Mummy Social Learns… About Ectopic Pregnancy

I recently spoke to Becca Maberly, who is a pregnancy and postnatal expert and runs A Mother Place with her father Roger Marwood, an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist. She has two little boys, Wilfred (8) and Gus (6) and she is married to Tom. Last year Becca had an ectopic pregnancy, so with her experience and background I wanted to ask her some questions to help spread awareness.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us Becca. I understand that you experienced an ectopic pregnancy last year, I’m so sorry to hear this. Can you please briefly explain what this is and why it happens?

An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the fertilised egg attaches itself outside of the womb, usually inside the fallopian tube. With a normal pregnancy, the egg is fertilised in the tube and then travels down to the uterus and implants and develops there.

There are not always obvious causes for this, but you are at higher risk of an ectopic pregnancy if:

  • You are over 40 years old
  • You smoke cigarettes
  • You are using the contraceptive coil or taking the mini pill
  • You have had an ectopic pregnancy before
  • Your fallopian tubes have been damaged from surgery
  • Your pregnancy is by IVF
  • You have had pelvic inflammatory disease

At what point did you discover yours was an ectopic pregnancy? Did it differ from previous pregnancies?

I did not even know I was pregnant. We had decided that our family was complete and I had the contraceptive coil inserted and assumed I could not fall pregnant so was not on the lookout for any signs. I did not discover I had an ectopic pregnancy until I was rushed to hospital with severe abdominal pain and bleeding.

The bleeding and pain had been going on for 3 weeks and I went to the GP 3 times to ask for help. I was told that the bleeding was my body adjusting to the coil (which had been inserted 6 months previously) and I was told that the pain was IBS and indigestion. I told the GP that I did not think this was the case, but he was insistent and fobbed me off, not once, but 3 separate times.

Eventually, the pains became unbearable and I couldn’t get off the floor. I was shaking and sweating and couldn’t speak. I contacted the GP I told him that the pains had become as bad as labour and that I needed a scan that day as something awful was wrong with me. He told me he would try and get me an appointment in the next few weeks…so that is when I called my dad who is an obstetrician and gynaecologist. The first thing he asked me was “have you done a pregnancy test?” I laughed and explained that I had the coil and there was no chance of me being pregnant. I was wrong! My dad came over and took one look at me, felt my stomach and after a quick consultation with my brother (who is an A & E consultant) over the phone, deduced that I had an ectopic pregnancy, a ruptured tube and internal bleeding and needed to get to hospital urgently. We drove to the hospital and went straight to the Early Pregnancy Unit where a scan confirmed that my abdomen was full of blood and that I needed to go straight to surgery. About 20 minutes after arriving at the hospital I was under General Anaesthetic having my tube removed and 1 litre of blood removed. I was very lucky.

What are the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy? Which ones in particular should we be aware of and watch out for?

The symptoms are:

  • Bleeding – which may be dark or watery
  • Severe pain in your tummy
  • Pain in your shoulder tip
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • Pain in your bottom or diarrhoea

If you are pregnant and have any of the symptoms above and think you may have an ectopic pregnancy then this is a medical emergency. You can go straight to A&E or even better the Early Pregnancy Unit if possible.

What are the main risks of an ectopic pregnancy?

If untreated, an ectopic pregnancy can be life-threatening. If the pregnancy continues to grow inside your tube, the tube will eventually rupture and cause you to bleed internally.

If you catch an ectopic pregnancy early enough then it can often be treated more conservatively and without the trauma of emergency surgery.

What happens when an ectopic pregnancy is discovered? Can you talk us through the procedure that takes place? What is the recovery time? Are you offered any support?

Some ectopic pregnancies will dissolve and expel themselves naturally. If this does not happen you may be offered medicine to stop the pregnancy growing. If this is not appropriate for your case then you may need a laparoscopy which is keyhole surgery, to remove the fertilised egg, and sometimes the tube too.

Recovery from surgery depends on the individual and things like blood loss (which you might experience if you have emergency surgery or a ruptured ectopic like me.) You usually stay overnight in hospital and should be able to get yourself up and dressed and walk around the next day. Some people can take 4-6 weeks before they feel completely normal again but some feel better much more quickly than that. Take it slowly and listen to your body.

I was not offered any support afterwards.

I should imagine things have to happen pretty quickly when an ectopic pregnancy is discovered, so it doesn’t give you much of an opportunity to think about what is happening at the time? Can you share with us your feelings around what happened? Emotions are often forgotten when it comes to medical emergencies and it’s afterwards that it hits us.

Yes, this is so true and the emotional side of it all haunted me for quite a long time.

I had so many mixed emotions about this traumatic experience. I felt angry, sad and confused.

I was so angry at my GP (I made a formal complaint) and I was also full of questions and “what-ifs”. I kept thinking “what if my husband had just gone to work that morning and I had let me GP fob me off again and I hadn’t called my dad?” Would I have just bled to death at home? What happens to women who don’t have an obstetrician and an emergency consultant at the end of the phone?

I couldn’t get my head around the fact that I had been so unwell and I hadn’t known. I am normally very aware of my body and any changes to it..and I could not believe I had been pregnant and hadn’t realised. The last two times I had been pregnant I had known before I even did a test!

And I felt sad about the loss of a pregnancy. But I didn’t feel like I felt entitled to feel sad as I hadn’t wanted a baby and I hadn’t known I was pregnant- so I wasn’t sure I was “allowed” to be sad. It was a very strange emotion.

I’ve heard of people having to have ovaries and tubes removed due to ectopic pregnancies. Does this greatly affect fertility? What are the chances of another ectopic occurring in future pregnancies?

Most women will be able to get pregnant in the future. Your body is so clever, and losing one tube does not cut your fertility in half like you might think it would. Your body has amazing ways of compensating and you do not need to worry unnecessarily about your fertility.

You should wait a few months before trying for another baby. You need time to heal emotionally and physically.

When you get pregnant again you should tell your GP who should arrange for an early scan to confirm that the baby is growing in the right place this time.

The chances of another ectopic are about 7-10 percent according to Tommy’s.

Is there much support out there regarding ectopic pregnancies? Any advice or recommendations for anyone who may have recently experienced this?

I was not offered any support after my experience. But through my work, with A Mother Place, I have discovered how common ectopics pregnancies are. 1 in 90 pregnancies is ectopic.

The chances are high that you know someone who has been through it. By talking about this kind of thing, like miscarriage, baby loss and other previously taboo subjects, we can help bring awareness around the topic and also offer support to those who feel traumatised or isolated by their experience.

Please understand there is no right or wrong way to feel and most importantly you are not alone.

Interview by Danni, Mummy Social Team

Becca Maberly is a pregnancy and postnatal expert and the founder of A Mother Place which she runs with her father Roger Marwood, an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist.

Their first book “Nobody Tells You… 101 Truths about Pregnancy, Birth and Parenthood” is out in December 2019. They share 101 stories and photos from real mums and dads covering everything you need to know but were never told, ranging from ectopic pregnancy to episiotomy and piles to postnatal body image and everything in-between! You can order it here now. “