Pregnancy and you blog

Ectopic pregnancy recovery: Healing takes time

By Mary M. Murry, R.N., C.N.M. March 13, 2012

I've written in the past about the pain and grief that follows the loss of a pregnancy. For women who experience an ectopic pregnancy, that pain and loss might be even more dramatic.

An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy that occurs outside the uterus. The most common type of ectopic pregnancy is one that develops in the fallopian tube. This type of ectopic pregnancy is often referred to as a tubal pregnancy.

Why is an ectopic pregnancy so difficult? It starts like any healthy pregnancy. You miss your period and usually have a positive pregnancy test. Everything seems normal. Then you might experience lower abdominal pain and slight vaginal bleeding — or severe pain and heavy bleeding if the fallopian tube ruptures. The embryo can't survive outside the uterus, and there's no way to continue the pregnancy.

The signs and symptoms of ectopic pregnancy are virtually the same as those experienced by women who are having a miscarriage. If your fallopian tube is still intact, your health care provider might not be able to tell you right away if it's an ectopic pregnancy. The diagnosis is usually confirmed with blood tests and an ultrasound — but sometimes it's simply too soon to detect a pregnancy through ultrasound.

While you're waiting for the diagnosis, you might be angry because your health care provider can't tell you for sure whether you'll be able to continue the pregnancy. You might begin to mourn the loss of the baby, only to see a beating heart on the ultrasound. This can be a crushing experience. You might also fear for your future fertility.

If you're diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy, prompt treatment is needed. Your health care team will be focused on the medical issues at hand — especially if it's an emergency situation. It can be all too easy to lose sight of the fact that you've lost your baby or what the loss means for you.

If you have signs or symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy, speak up at your appointments. Make sure you understand the tests used for diagnosis. Ask for an estimate of how long the process might take. Find out about treatment options. Is medication appropriate in your case, or will you need surgery?

After an ectopic pregnancy, remember that you need to heal physically as well as emotionally. Ask your health care provider any lingering questions you might have — and expect healing to take time. Share your feelings with your partner, loved ones and other close contacts. Seek the support of other women who've experienced ectopic pregnancy. You don't have to feel alone. Many women will understand your pain.

March 13, 2012