I heard today that Sophie, Her Royal Highness the Countess of Wessex, this week gave birth to a baby boy. It seemed appropriate. I often think of Sophie in December, remembering that she had her ectopic pregnancy a few days before I found I was pregnant for the first time. Perhaps my only royal connection, I too suffered an ectopic pregnancy that year.
A year later, December 2002, I was pregnant again. But waking on Christmas Day I knew things were not quite right, and before New Year I had lost the baby. Another couple of weeks of poking and prodding, tests, scans, medical and surgical treatment, hospitalisation and suspected cancer, it was finally diagnosed as a cornual ectopic pregnancy. It took five months three surgeries five hospital stays countless blood tests and specialist appointments before I was given the all clear.
About 1 in 80 pregnancies are ectopic, which means a pregnancy outside the womb. The baby will not survive. And if left untreated, in many cases neither will the mother. Ectopics are often misdiagnosed, and every year women die as a result, even in the richest countries of the world.
About 1% of ectopic pregnancies are cornual. I was told that about 1 in 400,000 pregnancies were in the same position as mine. Suddenly I realised what it is like to be on the wrong end of the odds. When you’re the 1 in 400,000, and that is 100% of your experience, odds become meaningless.
You realise you are not infallible; things you thought would come easily do not; things which everyone assumes would be yours simply by right of existence are not.
You come face to face with your own mortality. Life seems more uncertain.
You endure invasive medical or surgical treatment, sometimes both, often on an emergency basis.
You have concerns about your future fertility – some women lose their tubes, sometimes ovaries, and cornual ectopics such as mine run the risk of losing part or your entire uterus.
Saddest of all, you lose a baby.
Pregnancy, which everyone else takes for granted, becomes something that can kill you.
So now I volunteer for a Trust that raises awareness of ectopic pregnancies, supports research into causes, treatment and prevention, and improves the diagnosis and treatment. Literally, the Trust saves lives. Just as importantly, as far as I am concerned, it saves spirits and relationships as well.
But every year at this time, I remember.