’t speak for protestants, but every Catholic diocese in the US and probably the world has regular requiem masses for the unborn. Usually this is focused on those unborn because of abortion, but not always. See, e.g., http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=17554. The Catholic Church teaches unequivocally that the unborn have a unique and human soul from the moment of conception. The only issue regarding the “spiritual status” of the unborn comes from the theological problem associated with the fact that the are likely to be unbaptized, and the Catechism has an answer to that at 1283:

    “With respect to children who have died without Baptism, the liturgy of the Church invites us to trust in God’s mercy and to pray for their salvation.”

    This may not be an entirely satisfying answer, which is part of why contemporary liturgies tend to focus on praying for the healing and comfort of survivors instead of prayer for the soul of the departed. See, e.g., http://www.ewtn.com/Devotionals/prayers/miscarriage.htm. And I’m certainly not suggesting that this should necessarily be an answer that’s satisfying to you. I just don’t think it’s fair to say that the “status” of the souls of the unborn is an issue that’s simply been ignored by the religious traditions that tend to be pro-life.

    Again, though, maybe there’s something missing here that I’m not getting.

    1. I know what is claimed in terms of status. However, there are no rites, no sacrament. You don’t do last rites for an ectopic pregnancy. Every clergy I consulted with said that there was a life there, but the status of spirit and/or soul varied widely. Catholics probably do have the firmest idea of instant soul – and yet, no last rites. You pray for mercy because otherwise, they go to limbo.

      This is not a bad prayer, and I wish that I had seen it or been told of it in all my asking and research.

  3. There is always pain in loss — even the loss of a dream; and a spontaneous abortion or miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy is a loss of a dream. In a very real way, it’s the dream of a child.

    I feel that loss myself as I’ve lost two.

    My prayers are with you.

  4. I am moved by your story. I never had a baby but I got pregnant 3 times and all never came to full term —-2 miscarriages and one stopped beating his/her heart. The doctors in the US could not even explain why. They just told me that I’, too old to get pregnant (the first one was when I was 29, the other one is at 40, and the last one was at 41). Desperation overwhelmed me that I was thinking of killing myself.
    I think you’re right that there is no rite for an unborn …although the Catholics were urging me to request for a prayer at a mass for the unborn. But I am not Catholic and I don’t believe a certain ritual could save a “spirit” of the unborn —if they have spirits . I believe God never meant them to be born.

  5. Heidi, this is an incredible gift to share – your grief is a powerful message to those too quick to judge. I am sincerely glad that you made it through your ordeal!

    If I may add a bit of Buddhist-leaning thought here: Each soul has lessons it must learn to evolve with each birth/life/death cycle. That a soul would incarnate into your unborn, then end so quickly would then move on to the next incarnation. That soul gave you the opportunity to experience an extremely meaningful lesson that helped you solidify your path to your own beliefs and spirituality and search for meaning. It is as beautiful as it is painful this gift you and your baby shared for such a brief time.

  6. Pingback: Baby Pregnancy
  7. Dear Heidi.

    I came across your site, due to a paper that I am writing about religious views on ectopic pregnancy. I read all that you had to say. I am a Messianic Jew, and wanted to let you know that you have never lost your child, you might not of had time on this earth with him/her. However, the baby has a soul and once the soul of an innocent child departs the body it is present with the lord. It has not reached the age of accountability. It is written in the bible, ” to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. I cannot give you the exact scripture write now, but you can look it up. My girlfriend went through the same situation, and our pastor prayed a prayer of thanks for the life and that the baby is safe with the Father and the reunion of mother and child. That baby is your baby waiting for you in heaven and can never come back to this earth in the form of another human. The story of Lazarus and the beggar, explains this very well. I pray that this gives you a inner peace and strength. My mother asked God to show her where her son is and she had a vision of him present in heaven. I have studied all the major religions of the world and understand what Jehovah Witness teach about the soul, heaven, and hell. Get yourself to heaven, and you will be reunited with your child.

    1. Roslin – Thank you for your thoughts on this issue. However, none of the bible texts actually address the status of an unborn child, or at what point a soul, if such exists, is formed. Interpretations and traditions differ widely on this. Catholics had to make up the idea of limbo to try to address it, and that doctrine has no biblical basis. Whether other messianic traditions believe in a ghostly afterlife or a physical resurrection, there is no sacred text that directly addresses the question. Of course, progressives in the ancient world were still working on child sacrifice and abandonment, so it might not even have been a relevant question yet, poetic musings notwithstanding.

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