I was supposed to do this months ago…it’s a difficult thing to do, but I hope that me doing this gives others hope to begin a healing process.
It is December 12th. In Mexico it is the day of the Virgin de Guadalupe, http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art47334.asp it’s a pretty important day in Mexico and I was raised in a 50% Mexican household so I hold the day in great regard! The only reason I know this is because it is the birthday of the woman who raised me – not my mom’s birthday, but my “nanny.” Nanny in quotes because she’s really more a grandma than a nanny and a nanny would mean she’s on the perimeter of our family when she really is our family. Anyway…today is also the day my colleague and friend has her court date in Ethiopia to adopt her two girls. Two events on December 12th that bring joy and hope and love to my live.
In 2006 December 12th fell on a Monday and today, Monday December 12th 2011 is the 5th anniversary of my first ectopic pregnancy. SO much has happened since that fateful day and night.
It all started with my interview at my present place of employment. I was so nervous and excited! I was ready for a change and going to this college seemed like such a golden opportunity. Julius and I (not yet married) had learned I was pregnant shortly after Thanksgiving. We both received the news with mixed emotions. Pushing 40, we had not known each other but 6 months. Our family values led us to know we would get married and at our ages we also knew that it didn’t take much time to know when you had met the one (that’s another very entertaining story best saved for a different blog post). Barely pregnant but very bloated and achey – downright uncomfortable – I couldn’t fit into any of my “interview suits” and it was winter so buying something cute and sassy was out of the question. I settled on a black turtleneck with this long, thick black tweed skirt, and black boots. I was warm, comfortable, cute…maybe not looking like a professor, but oh well.
The pain in my side had started around Friday. I had been experiencing high levels of stress and tension at work. The students in the program I coordinated were unhappy with the way I was doing my job, they had found an ally in a woman who did not like me (she had applied for my job when it was vacant and was denied the position) and I was feeling unsupported by my supervisor. Also, the workload at that time was large and unmanageable and I was shuffling myself between my full-time job, a part-time job, and my new boyfriend (now husband). I was tired and sleep deprived. However, the moment we found out I was pregnant I began taking naps, drinking more water, all the usual things women begin to do to stay healthy and hopefully make-up for any past indiscretions in lack of self-care. Anyway…the pain in my side was uncomfortable but I thought it was tension or gas.
My interview was tough! This was a professorship at a 4-year institution in the field for which I had been trained but in the field in which I had not been immersed in for many years. Even though I had spent lots of time preparing for this interview, I felt unprepared and that I would not get this job. Everyone was friendly enough, but I sincerely thought that I was under qualified. At the time I lived a few blocks from the university so I walked home and got ready to take a nap. I had planned to call Julius latter to tell him how the interview had gone.
I got home, changed clothes, put on the kettle to make tea (decaf of course). Maybe I’d go back out and get Chinese food. Then I went to the bathroom. Bright red blood! OH GOD! And then instantly doubled over in pain, unable to stand straight and I knew….I was having a miscarriage. I didn’t know much about pregnancy at the time, I hadn’t bought any of the popular books yet, but I knew enough to know that this was not normal. I panicked, I wasn’t sure what to do or who to call. My long-time friend David lived across the street (another entertaining story for another blog post), I called him and told him that I was going to call 911 and explained why. I asked him to wait for Julius and to show him how to get to the hospital. I called Julius and tried to remain calm as I told him what was happening. I knew this would make or break us as a couple. He asked me to repeat what I had said, asked some other questions, and said he was on his way. I told him I was calling 911 and not waiting for him and that David would meet him outside my apartment. In tears and trying not to get hysterical I called 911.
Television does not do justice to real life emergency rooms. The waiting and poor treatment is so heinous! I could barely stand lying on that hard cold bed waiting to see what would happen next. I was sent to get an ultrasound, the Rad Tech was silent and simply said she couldn’t see anything because the screen was too dark. What did that mean? J looked concerned and puzzled. He’s an incredibly smart guy, but I could tell we had entered a realm in which he was unable to fully comprehend the situation nor was he able to break out his tools and fix it. “O.K. Shannon, don’t panic” I told myself. “Make sure Julius has your parent’s phone number and the number toy our job….” Just in case….Pelvic exam by the ER doctor who obviously skipped his OBGYN rotation – damn! That was the worst exam ever!!! Then things moved so quickly I’m not sure I accurately remember what happened.
Compared to my friend Laurie’s story, I feel blessed and fortunate and well cared for. I’ve never been so scared in my life! I am my mother’s only child. She’s an only child as was my dad – no cousins, no siblings, no aunts or uncles. I have lots of really GREAT friends and extended “family.” But for the 1st time in my life I was truly feeling my only-childness. Dr. T explained that my fallopian tube had burst and that I was filling up (or full of) blood and that he had to do surgery right away! WHAT??? Fallopian tube? Oh shit! I wish I had bought those pregnancy books and paid better attention in anatomy class. What the hell was happening to me? “Julius call my dad and tell him what’s happening but tell him not to tell my mom. We’ll call back when I’m out of surgery.” My mom and step-dad live in Georgia. My mom (although not formerly diagnosed) has Alzheimer’s. Bleeding internally? Who would come clean out my apartment if I died? I should have given Julius my sister’s number (my sister is the grand-daughter of the woman whose birthday is today – my mom raised us as sisters, so technically I’m not an only child…). I think I called her and they were on their way to celebrate Lupita’s birthday. I had never had surgery before.
I woke up to the doctors smiling at me and saying it all went well and “we saved your tube.” Again, I didn’t know what that meant, but they were smiling so it must be a good thing. It’s December 13th maybe at 1 or 2 a.m. (don’t remember) I tell J to go home and sleep and not worry about me. As he leaves I think “This is it, we either stay together or not.” We’ll be celebrating our 5 year wedding anniversary in 22 days!
A few friends and coworkers come to visit. They are empathetic and concerned. I’ve lived a fairly sheltered and pampered life, this is my 1st personal traumatic experience! So far I’m surviving o.k.
I soon learn what an ectopic pregnancy is. And that it only happens in 2% of pregnant women. I begin to re-think everything I ate, how much I didn’t sleep, my stress level, etc., etc. It isn’t until my 2nd ectopic pregnancy (October 2007) that I know that there is not much one can do – it happens for a variety of reasons and it is mostly unexplainable, which sucks!
My husband’s friends – the Cameroonian women – strangers to me then sisters to me now, came in full force with pepper soup, songs, advice, care and concern. It felt shameful. I was unable to keep a pregnancy. But why did I feel that? Where did I learn to be ashamed of not being able to conceive? My mom would be disappointed of my shame.
I missed the follow up calls and emails regarding my interview at the college because I was convalescing (2 week’s bed rest) at J’s house. I’m sure I looked like an unreliable and irresponsible candidate. In the end I got the job.
J is a pretty private person; not secreative, but private. I need to talk things out with several close friends before making any decisions. I was feeling isolated and incredibly sad, unsure, scared. My usually strong faith was rocked. “Why me?” J and I didn’t really talk about it. I think part of African and African American culture is that you just dust yourself off and move on from those challenging experiences. So I did. I wish that the doctor had given me more information – something to read, somewhere to go, someone to consult with and talk to.
Then Laurie enters my life! Thank God. Someone who knows and understands, is empathetic, wants to talk about it and who I know I can call or run to if the grief or memories become to unbearable. She and I are working on a project to help ourselves and other women be informed and heal. We are gathering stories of other women who have gone through an ectopic, which often leads to surgery so fast that a woman is never given the space or time to grieve and ultimately heal. You can help us by sharing the link to our pre-screening survey with women and women’s groups in Massachusetts and beyond.
What will become of our research you ask? An article in a social work journal, perhaps a book…if not anything else than a chance to offer hope and awareness. I feel there needs to be more education on the signs and symptoms for women and their doctors/midwifes to better diagnosis and not misdiagnosis. It is an opportunity for the two of us, and those that participate in the survey and interviews to share our stories and perhaps save a life. Ectopic pregnancies are the leading cause of maternal death and happen in 2% of all pregnancies (and that number is growing) in the United States.
How can you help us? Share this post or re-post on your blog, tweet about our survey, facebook the link to the survey. Help us spread the word and talk to as many woman as we can!
Thank you so much for your support and for reading my very personal, but important story. It has taken me close to three years to heal and feel brave enough to share it with the world.
Follow this link to participate in the pre-screening survey
For more information on our project please visit http://shareectopicstories.blogspot.com
Contact this e-mail for more information laurieandshannon at gmail dot com