The day I went in for my pregnancy confirmation bloodwork (aka a pregnancy test) after my very first IVF round was one of my most hopeful and happy in memory. Despite going through infertility for almost a year, the promise of IVF at the “young” age of 32 was an “almost certain success” as promised by my doctor, who was herself expecting - a sure sign of good luck!
The call came in late morning and I rushed out of a meeting at Cynthia Rowely where I was CEO at the time. The nurse’s voice sounded positive at first - and it only got better - my pregnancy test was positive! As she went on to read the laundry list of instructions she lightly mentioned that my HCG levels were low, but that may not be an issue. Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HGC) is the 'pregnancy hormone' - and it's what increases rapidly after fertilization. That night my husband and I forgot our woes of infertility and celebrated our baby on the way.
A week later, I had continued to go in for blood work almost every day, and although my HCG had been rising, I was told that it definitely wasn’t rising fast enough. The only conclusion to this is that I had an unviable, likely ectopic pregnancy.
I had never even heard the term ectopic pregnancy, or how dangerous this could actually be. Now my dreams of my baby were shattered, and all I was left with was scary google searches. For those of you who don’t know - an ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants and grows outside the main cavity of the uterus, most likely in the fallopian tube. Not only is this type of pregnancy not viable, but the growing tissue can cause life-threatening bleeding for the mother if left untreated.
It is possible for an early ectopic pregnancy to end in miscarriage on its own. However, in most cases it does not, and medical intervention is needed. To treat ectopic pregnancy, the doctor will recommend either a surgical procedure or a medication called Methotrexate - used for multiple purposes in medicine, but is most commonly known as one of the first drugs used in oral, medical abortions.
After receiving the news, I remember walking back to my apartment in the middle of my work day where I had celebrated the positive news just days prior. They say you can cry anywhere in New York City and nobody will notice… but that is irrelevant when your hopes and dreams of having a baby are ripped out from underneath you. Side note – I was actually across the street from the FRIENDS apartment and a sleugh of staring tourists, which didn’t offer any comic relief.
It only got worse. My expecting doctor went into labor and I was transferred to a new monitoring physician. I got another call at work - my HCG was still rising and I needed to have a shot of the affore mentioned ‘abortion’ drug - Methotrexate - immediately.
Being a CEO in the first place is no easy feat, but on top of those responsibilities I was told I had to urgently leave my job, haul myself to the upper east side, and have a nurse inject me in the rear with a drug that would ultimately kill my baby. When I thought my nightmare was over, it didn’t end there. After the normal, maximum two doses of Methotrexate, my HCG continued to rise, however ultrasounds were showing no signs of an ectopic pregnancy.
Days went by and I was finally under the assumption I was healing and moving forward from this loss. I was packed and walking out the door to fly to LA for two of my best friends' weddings to each other. The phone rang, and it was a frantic call from my interim doctor. She told me it was far too dangerous to get on the plane. She explained because my HCG was still rising, it could be a sign that there was an embryo that could burst, and result in internal bleeding and even death. My husband and I argued, because I desperately wanted to attend the wedding, but he insisted that we couldn’t take the risk. This whole process had already drained me of everything that mattered to me, and I felt confident that there was nothing menacing lurking in my body. Ultimately the smart decision was to not go to the wedding, and I was again left heartbroken in another way as a result.
I tried to avoid surgery since they couldn’t even see the ectopic pregnancy on ultrasound… so when my HCG still didn’t fall even after an unheard of 3rd dose of methotrexate, they sent me to an advanced imaging center. There it was - finally there on the screen. My microscopic baby starved in my fallopian tube. Despite my effort to avoid it at all costs, I found myself on the operating table getting my right tube removed.
This was not only one of the most traumatic experiences of IVF journey, but also my life. Even though my baby was never viable, I felt immense loss, both for the embryo and of the precious part of my body that had to be removed. This experience was equally traumatizing for my husband, who was truly afraid that he would lose me. Even just writing this today is triggering painful memories that I’ve pushed to the recesses of my mind - but I am doing so to highlight the reproductive rights I had during that time, that other women in this country no longer have access to.
A week or so after the Dobbs decision came out to overturn Roe V Wade, details of ramifications beyond traditional ‘abortion’ procedures started to come to life. I hadn’t put two and two together at the time - but it was now extremely clear that women suffering an ectopic pregnancy in some states would now not be able to receive the proper care that I did. My empathy toward these women opened the wound all over again, and I was reliving the stress and heartbreak but imagining a far worse outcome…
How is it even possible that a doctor would have to think twice about caring for a patient whose baby is unviable, whose life is in danger, and whose heart is most certainly broken? 2% of all pregnancies are ectopic. That’s 74,000 pregnancies in a year - almost a million women over the course of a decade. And that is only a fraction of the families affected by this particular decision, not to even touch on all of the other reasons to undergo abortion procedures. It has been made clear time and time again: abortion saves lives, and not just in the literal sense of an ectopic pregnancy. To think that so many women now have to sacrifice their health and quality of care for a political move is nothing short of heartbreaking.
I’m sharing this story now, because ultimately it’s a story of gratitude. I am grateful for the care and support I was able to receive, despite the harrowing journey. Being able to gather together with my family and the children I now have – my heart is full.