The psychological impact of an ectopic pregnancy

Patient information: The psychological impact of an ectopic pregnancy

There is no right or wrong way to feel after an ectopic pregnancy, and it’s important to give yourself time to process a traumatic experience. Women often describe feelings of shock, grief, sadness, fear, and guilt.

Common feelings described

Shock
Often the transition between finding out you have an ectopic pregnancy to treatment is very quick because it is important to provide rapid, life-saving treatment. This leaves many women feeling shocked and overwhelmed, especially if you have otherwise been healthy. It is scary to suddenly go through emergency surgery and have digested the news that you were at risk of losing your life.

Grief and sadness
The loss of a baby is truly upsetting and many women experience an understandable change in mood and outlook. With an ectopic pregnancy, family and healthcare professionals are often focused on physical health. You may be more focused on your emotions and it may feel unjustified loosing a baby that you never met but this is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. Its likely you may need some time to mourn for the future plans you had made for your new family.

Fear
Sometimes an ectopic pregnancy diagnosis is “in limbo” and you may have had multiple blood tests and ultrasound scans. During this time, a lack of definitive answers can cause a significant stress and anxiety. You may feel you have lost control over your fertility, especially if you have had a fallopian tube removed and what this holds for the future.

Could I have done anything differently?
It’s understandable to try and make sense of what happened and feel frustrated when there are no answers. It’s important to remember that an ectopic pregnancy is not your fault. While some factors may increase your likelihood of having ectopic pregnancy, we still do not understand fully why it happens to some women and not others.

What should I do now?
Taking some time to process what happened is important. We suggest you reach out to friends and family members for support. Some women report this to be difficult as they hadn’t shared they were pregnant before with loved ones. However, people will want to be there for you and it’s a lot of pressure to deal with just you and your partner.

If you find it difficult to talk, activities such as playing music, exercising or journaling about how you feel may be more effective for you. It’s a balance between distracting yourself without disregarding your emotions.

What does the future hold?
For most women an ectopic pregnancy is a one-time event and depending on the treatment you received, you may start trying for a family soon after. You may feel anxious or not ready to start straight away but remember the possibility of a normal pregnancy is much greater than another ectopic.

You need to do what feels right for you and your body and you may need some time to recover emotionally and physically. If you feel unable to try again to become pregnant due to feeling low in mood or anxious then reaching out for extra support may help you recover quicker.

When do I need to get extra help?
Up to 50% of women suffer flashbacks and nightmares, re-living intense emotions associated with ectopic pregnancy. If this is the case for more than four weeks you may be suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and we would recommend visiting your GP.

Often women can feel low in mood and if you become persistently sad, notice you are avoiding social situations or equally feeling numb and low in energy you may be depressed. If this continues over two months you may need extra support from healthcare professionals.

Support available
• EPF patient experiences may help you to understand what other women have felt going through a similar experience
• Ask your doctors/nurses for local support and services available
• Visit your GP for counselling support
• Ectopic pregnancy forums talking confidentially with others online