Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Kate, I’m 33, originally from Liverpool but currently live in Manchester with my husband James and our cats Sergio and Gus. I work as Culture & Trends Strategist for a global market research agency in Manchester. Outside of work my biggest passion is interiors which I engage with through my Instagram page @copper.and.me.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience?
I’m currently about a year and a bit into fertility struggles. They began in March last year when I had my first miscarriage. I was about 5 weeks pregnant and I remember it vividly because I was presenting at a conference in London that day. As soon as I finished I had to take myself to a hospital in an unknown part of London rather than going for beers with my colleagues. I then got the train back to Manchester to be with my husband. I remember being really taken aback by it happening as only a few days before we’d been so excited about getting pregnant so quickly, after only officially trying for 2 months.
After getting over that initial hurdle, I got pregnant quite quickly again. I was pregnant for 8 weeks before I had an ectopic pregnancy (EP). I was worried that something wasn’t quite right purely because I’d had a miscarriage already so didn’t really allow myself to get my hopes up. The day before my first midwife appointment, I started experiencing some light bleeding. My midwife told me to go to the emergency gynae unit to have it checked out. Luckily my husband was able to come with me because it was such a traumatic experience. I went in at midday to be scanned internally, they told me it was an ectopic, that I had a significant amount of internal bleeding and that my life was at risk. From there I was on the surgery table within 2 hours having lifesaving surgery to stop the internal bleeding and sadly to remove my left fallopian tube as it had completely ruptured. The whole thing was a whirlwind as one moment I was talking to the midwife about what kind of birth I’d like to have, and the next minute I was having my life saved, and a pregnancy terminated in order to do so.
That was a year ago and I’m still struggling with the mental and physical impacts. I went through a period of PTSD and grief for the babies I never had. I also felt like a failure, and still do, for not being able to carry a baby and for only having one tube. I’ve also felt quite withdrawn from close friends who have had successful pregnancies. I suppose it’s only natural when you can’t have what you desperately want. But that in turn has made me feel so guilty at times.
Physically the ectopic pregnancy means that my menstrual cycles are still recovering, which is not ideal when you’re still in hope of one day trying to get pregnant. Alongside that, I have the scars as a visible reminder of a body that was once pregnant twice, but no baby to show for it, so you can imagine what that does to your body and body confidence as a result.
How has coronavirus affected your experience? And your plans?
My cycle has taken a huge blow, not just from the trauma of everything but from the ongoing stress and emotional toil of getting over it. After a bit of a break from baby-making to allow us to properly heal, we had various tests at the GP to rule things out and were referred to a fertility specialist at the hospital for more testing and treatment. This was scheduled for mid-April and, understandably with NHS resources being needed elsewhere right now, they made the decision to cancel until further notice.
A lot of it is so raw at the moment as it can bubble to the surface daily. Firstly, we have no idea when we will be able to successfully get pregnant again as everything is hinging on this appointment. With infertility and the NHS you can’t move forward with any treatment until you’ve had all of the tests.
Secondly, it has had a big emotional impact and a warped sense of time results – the idea that we might run out of time is a concept that as women we are familiar with, as much as we don’t want to admit it. With fertility, that feeling is amplified hugely, particularly in lockdown as you’re thinking about how long the NHS will take. I waited 4 months for my original appointment, so when that got cancelled because of a global pandemic with no end in sight, the panic did set in. I’ve become good at managing this with various coping strategies like counselling, reflexology, yoga, going out and getting drunk and having fun with my husband or friends...but in lockdown, this wall of support I’ve spent so long building up, has been knocked down.
Thirdly, it has put a strain on my relationships. I have lots of friends with kids. Many are expecting their second child in the coming months and, in this weird time, I find myself withdrawing away from them. As bad as this sounds you hear so much about expecting mothers in lockdown and how awful it must be, and I know if I was in that position, I would be terrified also. But for women going through infertility problems, we suffer in silence.
I can’t say what our plan is right now. But we’ve made an important decision to start looking into private once we get the green light to leave the house. We can’t afford to wait for things to calm down with the NHS.
Is there a particular moment recently that stands out to you?
It was recently the one-year anniversary of my ectopic pregnancy. I was absolutely dreading it, thinking about how much I would be grieving the baby I didn’t even get to see on a scan, never mind give birth to. But I really surprised myself at how strong I was. I woke up and did some yoga and mindfulness. Then my husband and I wandered into town, did some social distancing food shopping and then sat in the sun. I felt sad and reflective but also super strong and proud of myself for how far I had come from the crumbling mess that had returned home from the hospital last May! I also used my Instagram platform to talk about the anniversary in order to raise awareness of the amazing work the NHS are doing, as well as some other platforms that others in a similar situation can tap into for support during this period of uncertainty. Lovely messages from friends definitely got me through the day too!
Three things you are most grateful for at the moment?
My husband. He has been an absolute rock through everything and he continues to pick me up when I am so low I don’t know how to get back on my feet
The weather! Even by Manchester standards it has been surprisingly amazing and given me a much needed boost of vitamin D.
Having a nice house and garden where I don’t feel trapped. When I was off work recovering from my ectopic pregnancy I saw my house as a sanctuary and wanted to make it a happy place to retreat to. I think this will be really important in the future too.
Any advice for anyone also in a similar position?
Find those people in your life who will let you open up about everything and who will listen to you, rather than try to provide solutions. I’ve had to learn and accept that not everyone necessarily gets it.
Try not to focus on the ‘what ifs’, because we can’t predict the future, nor can we dwell too much on the past. I often think “what if I had been more vigilant before my ectopic pregnancy?”, or “what if I can never have children in the future?”. These thoughts don’t get me anywhere so I really have to anchor myself in the present and focus on the facts in front of me.
And have hope that you will be a mother one day. I read Lisa Faulkner’s biography - she ended up adopting her daughter after not being able to get pregnant naturally. There’s a really emotional part in it where her now grown-up daughter asked her if she wishes she had a baby naturally. Lisa says no because it led to adopting her (I cried so much at this!). This really changed my perspective on what a mother is and made me re-evaluate all my negative self-talk about being a failure.