I had been taking birth control pills for a loooooong time. But after we bought our house, settled into our careers, and finally got married… Mike and I decided it was okay for me to stop taking them. We weren’t expressly “trying” to conceive right off the bat, but we decided that if it happened, we would be ready.
Honestly, I’d done a ton of research and read everywhere that it didn’t matter how long you’ve been taking the pill, that getting pregnant can happen the first month off of them. I was skeptical, to say the least… I’d been feeding my body synthetic hormones for the better part of 15 years! Well. Let’s just say it’s definitely true. I got pregnant right away. Unfortunately, things didn’t exactly go as I had always imagined.
To start, I had been feeling pretty crappy for about two weeks. I recall experiencing intense headaches every day (which I never have), I felt exhausted by 2 pm (but chalked it up to working like a racehorse every day), and my stomach felt like I had some bad combination of food for several days on end (even though I hadn’t changed my diet whatsoever). This last one I vividly recall, as it was right before Thanksgiving of 2015 and I couldn’t enjoy any of the delicious food. To top it all off, I started experiencing other, not-so-fun… let’s call them “womanly”… issues. In a nutshell, I felt like something was seriously wrong with me, but I didn’t know what. I had just gotten my period, bang on schedule, and I was even still spotting a little. So I knew I wasn’t pregnant. But it was all very odd.
Fast forward to Thanksgiving day. We drove up to Orange County to spend the holiday with Mike’s cousin and her family. They had a one-year-old and were super stoked that we were thinking of starting a family, too! After a raucous night of drinking (for everyone else), his cousin thrust a pile of ovulation and pregnancy tests into my hands and excitedly told me to take them home for the upcoming months.
When we got home the next afternoon, I checked my calendar and realized I might actually be ovulating sometime soon, and I was nervously excited to try out one of the ovulation tests. You know… just to see what would happen. I was expecting a negative, but I’d read all about it, and wanted to try one anyway. A “practice” pee test, if you will. I had calculated that I still had another two to three days before it should’ve been positive… but I figured, what the heck? So I peed in a cup, and dipped in the little test strip. And it almost instantly gave me a positive reading. Like, clear as day… there was no way that I was misreading the existence of this dark purple line that was staring me in the face. Confused, I checked my calendar again to see if my dates were somehow off… but they definitely weren’t.
Now, in the back of my mind, I recalled reading some piece of literature somewhere on the internet that some women actually use ovulation tests in lieu of pregnancy tests if they’re running low on supply, because *supposedly* they will give a positive result if you are pregnant. Something about your hormone levels. As soon as this thought registered with me, my brain instantly started flooding with thoughts of all the mystery health symptoms I’d been dealing with for the last couple of weeks. But then I remembered I had my period the week prior… so it didn’t quite add up. I was confused and nervous and excited all at the same time. My heart was racing, and I decided that I need to take one of the pregnancy tests right then and there. If for nothing else, it would be verification that I was indeed crazy, and it was all a total coincidence.
Not even two minutes later… two little pink lines. I didn’t believe it at first. These were the crappy little test strips you can buy off Amazon for $10 for a box of 50… so I whipped out the ONE reliable pregnancy test from my bathroom cabinet that a friend had given to me a while back as a “just in case”. This was one of the tests with the crosshairs if you’re pregnant, and a single line if you’re not. So I dipped that thing in the pee cup… INSTANT positive reading again. I remember shaking like a leaf as I stared at the crosshairs, because I wanted to be so excited, but in my heart, I felt like I already knew something was amiss. Getting a positive test just a week after having a full-blown period was not normal. I knew that. But I went downstairs anyway to find Mike and see if he could confirm that I had produced not one, but THREE, positive tests that were all indicating that I was pregnant.
Mike was working on something manly in the garage (haha), when I caught him off guard and simply asked him to come upstairs and look at something. He followed me up the stairs, confused and asking what the heck this was all about… and then confirmed my suspicions. He saw the lines, too. I was not crazy. I was pregnant!
I cautiously asked him not to get too excited, or tell anyone, because the dates did not make any sense to me and I felt like something might be wrong. Of course we were both hoping that everything was actually okay, but I wanted to confirm the pregnancy with a blood test at the doctor’s office before allowing myself to give in to the excitement.
The next day, the lady at the doctor’s office check-in counter was really rude, and would not admit me to see my OB because I didn’t have an appointment (even though the nurse line told me I could just walk in). I was determined to get some answers, and I had already driven there… so I ignored all of my years of ingrained rule-following, and walked into the OB’s office waiting room anyway. I sat down and waited until someone behind the window noticed me and came out to ask what they could help me with. After mumbling nonsensically for a few seconds and trying to explain what was going on through what were turning into muddled tears borne of sheer fear and embarrassment, the nurse took pity on me and brought me to the back to get the tests ordered. (Her name was Liz. She was so kind to me, and I will absolutely never forget her. I plan to send her a thank you card in the near future after our baby is born, simply for treating me like the fragile human that I am, not another number in their medical files.)
Many excruciating hours after drawing my blood, the lab finally called me with my results. I was pregnant, but my HCG levels were fairly low. They, too, seemed confused about the period I’d had the week prior, but said it was just possible that I caught the pregnancy “really early”. They told me the next step was to re-draw my blood in two days to see if my HCG levels were rising appropriately. In other words, they should have at least doubled in number at the next blood draw.
Let me tell you… waiting is the worst part. Two days felt like an eternity. Waiting, wondering, not knowing. It was awful. But I finally went back and got my blood drawn again, and my levels had gone up… but only slightly. They informed me – in a very clinical manner that made me very sad – this was likely not a “viable pregnancy”.
They wanted me to come in for one more blood draw, just to be sure. So I went back again. And waited some more. I was hopeful, but beginning to feel less and less like this was going to have a favorable outcome. It was downright depressing. Especially since every time I had my blood drawn, the cheery technician (noticing the “HCG” label she’d printed out for my blood bottle) would always smile and ask me, “Oh, is this your first baby?”… to which I eventually started just replying “Maybe, I’m not sure…” with a sullen expression that I couldn’t erase and which usually gave them pause. This time, the results confirmed my fears: the HCG levels had stayed exactly the same as the last reading. In other words, NOT what was supposed to happen. They told me I was likely to miscarry.
When I did not miscarry, I went back for more blood draws. I must have gone at least 6 or 7 times, and each time, the result was more confusing than the last. My HCG numbers were fluctuating wildly up and down, but had basically plateaued between 100 and 200. And that’s when things went from bad to worst-case-scenario (which was unfathomable to me at this point).
The doctor casually informed me that she was suspicious that my pregnancy was actually ectopic. For those of you who may not be familiar with the term (I wasn’t really until that moment), it means the egg has implanted somewhere other than the uterus. Usually, it’s the fallopian tube. She then proceeded to explain that this was a dangerous medical situation, because if the fertilized egg were to be allowed to continue developing, it could actually rupture my fallopian tube, cause massive internal bleeding, and put my own life at risk. WHAT?!
She asked if I had any “risk factors” that I knew of that might put me at an increased chance of having an ectopic pregnancy – uterine scarring of any sort, any history of pelvic inflammatory disease, a previous IUD… all I could tell her was no, no, and no. She reiterated that she could not be sure it was ectopic without an ultrasound to confirm the location of the egg, but she had a sneaking suspicion that this was what was going on because my HCG levels reflected a classic case of this condition.
My options at this point were as follows:
- Possibly try to locate the egg via ultrasound before making any further decisions
- Schedule a D&C (a semi-exploratory, minor surgical procedure to see if the egg was in the uterus by actually scraping out the entire contents of the uterine lining with a curette, which would end the pregnancy anyway even if it was actually viable, but would otherwise confirm it wasn’t ectopic in the first place)
- Receive a shot of methotrexate (a chemotherapy drug) to terminate the pregnancy regardless of location and wait for three more months to start trying to conceive again
The thought of waiting so long to get pregnant again, after all of this torture, was not what I wanted. Not to mention, I did NOT like the idea of injecting a toxic poison designed to kill healthy cells into my body! With as much resolve as I could muster, I held onto my last shred of hope and opted for the ultrasound first.
Unfortunately, the ultrasound revealed nothing. I recall sitting in the room with my husband and technician as she wordlessly performed the procedure, thinking to myself that I had never once imagined my and my husband’s first time having an ultrasound to be for a reason like this. This should have been a happy time! It was enough to make me want to completely break down right then and there. But I held it together for the time being, in the hopes that they would have an answer for me.
Results? They couldn’t even FIND the damn egg! They said it was probably too small to see at this point, and it could be anywhere. Huge, frustrated sigh…
So I hesitantly scheduled the D&C next. My line of thinking was that we would be able to start conceiving much sooner (only one month of wait time), even if they did indeed locate the egg in the uterus. The idea of having any type of surgery was not my cup of tea, but it was the only choice I was okay with at the time. Mike waited for eight insanely long hours in the pre-op area with me as they hooked me up to all kinds of tubes and eventually knocked me out. I finally had the procedure at 5 am, and then Mike lovingly helped me get dressed when I woke up all wobbly and drugged up after the procedure was over two hours later. Fortunately, the physical recovery was pretty easy, and I was back to work in two days.
A few days later, the doctor reported that they found “no products of conception” as a result of the procedure (oh, the sensitive nature of medical-ese). They wanted to draw my blood to see if by any chance my HCG levels had started dropping on their own, indicating an impending miscarriage. Unfortunately, the levels had now actually RISEN, so now the doctors were fairly convinced it was ectopic. Defeated, I made the appointment with the oncology department to get the shot of methotrexate.
Mike and I were supposed to be flying home to Florida for Christmas to see our families a week later, so it was actually a risky move because there was a chance that the shot wouldn’t work the first time and my tube could still rupture anyway (seriously?!). But we didn’t want to cancel our trip. After all this, I NEEDED something to take my mind off of things. So we crossed our fingers and went on the hopes that the shot would work the first time, since my levels were already super low to begin with.
The trip to the oncology department was awful. I recall sitting in the waiting room by myself (Mike had to work) with tons of elderly patients, all likely riddled with cancer. I guessed that many were probably there to receive their now-regular dose of some chemical concoction, in the hopes that it would make them feel better and extend their lives a little longer. And here I was, a healthy 28 year old, waiting to receive a shot of the same chemical, except the intention for my dose was to end the life of my misplaced baby. It was like an intensely cruel joke.
Let’s suffice it to say that the shot was everything I’d anticipated it would be in my worry-wart mind. The nurse whipped out what looked like something you would see only in the movies – a huge needle, filled with a radioactive-yellow liquid – as she asked me to bend over and offer her my butt cheek. She laughed when she found out it was “my first time”. I silently hoped through gritted teeth, as I bent over the icy metal table with my rear exposed, that it would also be my last. Yep, it sucked.
A few days later, we flew to Florida. I had to deal with finding a lab outside of my medical provider’s network while I was there, because I had to do a mandatory 4-day blood draw following the shot, which was a pain in and of itself. I also couldn’t drink any alcohol with the chemicals floating around in my body, lest it mess with the effectiveness of the drug. This was like an extra little slap in the face, especially during the holidays with my family that I hardly get to see and during a time when a glass (okay, a bottle) of wine or two might have been a nice way to finally relax after all of the heartache I was dealing with. I was also not allowed to eat anything with folic acid in it (read: nothing healthy). And I’m a pretty healthy eater, so that part made me feel rather indignant about the whole thing. Vitamins were on the not-allowed list, too. It was enough to drive anyone crazy.
Despite all of this, I found that I finally started to feel more optimistic. The results showed that my HCG levels were finally going down as they should have, which meant the treatment was working and I would likely not need another shot. I could also stop worrying about having to experience a sudden trip to the ER. Merry Christmas, indeed.
After returning to San Diego and having one final blood draw, by News Years’ Eve my levels were finally at 0. It was over. I was no longer pregnant. I never thought in a million years I’d have been pleased to discover such news.
I was still sad about everything that had transpired, but I chose to consciously refocus my energy on the future. Getting myself healthy again, so we could conceive a healthy baby – hopefully in the right place this time – was my number one priority. Mike was 100% on board with my plan, and I was so thankful for his love and kind understanding of what I had endured. What WE had endured.
So I cut out all alcohol. No more after-work glasses of wine to wind down in the evening. No more weekend beers with my hubby as we grilled out in the backyard. I cut out caffeine. No more morning coffees to help me start the day. I switched to taking whole food-based prenatal vitamins, the best kind that I could find on the market. I ate super healthy (most of the time), and drank nothing but water. I wanted to give our next baby the best chance possible, even though I knew the whole ectopic thing was something that was completely out of my control anyway. I wanted… NEEDED… to feel like I was in control of some part of whatever was to come next.
After a very slow and drawn out three months, we were officially given the green light by my OB to start trying to conceive again. I was ecstatic! It happened so darn fast last time, and I hoped it would be the same again. Unfortunately, this was not our experience the second time around, despite diligent “timing” and all that nonsense that goes along with the purposeful baby-making process… but…
Four months later, I finally got to see those two little pink lines again. I even waited a day, tested again to see if the line would get darker, and then confirmed it with a ClearBlue Digital test that actually said the word “Pregnant” on it, just to make myself feel better.
It was a pleasant shock to both Mike and I, as we were expecting that I was getting another period in a few days. I’d had practically NO symptoms this time that would have given me any indication that there was a little life settling in for the long haul inside of me, except for being a little on the tired side (the afternoon that I tested, he had actually come home to me taking a VERY uncharacteristic mid-day nap, hehe).
I had my HCG levels confirmed by my doctor right away, and things appeared to be on track this time! Hurray! I also missed my period like you’re supposed to, and I had no other strange symptoms that would lead me to think anything was amiss. However, I was still hesitant to get too excited until I saw the baby via ultrasound. At this point, though, the egg was likely still too small for that, so I simply had to wait. Again.
We had scheduled a summer vacation to Hawaii a while back that we were not willing to cancel, so I had to travel with some uncertainty about the future of this pregnancy. The doctor warned me that if anything strange happened, to go straight to the ER, just in case it was somehow ectopic again.
Well, as luck would have it – I woke up on the fourth morning in Hawaii to bright red bleeding. My heart immediately sank in my chest, and we defeatedly drove to the only nearby ER on the Big Island, fearing that this whole nightmare was starting anew. They drew my blood and my numbers had gone up to some insanely high level, which was promising. They did another ultrasound, but couldn’t find much of anything except a tiny little circle in the uterus that they thought just might be a gestational sac, but nothing was inside of it that they could see. So they couldn’t really confirm much of anything. They told me they could not explain the bleeding, and warned us to be careful on the rest our trip. Then they sent us off with informational pamphlets about “threatened miscarriages” and gave me orders to visit my OB first thing upon our return for a repeat ultrasound.
Let’s just say the rest of our trip was much less enjoyable after that. Although I didn’t have any more episodes of bleeding, my stomach was feeling really upset again (much like the last time), and I was having weird little pains in random places on one side of my body, which was a sign I was supposed to be on the lookout for if it was ectopic. I honestly couldn’t tell if I was really experiencing the pains, or if my mind was making them up out of pure stress over the situation (phantom cramps?). Needless to say, I was worried sick.
When we returned to San Diego, we visited my OB as soon as she would see me. She discovered the same little circle in my uterus that the Hawaiian doctor had seen – what they suspected to be a true gestational sac – and it was bigger this time, which was good news! But there was still nothing appreciable in it that she could see. She chalked it up to it being possibly too early still, and scheduled me for another ultrasound a week later.
This time, I had to go by myself because Mike could not get out of work. I was half-convinced she would find nothing again, and that my heart would be shattered into a million pieces. As I laid on the table for another very-intrusive ultrasound (they’re done internally with a wand when it’s that small; the cute belly ultrasounds you see in the movies don’t happen until later on when the baby is bigger)… I closed my eyes and waited for her answer.
After a few deafeningly silent moments, my doctor informed me that not only was there a baby… there was a visibly detectable, healthy heartbeat! She pointed it out on the screen so I could see for myself. My eyes instantly welled up with tears of joy right there on the table, as I wished that Mike had been present for this incredible moment. I was SO. HAPPY. The sense of relief that was coursing through my veins was intoxicating. Thinking quickly, I asked her if I could record a quick video to show Mike when he got home from work. To my surprise, not only did she agree, she even narrated for me! It was truly one of the happiest moments of my life.
Fast forward to 6 months later (I’m now 30 weeks pregnant!), as I am reliving all of the craziness to share our story with you. Our little girl is thriving and healthy in my tummy (at least as far as the doctors can tell), and I am so incredibly grateful for every little kick and roll that I feel and see her make. I have been soaking in every moment of this pregnancy with gratitude and wonder, especially after what we went through to finally get to this moment. I love her so much already, and I cannot wait to meet her!