After Sarah Nolan learned she had an ectopic pregnancy, she said an ER doctor sent her home.
Such pregnancies are nonviable and require swift treatment to prevent deadly internal bleeding.
Other women have reported feeling like their nonviable pregnancies were valued over their lives.
When Sarah Nolan began experiencing lower belly pain in May 2022, she thought she had a UTI. But at the urgent care clinic, she learned she was pregnant. Her IUD, a contraceptive device that’s more than 99% effective, had failed.
“I was devastated,” Nolan, a 26-year-old PhD student in Los Angeles, wrote for HuffPost. She and her husband, who were not prepared for parenthood, “willed the pregnancy to vanish.”
The next day at her OB-GYN’s office, tests confirmed the pregnancy but nothing appeared on an ultrasound. “Given the date of my last period, the doctor told me, there was probably something growing outside of it,” Nolan wrote.
In other words, Nolan’s pregnancy was ectopic, meaning the fertilized egg had implanted somewhere other than her uterus, most likely her Fallopian tube. IUDs raise the risk of ectopic pregnancies, which require swift treatment. Otherwise, the embryo can rupture the fallopian tube, leading to internal bleeding and possibly death.
But Nolan said she wasn’t treated swiftly. Rather, when she went to the ER from her OB-GYNs office as instructed, she said the doctor didn’t treat her at all.
“I suspected he sent me home to create time, to delay further procedure, just in case the pregnancy that I did not want turned out to be viable,” she wrote. “In looking for a baby, he did not see me.”
She bled internally for days before receiving treatment
Nolan said the ER doctor sent her home after reviewing various test results.
“You should come back on Thursday, when I will be working again, so I can see you and we can determine the kind of pregnancy,” he continued, according to Nolan. “If it is ectopic, we should be able to give you some methotrexate and you’ll pass it.”
But by Wednesday, Nolan felt off. “My head began to float, my hands shook, my stomach dropped,” she wrote. She threw up, began cramping, and returned to the ER.
This time, a doctor told her her ectopic pregnancy had already ruptured, and that the ultrasound the earlier doctor had reviewed indicated internal bleeding. “I’m going to be honest, I don’t know how anyone sent you home after seeing this,” Nolan said the doctor said.
“I had been bleeding internally for five days before anyone figured it out,” Nolan wrote.
Nolan underwent a successful minimally-invasive procedure to remove the pregnancy and ruptured fallopian tube. But, she wrote, “the malaise lingers.”
“Now more than ever, I understand that a womb can be a terrible burden,” she wrote. “That there will always be those who will only see me in terms of reproduction.”
Some fear nonviable pregnancies are being valued over lives
Other people have reported feeling like their ectopic pregnancies, which can never be viable, were valued over their own lives — an experience some doctors fear is becoming more common since the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
People who’ve experienced miscarriages in countries with strict abortion bans have also spoken up about the life-threatening effects of delaying care.
“Abortion bans, even those with exceptions for ectopic pregnancy, can generate confusion for patients and health care professionals and can result in delays to treatment,” the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists writes on its website. “Healthcare professionals should never have to navigate vague legal or statutory language to determine whether the law allows them to exercise their professional judgment and provide evidence-based care.”
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