I remember seeing it - my baby, the baby I didn’t know I wanted. It was just a little dot on the screen of the ultrasound, growing in the wrong place. A place where it had no hope of survival. My chest felt tight, as though my heart was physically breaking. As soon as the nurse left the room, I collapsed and cried my eyes out.
I hadn’t planned to get pregnant. I wasn't in a relationship - I was single and renting a place with a flatmate. Plus, I was in my mid-twenties and was just starting out in my career. At the time, a kid wasn’t on the cards – I just wasn’t ready for it.
But, well, things happen. And when I found out I was pregnant, everything changed.
My ex-boyfriend – let’s call him Jay* - was the father. He and I were together a few years ago for about a year and, despite breaking up, we had remained close. We met up again a couple of summers ago, had a few drinks, and he ended up staying over. Everything seemed normal – until a few weeks later, when I had my second period of the month.
I started to worry that something might be up, and after looking it up online I read that it could be ‘implantation bleeding’ - a small amount of blood that you get when you’re pregnant. So I took a home pregnancy test, just to be safe. I was on the pill, but I’d missed one by accident around the time I saw Jay. Although I’d taken an emergency contraceptive the next day, I started to panic – what if it hadn’t worked?
But I decided to take a pregnancy test just to be sure. When the test stick said negative, I was so relieved.
But a couple of days later, I woke up in the middle of the night in excruciating pain – throbbing stomach cramps that kept getting worse. I called 111 – the NHS non-emergency advice line – and the operator called an ambulance for me. I was home alone and, as I waited anxiously for it to arrive, the pain started spreading down my leg. It was terrifying – I had no idea what was happening.
A few hours later, after calling back several times, I decided I couldn't wait any longer and booked a cab. After inching carefully down the stairs, I climbed into the car and took myself to A&E. The pain was so intense that as soon as I sat down in the back seat, I burst into tears.
After waiting for what seemed like hours, I finally got to see a doctor. She examined me and asked if I’d taken a pregnancy test. I said yes but that it had come back negative.
“We’ll need you to take another one,” she replied.
This pregnancy test involved the nurses taking blood and testing my urine. Eventually, the results came back. Despite what my own test had told me, I was pregnant.
I sat stunned, unable to move or think clearly.
I called Jay to tell him what was happening, and he immediately rushed to the hospital. He told me that whatever happened, he would be by my side.
The doctors did a scan to see if they could locate the foetus, but they couldn’t find it. They told me not to worry, and that it was probably because it was still very early on in the pregnancy. By now, the pain had eased off. I was asked to go back in the following weekend for another scan.
I took the week off work to process the news. A baby? It just wasn’t something I had planned for. Things were complicated with Jay, too, so what would having a child together mean for us? Would we get back together?
These questions swirled around in my head for the next few days. I felt completely out of it: confused and exhausted from overthinking. It was like I wasn’t living in the real world. How could I be having a baby?
But four days later, as if a switch was flicked in my head, all I could think was, “I must keep this baby” - beyond all reason, beyond everything I thought I knew about myself. All of the questions I had agonised over disappeared. I was young, but not that young. I had a decent job that wasn’t badly paid, and a roof over my head. I could feasibly look after a baby.
When I told Jay that I was considering keeping the baby, he told me he was 100% behind me and would stay by my side. Suddenly, I saw my whole future ahead of me: Jay, me, and our baby - and it was a massively life-changing moment. He said he wanted to be with me, and that we could make it work together. At that moment, I was so ready to do it.
The next morning Jay and I went to the hospital for the scan, but they still couldn’t find anything. I hoped it wasn’t anything to worry about, and that it was because maybe the baby was still just too small to be seen clearly on the screen.
But the doctors seemed concerned, and I got this creeping feeling that something was wrong. It was supposed to be a quick appointment, but I had to stay at the hospital all day for tests and further scans. That afternoon, the doctors finally found the foetus. It was growing just outside of my right ovary.
“It’s ectopic. We’re sorry, but we have to operate – immediately.”
Ectopic pregnancies can be fatal if the fallopian tube ruptures. Around one in every 80 pregnancies in the UK every year is ectopic, and it’s the leading cause of maternal death in early pregnancy. It’s thought that about five women every year die from complications to do with their ectopic pregnancies. It’s likely that this was what caused that intense pain from a week earlier, too.
I was meant to go into the operating theatre that evening, but when the time rolled around there was no room. So they sent me home, and arranged for me to come back in the morning. Jay stayed over with me but I was in pieces.
By the time I returned to the hospital, I was in intense pain again. The ectopic pregnancy had started to rupture my fallopian tube, which meant they had to take the whole tube out. My poor body felt like it was at breaking point and I was emotionally exhausted.
While I was in the hospital, I kept telling myself, “OK, I’m here, this is what I have to do.” I was on a lot of morphine, too, so I was in a bit of a haze until I went into theatre that evening.
After the op, I spent the night in hospital. The doctors told me to rest. But I just lay there staring at the ceiling, feeling completely deflated. After I went home the next day, Jay and another friend came over to the flat and we all watched a film together. For a few hours it seemed like things might actually be alright. But at the end of the movie, everything hit me like a brick wall – and once the tears started, they didn’t stop.
Over the next few weeks, grief took over. I couldn’t move much because I was still in pain from the operation. The operation had gone well - or, at least, as well as it could have - and I was signed off work for a month to recover. At night, my dreams were filled with babies, tumbling around my subconscious. But worse was that at first, my body still thought I was pregnant. My breasts were swollen, my periods were almost non-existent. It was trying to house a baby that wasn’t there anymore.
One morning, soon after the operation, I woke up to find I was lying in a massive pool of blood. In a perverse way, it reminded me of a scene from a horror movie. My body had expelled all of the blood in my uterus, which was supposed to be housing my baby. They had warned me that this would happen, but it was still a shock.
I just looked at the blood on my thighs and mattress, and thought, “Wow, that’s it - I’m done now.”
For the rest of the year, I was overwhelmed with a profound sense of loss. The whole thing really messed with my mind in a way I had never expected.
In some ways it was a shared sadness between Jay and me. After all, it was his baby too. The experience brought us closer together, but also drove us further apart. One day, he told me that he loved me and still saw our future together. He wanted to be with me, baby or no baby. But, sadly, that didn’t feel right to me. Although I loved him - and still love him now, to be honest - I didn’t want to build a relationship on the foundation of such grief.
At the same time, I felt incredibly alone. It’s a very specific feeling, when you weren’t really ready to be a mother but you still want to grieve for your baby. I was told not to worry because I could still get pregnant in the future, and that women can conceive with just one fallopian tube. But another pregnancy was the last thing I was thinking about. I just wanted to talk about this mind-numbing sadness that I was experiencing.
I lost friends over it, too. One in particular just kept saying the wrong things, telling me that “having a baby would have been a terrible idea”, or that I “really dodged a bullet”. I eventually told her that saying stuff like that didn’t help – that this wasn’t a “bullet” to dodge. It was my baby.
Six months after losing my baby, I decided to seek help. It still took a year of waiting for mental health treatment on the NHS before I gave up and found an affordable private therapist. He has changed my life.
One thing that’s still hard for me, though, is seeing babies. When I spot a cute baby - on social media, in the street, anywhere - I get this sharp sting behind my eyes, and my body becomes heavy with grief. I don’t dislike babies, of course. I love them. I look at them and they're just so pure and loving that it feels like my heart is ripping in two. It's such a strong feeling - this love mixed with such incredible pain.
Now, just under two years later, I am feeling better - but I’ll never forget the baby I almost had.
As told to Ashitha Nagesh
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*Name has been changed
This article was first published on 11 October 2018