I got pregnant five times. I have a child. A son, Sam, was born in 1997 on his due date, weighing 6 pounds and 14 ounces.
My other four pregnancies have not been so good. After Sam, it was impossible to carry a baby beyond the first trimester. I had an abortion early in the first trimester; A second where the baby’s heart stops beating between the ninth and 10th week; And then two ectopic pregnancies, a condition where a fetus is implanted outside the uterus. If left untreated, ectopic pregnancies can be fatal.
In one of these four pregnancies, I did a D&C (extension and curette) – a procedure that is usually used to terminate a pregnancy in the first trimester. And in the other two I was treated with a drug called methotrexate, which is sometimes used for drug abortions.
I fear what will happen to women if they find themselves in a similar situation, Rowe v. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday. Texas has already enacted a law restricting the use of those drugs in abortions and abortions. In all, 26 states are likely to ban or severely limit abortion, according to the Gutmachar Institute, which follows reproductive health policies.
Both ectopic pregnancies are hidden on me. I stopped using birth control at age 39 and left the rest for chance.
A few months later, I watched it for more than a week and stopped it for an unusual period of time.
I also had severe pain in my lower left side when I stretched my legs to get out of the car, or sometimes when I jogged or rotated my hips in a certain way.
“Have you had a pregnancy test?” A friend asked after I described my symptoms.
It was positive. I was taken to emergency care where a doctor confirmed my pregnancy through a blood test and did a transvaginal ultrasound. But there was nothing in my womb – no sign of a fetus.
The doctor told me I was having an abortion. I asked her if it could be a “tubal” pregnancy, a term my friend used when I called her that day. I didn’t know then that the medical term was “ectopic.”
“No,” said the doctor. “We didn’t see anything in your fallopian tube,” referring to the thin pathway that supplies fertilized eggs from the ovary to the uterus or womb.
He sent me home and asked me to call my gynecologist for follow-up.
I did. The nurse said my doctor would not see me until I had finished the abortion. In other words, wait until I stop bleeding.
Over the next several days, the bleeding continues to increase and the pain also increases. I took another pregnancy test. It was still positive. I called my doctor’s office. The doctor still can’t see me – I was still having an abortion.
A few days passed and nothing changed. I searched the internet for “ectopic”.
I decided to drive myself to the emergency room.
A blood test shows that I am still pregnant. A doctor has ordered another transvaginal ultrasound. It was extremely painful. The technician performing the procedure told me it wasn’t supposed to hurt.
“But it does,” I told him.
When it’s over, the emergency room doctor confirms that what I already knew – I don’t have a baby in my womb. And the pain on the left side? The technician could not see the left tube or the area around it well because I had a lot of gas in my stomach.
The doctor sent me home.
It’s been two weeks since that first home pregnancy test. I was still pregnant. I don’t have a baby in my womb. Still bleeding. Still in pain. I cried in bed that Saturday morning. I told my husband to call my gynecologist’s office. The doctor looked at my chart – the lab results of my two blood tests in two weeks. Most notably, my human chorionic gonadotropin (pregnancy hormone) levels increased over time, meaning I was not having an abortion. The fetus was growing somewhere outside the uterus. “Take him to the emergency room,” the doctor said. “She has an ectopic pregnancy.”
The most common place for an ectopic pregnancy is in one of the fallopian tubes. As the fetus divides and grows, if the fragile tube ruptures, a woman may bleed. It is the most common cause of death in the first trimester of pregnancy.
In the emergency room, I was given a shot of methotrexate. It is an old drug, originally prescribed for the treatment of cancer. It targets fast-growing cells and is sometimes used with misoprostol for early stage abortion. This is the gold standard for the treatment of many ectopic pregnancies that have not yet erupted.
After the shot, I went home and went to bed. I slept all day. For the next week, I took my blood and checked my HCG levels every three days. The shot is working when the levels drop by at least 15% between the fourth and seven days. In my case, it didn’t happen. My HCG levels were almost the same. The fetus was not growing, but the pregnancy was not over.
My feelings were so complex and, even now, almost two decades later, I had trouble expressing them. On the one hand, I felt like I was slowly killing my baby. I knew logically that it was a pregnancy that could never reach full term. And if not treated, I could have died. I was scared. I felt like a walking time bomb. Every time I stretched my left leg, I felt a sharp pain. What if the tube ruptures suddenly due to some movement? I desperately wanted my HCG number to refuse to save itself, and it made me feel incredibly guilty.
I changed doctors at the end of that first week when my gynecologist still couldn’t see me. My new doctor told me I needed another shot of methotrexate. Again, I had to take my blood every three days. During this time, my HCG levels dropped. In early August, about two months after I first discovered I was pregnant, my levels were finally close to zero that I was no longer considered pregnant.
More than two years have passed. I am 41 years old. I stopped giving birth to another child, but I had all the early symptoms. I had breast pain, I was tired, and instead of having regular menstruation, I had scars. And I felt that pain in my lower left. I took a pregnancy test. It was positive. I went to the emergency room. I told the Triaz nurse that I had the same symptoms as before.
Once you become ectopic, your risk of recurrence is higher.
The hospital conducted a blood test and confirmed that I was pregnant. My HCG number was low – it turns out, there’s one thing that’s a little like getting pregnant.
I had a transvaginal ultrasound which was painful again. There were no fetuses in my uterus, but this time the technician saw something near my left ovary and fallopian tube. Still, it wasn’t specific.
The ER doctor told me it could be a corpus luteum cyst – a common enlargement that sometimes appears in a woman’s ovaries after ovulation.
Maybe I was in the very early stages of pregnancy, the doctor said, and it wasn’t ectopic. I can give it some more time, he suggested and see what happens. He left the decision to me.
I found myself alone in the emergency room, hysterically crying. I called my sister.
“I don’t know what to do,” I told him.
“What does your gut say?” He asked.
I told the doctor I wanted methotrexate.
On Monday morning, my regular gynecologist called with a more diagnostic diagnosis. She believed I had a second ectopic pregnancy. As it turns out, one doctor’s corpus luteum cyst is another doctor’s ectopic pregnancy. This time, I only needed one shot of methotrexate. My HCG levels kept dropping and within a few weeks I was no longer pregnant.
For the next decade, I survived the fear of getting pregnant. I felt like a child killer. I asked my doctor to tie my tube, but he discouraged me, saying it would not be 100% effective against other ectopic pregnancies. My husband would not have a vasectomy, and I had a Mirena IUD inserted – it secretes a small amount of hormones and is 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. I kept a pregnancy test under my bathroom sink until I was 53 – I took 50 of course.
Saw a few years ago A tweet About a legislator from Ohio who raised a bill that would require doctors to implant an ectopic pregnancy inside a woman’s uterus or face charges of “abortion murder.” Such a procedure is medically impossible. How brave she is. It sent me into a rabbit hole where I discovered a world of anti-abortion lawyers questioning the need to end an ectopic pregnancy.
Ectopic pregnancies are considered rare. But rare is a relative term. Especially if it happens to you, not once, but twice. In 2017, about 6 million women became pregnant. Ectopic pregnancies occur in about 2% of all cases – more than 100,000 women. What’s more, diagnosing ectopic pregnancies is not easy; Science says so, says my own experience.
Ectopic pregnancies can resolve on their own – or not. They can explode and lead to death. I don’t know what would have happened to me if I hadn’t been given methotrexate in both cases. But I’m sure my chances of survival would have been much lower without protection Rowe vs. Wade.
Joan Farion is a professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and an independent journalist and producer.
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