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When Vanessa Haye, 34, frantically Googled for symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy, she was stumped.
She had been advised she may be losing her “miracle baby” to ectopic, but where was the shoulder pain, the symptom many women believe to be a telltale sign?
Within 48 hours, Vanessa was in theatre for life-saving surgery.
Having battled years of unexplained infertility, Vanessa was warned that conception was highly unlikely. She and her husband had already undergone two cycles of IVF. The first cycle ended in miscarriage, but the second embryo transfer had given them their beautiful son, Sebastian.
In the days leading up to the positive pregnancy test, Vanessa had noticed changes in her body; the feeling of period symptoms but no bleeding, an uncomfortable bloating and a need for the toilet. Then her period arrived – or so she thought.
The next day, the bleeding stopped. Taking advice from a midwife friend, Vanessa took a positive pregnancy test which revealed two pink lines.
“There were so many emotions and thoughts going through my mind,” she said. “I felt like I was in a dream. I went to back sleep, but I kept the test in my hand. I needed to see it when I woke up to prove it was real.”
A visit to the GP confirmed Vanessa was five to six weeks pregnant. The doctor explained the bleeding was likely to be implantation and the discomfort was the embryo embedding. Knowing her history, the GP took this moment to congratulate Vanessa. However, no stranger to loss, Vanessa remained cautious.
“I’m not a cynical person nor am I negative, but I felt a gut instinct. I am very in tune with my body. I couldn’t get excited. I was concerned and I wanted to check I was ok. Infertility and loss teach you to know your body better than anyone else,” she says.
At eight weeks pregnant, as she got ready for a trip to London, Vanessa experienced a ‘show’ – a term used to describe the initial signs of labour by the NHS.
Despite her GP advising her to ‘put her feet up’ and rest, Vanessa booked an appointment at a walk-in centre and was referred for an early reassurance scan at the Early Pregnancy Unit (EPU) the next day.
“At this point the pain was manageable,” she recalls. “I thought I was having a miscarriage; I would never have thought ectopic.
“The scan was horrific. We couldn’t see anything on the ultrasound, so the sonographer tried a transvaginal scan instead. I could see the blood on the probe. That was a poignant moment for me. The thought of the scan made me feel worse. It exacerbated the feeling of potential loss.”
The scan showed no foetus or sac, but an indication of blood in the uterus and a lining consistent with pregnancy – but the diagnosis was still unclear and she was told to wait until Monday for another blood test.
Over the weekend Vanessa’s bleeding and pain got worse, so she went to A&E and was treated by the maternal assessment team. Finally, an ectopic pregnancy was diagnosed.
“The senior nurse said to me, ‘This is life threatening. You could lose your life’. The baby was trying to thrive but in the wrong place. You can’t save a baby growing in the wrong place.”
Vanessa was taken to a ward while she waited for a surgery slot to become available. In the meantime, her husband had broken down miles away from home while he desperately tried to get to her bedside. He arrived in the morning, just before she was wheeled into the theatre.
The doctor explained her uterus was filled with blood, a consequence of a ruptured fallopian tube which could no longer support the baby. She was suffering internal bleeding; her life was in danger, and she required urgent surgery.
“I was heartbroken, scared and sad. This is a baby I so wanted but it wasn’t here yet, and I needed to survive for my husband and son. I had to lose my baby to save my life.”
Following keyhole surgery, her baby and left fallopian tube were removed. The baby – or ‘products of conception’ as it is medically referred to – was sent away for testing. Vanessa stayed in hospital for two days before continuing recovery at home.
“I was in shock. I was numb. It was traumatic. I can’t remember the recovery, but I remember being in pain and thinking ‘I’m alive’.”
Vanessa and her husband buried their baby four months later.
According to NHS statistics, one in 90 pregnancies are ectopic. It occurs when a fertilised egg implants itself outside of the womb, most commonly in one of the fallopian tubes.
Vanessa says of her ordeal: “There needs to be more awareness and clarity about what you could possibly experience with an ectopic pregnancy. I didn’t have textbook symptoms. There are risks. We need awareness and education in the types of baby loss and what to anticipate.
“Infertility made this experience harder. When we look at the layers of IVF and the pressures it places on womanhood, I’d accepted I needed IVF, yet this proved my body could do it. It was bittersweet. To then lose the baby via ectopic, everything was taken away. Everything was compromised.”
As a project manager and writer, Vanessa shares her story to encourage women to look out for the signs of ectopic pregnancy. She actively writes to break the stigma surrounding infertility, baby loss and grief in the black community.
“I am trying to break barriers,” she says. “I don’t want validation. I respect and understand the complexities of the community. But people underestimate the power of vulnerability. Talking out and helping others is valuable. As a black woman myself, knowing what I experienced, it’s a double whammy. It’s healing for me and I help others.”
In November 2020, after years of unexplained infertility, Vanessa was diagnosed with PCOS.
Tyla is marking Baby Loss Awareness Week with a new editorial series, Living With Loss.
For baby loss support contact Tommy's www.tommys.org.
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