Updated: Jul 26, 2020
A brief overview of one of the darkest complications of pregnancy
Themes: Health Issues and Diseases
“There is no better feeling than the movement of life inside of you.” - Fella Makafui
Pregnancy is the most profound definition of art. Women experience the beauty of the fragile life that’s within them, and the need to protect it. Even though many challenges come along the way, it is worth it, according to almost every mother in this world. But is the outcome always so rosy? Pregnancy is a complex condition; like a maze that has never-ending puzzles. One such enigma that I want to talk about today is Ectopic Pregnancy.
The complicated period of pregnancy begins when a man’s sperm fertilises a woman’s egg. During sexual intercourse, the man’s semen, containing millions of sperm cells, is ejaculated from the penis into the woman’s vagina. Whilst eggs are in the ovaries, sperm cells are made in the testicles. The menstrual cycle hormones cause a few eggs to mature every month. A mature egg is one that’s ready to be fertilized by a sperm, so it leaves the ovary and travels through the fallopian tube towards the uterus. This is known as ovulation. Searching for a sperm, the egg moves through the fallopian tube for 12-24 hours. Having up to 6 days to find an egg, the sperm cells travel to the fallopian tubes. Once a sperm cell fuses with an egg, fertilization occurs. The fertilized egg then travels down the fallopian tube to the uterus, where it divides to form a ball of cells known as blastocyst. The attachment of the blastocyst to the lining of the uterus indicates implantation, which marks the beginning of pregnancy. On the completion of implantation, the blastocyst develops into an embryo, the placenta grows and pregnancy hormones prevent the uterus lining from shedding, which is why periods do not occur during pregnancy.
“Ectopic” meaning “out of place” refers to the growth of the embryo outside of the uterus. Typically, conception occurs on the attachment of the blastocyst to the uterus lining, and the growth of the embryo in the uterus of a woman’s body. But when the blastocyst grows inside the fallopian tube, abdominal cavity or cervix instead of the uterus, ectopic pregnancy occurs. This happens because the blastocyst is unable to reach the uterus lining which can be explained by a woman’s previous health conditions, such as: pelvic infection, a previous ectopic pregnancy, previous pelvic or abdominal surgery, technology-assisted conception, or even cigarette smoking. Even though ectopic pregnancy is symptomized by heavy vaginal bleeding, severe pain that occurs on one side of the abdomen and sharp waves of pain in various body parts, it might be difficult to distinguish as the early signs may be masked by the symptoms of normal pregnancy - a missed period and a positive pregnancy test. Some women may not even recognise that they are pregnant, let alone sense a possible ectopic pregnancy. As a result, the embryo fails to grow in the unsuitable conditions and a miscarriage occurs.
Ectopic pregnancy is described as a form of miscarriage; unless it is spotted in the very early stages, there is no hope of saving the child. The outcome of this can have a massive impact on a couple. It not only marks the end of the pregnancy period, but also puts a full stop on the various dreams and plans of the future the couple might’ve made. For the couple, it might be a time when there are overwhelming feelings of isolation and despair, it might be a time when they are not able to face everyday life. The sleeping difficulties, vivid dreams, or even nightmares that also come along might make it challenging for them to face their loved ones. When this happens, it is important to surround them with people they are the most comfortable with, and to look for external support groups that might be able to help them overcome the situation.
It is also important to remind the couple that it is not the end to everything, as they can still try to conceive. Most women who have had ectopic pregnancies in the past are blessed with a healthy pregnancy later. Sometimes, surgery can cause deformities to the fallopian tube, making another ectopic pregnancy more likely. But healthy pregnancies still take place and the egg can be fertilized as normal. If nothing else works, hope remains intact with the existence of in vitro fertilisation.
Such complications can be devastating for a couple. The trauma of this loss goes way beyond what a normal person is capable to understand. Luckily, the complications of ectopic pregnancy are very rare. Despite all of the challenges that ectopic pregnancy puts forward, a great majority of women continue to have healthy babies. Therefore, it becomes a crucial deed to cultivate hope for the couple and to continue to be optimistic.
Fallopian tube: Tubes that stretch out from the uterus to the ovaries
Abdominal cavity: Large body cavity found in mammals between the thoracic and pelvic cavity
Cervix: Cylinder-shaped neck of tissue that connects the vagina and the uterus
Pelvic infection: Infection of the upper part of the female reproductive system
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