Ectopic pregnancy loss is a deeply devastating experience that no woman ever wants to go through. It’s a topic that isn’t spoken about much, something that I think makes women who have had an ectopic pregnancy feel isolated and unsupported in their grief. Often, the entire ordeal unfolds so fast that you’ve hardly any time to catch your breath, let alone process what has come to pass. One moment you are stunned to you receive your long awaited ‘Big Fat Pink’ and are excited to finally be pregnant after months or even years of trying, and the next you’re dealt a severe blow when your worst fears are suddenly confirmed.
I’ll never forget how shattering it was to be met with the diagnosis of an ectopic pregnancy when we had the prenatal first scan for my most recent pregnancy. My husband and I were anxiously awaiting good news from our doctor, but instead what we heard where the dreaded words, “There’s nothing in the uterus. I’m concerned that it’s an ectopic pregnancy.” These words were uttered in such matter-of-fact manner that it completely crushed my heart. A follow-up scan confirmed that the foetus was implanted in my right fallopian tube instead of my uterus, my tube was ruptured and I was bleeding internally. The most heart-breaking thing was seeing our baby’s heart beat flickering on the monitor and then being told that my pregnancy was not viable. As I result, I ended up having emergency surgery and lost my baby and my right fallopian tube.
The surgery was fast and I was discharged from hospital a day later. But when the dust of this frightening and painful whirlwind settled, I was left bereft. I found that nothing prepares you for the aftermath of living through a worst case scenario you once found unimaginable. If you’ve been in this place, you’ll know that recovery after pregnancy loss is a slow and challenging journey, so it is necessary to nurture yourself, practice self-care and create space for your emotional healing process. With that in mind, here are four ideas on how to nurture yourself when you’re in the process of recovering from ectopic pregnancy loss:
1. Rest and Recover: Rest is an important part of ectopic recovery, especially if you’re suffered a ruptured fallopian tube and have had to have surgery as a result the pregnancy. Many doctors recommend at least 1-2 weeks off work, and no excessive exercise for up to 6 weeks post-surgery. Take time to heal both physically and emotionally. Get lots of sleep. You’ll likely still experience some pain and discomfort for the first couple of weeks post-surgery, and as the pregnancy hormones gradually work their way out of your system it may take a while before you start feeling like usual yourself again. You may feel frustrated and as if you are in limbo while you way for your hormones to normalise or for your menstrual cycle to return. Use this time to practice self-care and nurture your wellbeing. Women often experience IBS and constipation after ectopic surgery, so remember to nourish your body with healthful foods that rich in fibre and drink lots of water. It’s important to allow yourself the space to let your body mend and come back into balance. Move forward mindfully at a pace that your body is able and comfortable to, trying not to rush back into action too quickly. Consider easing your way back into physical activity with slow, gentle movement like stretching, yoga and long therapeutic walks in nature until you feel ready to do more.
2. Create Space to Grieve: Going through such a traumatic experience will naturally have a significant emotional impact on you. The initial days and weeks are the hardest. On some days, the grief of your loss is completely debilitating. Other days you may find it easier to breathe. Take it one day at a time, moment to moment, bearing in mind that you’re grieving the loss of your baby, and perhaps the trauma of a loss of physical aspects which represent a part of your fertility too (a fallopian tube, or ovary, or both tubes). Healing is a gradual process where your need to allow yourself room to process your experiences and work through the various stages of grief as they surface. When the going gets tough, ask yourself: ‘What is the most healing or nurturing thing that I for myself right now?’ And then focus on taking that small step for the moment until you have the strength and presence of mind to move forward. Books such as “Saying Goodbye” and ‘The Baby Loss Bible’ by Zoe Clark-Coates are great supportive resources to help guide you through your grieving process. In “The Baby Loss Bible”, Clark-Coates suggests having a grief release ceremony or private memorial of sorts to honour the life that would have been as a way of bringing closure and acceptance for you and your partner.
3. Lean on Your Support System: Ectopic pregnancy loss may cause feelings of depressing or trigger post-traumatic stress syndrome too. When you feel completely overwhelmed by all that you are going through, lean on your support system. Accept help when you need it. Discuss what you are feeling with your partner to let them know what you are experiencing and what kind of support you need from them. Talk to someone close who you feel able to trust. Go for counselling if necessary. Investigate attending mindfulness or meditation classes, or other alternative healing therapies that could build your coping skills and resilience. Also consider joining a support group. Being in community with other women who share similar experiences to you is healing and helps you feel less alone in your struggles. If you cannot find a support group to go to in your area, then there are also various ectopic pregnancy support groups on Facebook. Not everyone will understand or be sympathetic about your experiences. It’s thus important to surround yourself with at least a few positive and reliable who do get it and who you will be able to lean on when you need to.
4. Focus on What IS Thriving: It’s natural to feel fearful of the future after an ectopic pregnancy. You become anxious about what this means for your future fertility and worry around the risk of having another ectopic pregnancy is triggering. While coming to terms my own ectopic pregnancy, I discovered that part of the healing journey means learning to trust and be hopeful in an uncertain path to parenthood going forward. One helpful coping strategy that I adopted from the renowned bestselling author and self-help guru, Gabrielle Bernstein, is to “Appreciate what’s thriving”, a tip that Bernstein offered in the context of a five step guideline for women who are having difficulty conceiving. That idea really stuck with me, so I began a daily practice of drawing my focus to all the things around me that were thriving. Simple things like my relationship with my lovingly supportive husband, fragrant flowers in my home, good friendships who cooked meals for me when I was at my worst, vibrant colours, work opportunities, and my thriving garden became a source of daily upliftment that lightened my emotional load. Bernstein’s approach showed me that turning your attention to the things that are working in your life is a positive way to cultivate gratitude and rekindle your sense of hope. It’s hugely therapeutic to meditate on what feels inspiring, what is flourishing and what makes you feel lighter or hopeful.