The room where I waited filled with the pulsing of another woman’s fetal heart monitor through the wall. Each beat pushed me farther from my own body, which was also pregnant, but not with a baby that would survive. I waited in this same room 14 months before, listening to my son’s strong full-term heart rate. Now, he shredded the exam tissue paper into tiny and tinier pieces beside me.
My husband and I took a trip to Iceland for our 30th birthdays, a last hoorah before we planned to add another baby to the mix. While standing in a snowy field staring at the dark Icelandic sky poked through with stars, the northern lights appeared in a thick green band that spread from the mountains. Folklore said children conceived under the Aurora Borealis were blessed with good fortune. At the end of that month, two lines formed on my pregnancy test. Aurora, I’d thought, testing the name with my husband.
“Early ectopic,” the doctor said. Two rounds of blood work had confirmed that although the pregnancy test read positive, it was “non viable.” My beta-hCG numbers climbed slowly, but not enough for a normally developing fetus. A sonogram showed dilation in my right fallopian tube where my doctor suspected the fertilized egg was growing.
The definition of ectopic is “in an abnormal place or position.” It affects one to two percent of all pregnancies, still accounts for up to 10 percent of pregnancy-related mortality, and is the most common cause of death in the first trimester.
With a tubal pregnancy, even if a heartbeat is detected, there is no chance of viability for an embryo, but there are necessary precautions that could save a mother’s life. Misdiagnoses or a delay in treatment accounts for nearly half of the deaths associated with ectopic pregnancy.
A third lab test to check if my numbers were still climbing prompted my doctor to prescribe a chemotherapy drug, methotrexate, to halt further cell division. The decision to terminate my pregnancy wasn’t a decision at all. The injection would protect my right fallopian tube, which could burst and cause extensive internal bleeding. Not only would this drug save my tube, it would safeguard my future fertility, and end a pregnancy that would never yield a baby.
Roughly one-third of women with ectopic pregnancies can be treated with medication instead of laparoscopic or emergency surgery.
I was one of the lucky ones who happened to take another pregnancy test, noticed the line was faint, and alerted my doctor before experiencing any symptoms of pain. If there were some medical miracle to transport the cells to their rightful place in the uterus, I would’ve undergone whatever it took. But I had two options: wait and see if excruciating pain sent me to the hospital for emergency surgery, or have a precautionary injection to protect my fallopian tube for a future pregnancy. The latter made the most sense.
On the day my lab tests read non viable, Oklahoma Representative Justin Humphrey submitted a bill, which passed out of a House committee, requiring a woman to obtain a signature from the father of the fetus in order to terminate a pregnancy. Earlier that month, Humphrey called women a “host” for a baby. A Heartbeat Bill vetoed in Ohio three months ago would have prevented the termination of a pregnancy as early as six weeks along. A Personhood Bill, introduced by Congressional Republicans, would protect and grant rights to fertilized eggs, zygotes, embryos, and fetuses as “persons.”
In some cases, ectopic pregnancies have a heartbeat detected by sonogram in the fallopian tube. A bill that protects heartbeats or designates nonviable fertilized eggs as persons blatantly ignores the risk and rights to the heartbeat of the person who’s pregnant. In some cases like mine, there’s no time to waste. Legislature that interferes with a woman’s ability to make decisions about her health cause far more damage to living, breathing women than to the unborn, some of who would never survive otherwise.
The methotrexate wasn’t covered by my insurance, so I paid the $48.95 and carried it to the nurse, who then injected it into my hip. I was instructed to flush the toilet twice because of the medicine’s potency and I had a toddler at home who shouldn’t get near it. Within days, my numbers drastically fell and I wouldn’t require further intervention.
I was thankful the whole ordeal was over quickly, and though I was devastated to hear that we should wait some time before getting pregnant again, I believed I was on my way to recovery. What men like Humphrey don’t realize is that often after a difficult, but necessary decision, a gaping, exposed hole forms where hope once lived. After an ectopic pregnancy, one’s chances for recurrence is 10 times more likely—from one in 100 odds to one in 10.
Laws and damaging statements that make women second guess their decisions serve no one and leave a healthy, 30-year-old, non smoker with no preexisting conditions like me feeling panicked, unsafe, and unfairly judged.
Women are not ‘hosts for a baby,’ in the same way that men aren’t hosts to their sperm count. Unless we’re going to stop men from doing everyday activities that lower sperm production, like drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes, we must allow women agency over their own bodies and reproductive systems.
I’ve been told I’d know when I was ready to expand my family again by starting to feel as though someone was missing. Now, I wonder if that feeling will ever subside. Some days the chasm created within me feels as though it’s widening, threatening to sink me within its grief. Other days, I’m reminded of the natural wonder of the Aurora Borealis, appearing momentarily, then disappearing from the sky as if we dreamt it. Sometimes blessings come in the least expected form, and mine was in the knowledge necessary to preserve my health, my life, and my family.
Samantha K. Smith is a writer and adjunct in New York.
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