pregnancy

'I lost my baby at seven weeks. Three weeks later I was being wheeled into surgery.'

This post deals with miscarriage and might be triggering for some readers.

When the word YES appeared in the small digital window of the pregnancy test, I didn’t feel like celebrating. To me, it meant: “Yes, you are going to have a third miscarriage”.

I had lost identical twins three months earlier and a single baby the year before. Both losses were discovered at the 12 week scan. Two years earlier I carried a baby, my son, to full term, but I felt that the odds were against me.

My husband didn’t share my overwhelming sense of dread. He said he wanted to feel positive about this baby. And bless him, he tried. But I felt that there was something wrong. I tested positive unusually early in my cycle, at three weeks, and I worried it was due to remaining hormones from the twin pregnancy.

WATCH: A tribute to the babies we’ve lost. Post continues after video.

Video by Mamamia

I had three blood tests and confirmed my hCG levels were rising but I remained anxious especially as I was spotting. I tried to reassure myself that spotting is not uncommon. But then at the six week mark I had sharp cramps on the right side of my pelvis and I started to bleed.

My mum urged me to go to the emergency department, worried that as the pain was concentrated in one area it could be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy. The ED nurse had the same concerns and told me I should wait until they could get someone to give me an ultrasound. She warned me that ectopic pregnancies can be life-threatening.

My husband and I waited seven hours, dozing on and off in the plastic chairs. Finally in the early hours of the morning, an ultrasound showed nothing as it was so early in the pregnancy. I was told I would need an internal ultrasound, so I chose to go home to bed, my pain having subsided.

Katie K
Katie and her two-year-old son Enzo. Image: Supplied.
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The results of the internal ultrasound were somewhat reassuring. There was what appeared to be a gestational sac in my uterus, measuring around five to six weeks.

But there was also a questionable “mass” on my right side and another on my left. We were told it was too soon to rule an ectopic in or out but it was a good sign that there was something in the uterus. After the scan we took our son for ice cream and let hope creep into our hearts. But it did not stay there for long.

The next day I began to bleed heavily while at work. I stood outside the women’s toilets and called my husband, crying. The hospital’s early pregnancy clinic told me to wait a week and have another scan to confirm the miscarriage.

I googled "heavy bleeding but still pregnant." Perhaps, I speculated, I had lost one of the mysterious masses spotted on the ultrasound.

The bleeding eased through Thursday so I went to work on Friday. But something felt very wrong and I went home sick. As I walked in my front door I felt something come away. It looked like what I saw when I googled "seven week foetus".

That was that, then. Another loss, like I knew it would be. I cried, but not nearly as much as I had three months earlier. I hadn’t heard a heartbeat. I hadn’t reached the hopeful 12 week mark. And it seemed precarious from the start.

I bled for three weeks, until mid-December. So much blood for so long. That’s why I wasn’t alarmed when I started spotting again three days before Christmas. Blood was no longer a warning sign but an almost-everyday occurrence. Perhaps my period was returning early, I thought.

The next morning I came home from the gym with a coffee and sat down on the floor to play with my son. That’s when the cramping began. Sorry, I said, mummy has to lie down for a moment. The pain was in my abdomen, especially on the right side. After a few minutes I forced myself up and went to the bathroom, passed blood into the toilet, then lay down on the tiles.

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A voice in my head told me off: you are overreacting, these are surely just period cramps, the pain isn’t that bad, get up NOW! But my body would not cooperate. My husband called an ambulance, then his parents. My two-year-old patted my hair with his sweet chubby hand. Mummy is sick, my husband told him, and we have to look after her.

Katie K 2
Katie and Enzo. Image: Supplied.

The paramedics gave me morphine on the way to the hospital. A wave of nausea crashed over me but eventually it eased and I was able to speak again.

"I feel silly," I told the paramedic.

"Oh no, you’re right where you should be," she assured me.

I told her the cramping was all the way up in my right shoulder. That can mean a couple of things, she explained, and one of them is that you’re bleeding internally. She was so warm and calm and funny that I felt reassured, regardless.

Admitted to a room in the ED upon arrival, I lay in bed exhausted and clenching my teeth. Nurses and doctors rushed in and out of the room. I had to explain and repeat my story over and over.

“So you’re four weeks pregnant?”

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"No, I miscarried four weeks ago."

An ultrasound machine was wheeled in and a doctor touched the wand to my right rib just once, walked away and made a phone call asking for another doctor to attend. I was confused - was the machine broken?

He came back and explained that it had been immediately obvious that there was a lot of blood in my abdomen, up around my ribs. Another doctor came in and took over the ultrasound.

She turned the screen towards me and gently explained that my uterus was now empty. She was in such a hurry that she hadn’t had a chance to read the notes about me yet, so I explained once again: right side cramping at six weeks, miscarried at seven, bleeding stopped a week ago, HcG dropping, collapsed in pain today and here we are.

She apologised but I understood: amid the chaos of an ED, communication is rushed and breathless, like shouting after someone as they run away.

I was told I would need an internal ultrasound to determine the source of the bleeding, followed by keyhole surgery. I lay there and waited, gritting my teeth as I spasmed in pain. When I spasmed I would breathe deeper, which hurt, so I would be trapped in a cycle of intense pain for a minute or so.

"You’re panicking," my husband told me. "Try to stay calm."

"You’re being stoic," said a concerned ED nurse, "Most patients in this situation make more fuss."

I suppose both things could have been true.

The same nurse took it upon herself to wheel me down to Radiology, as she said it would take too long to wait for a porter and she wanted me to be seen as soon as possible. I lay quietly in my morphine cloud until I was wheeled into the examination room. The ultrasound technician scanned my abdomen, explained how much blood there was and told me I should already be in theatre.

He didn’t want me to stand up to empty my bladder for the internal ultrasound as I would most likely pass out.

Another doctor came in and insisted it was necessary to determine the source of the bleeding, so I attempted to use a bedpan without success. I now know that an internal with a full bladder is quite painful and unpleasant.

After the scan, I was wheeled back to the ED and told my husband that they thought I should already be in theatre.

"Then why isn’t she?" He demanded.

I shushed him, still inexplicably unwilling to make a fuss. Thankfully, my mum had arrived at the hospital, driving from two hours away, so she was able to be with him as I went through surgery.

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As I was wheeled away, the helpful nurse told them women can die from cardiac arrest due to ruptured ectopic pregnancies. Please don’t tell us anymore, they asked. My mum said she’d never seen my husband so pale, so scared.

I woke in recovery, dazed, in pain, and missing my son. I didn’t find out the exact details of what had happened to me until later that night. I’d just sent my husband and mum home to rest when one of the doctors came to see me. She explained that there was an ectopic pregnancy in my right fallopian tube, about nine weeks along, and it had ruptured. I had lost about two litres of blood and had to have a transfusion.

They had to remove my right tube but I still had my left. My fertility would be impacted by about 15 per cent. The next day I spoke to two other doctors who had been involved in the operation and they all said the same: I had been very unlucky.

And yes, I had been. But I have also been lucky - lucky that it had happened at home, lucky that my husband was with me and got help quickly, lucky I didn’t die.

I was discharged after one night in hospital, two days before Christmas.

I also asked the doctors if the embryos were twins, one in the right place and one in the wrong. Perhaps, I was told. But it also could have been that the earlier ultrasound was wrong, or it could have been a kind of fake egg filled with fluid. I was not able to get a definite answer. And that is fine. I have given it a lot of thought in the weeks since. It took me some time to think of it as a loss rather than as something that tried to kill me. But now I believe that it was twins.

In the days after the surgery it hurt too much to cry, so I didn’t. I deferred my sorrow and now it is a debt I will have to repay down the line. I was exhausted, sore and sad, yet still functional, numb and even appropriately merry over the Christmas and New Year period.

But I know foreclosure is inevitable. The wounds on my stomach from the keyhole surgery are healing. The stitches are dissolving, the bruises have faded and the scars are small. It’s the wounds you can’t see, in my head and in my heart.

Those wounds aren’t neat and clean. But I’m not ready to peel back the bandages to assess the damage done. Maybe I am still being stoic. But I may also be quietly panicking. Both things can be true.

Feature Image: Supplied.

If this has raised any issues for you or if you would like to speak with someone, please contact the Sands Australia 24 hour support line on 1300 072 637.

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