Former Atomic Kitten, Liz McClarnon, has opened up about the ectopic pregnancy scare that left her fearing she’d never have children and the lessons it taught her.
When Liz, 28, started feeling faint last month, she figured that it was the result of her busy lifestyle that often causes her to forget to eat.
“I often feel faint because I forget to eat and survive on loads of cups of tea with two sugars, so I thought nothing of it,” shared Liz, who lives with her boyfriend, businessman Rob Gros, 41, in Central London.
“I carried on with the interview, but afterwards I started to feel worse. I had cramping pains quite low down in my abdomen. I suffer from bad period pains, but this was even worse than that can be. It was really painful.”
Liz called her doctor, who told her to come straight into the surgery. “By then I had a temperature, and when she touched my tummy it really hurt and felt hard. When I told her I had also had some irregular bleeding for the previous few days – something I’d never had before – she started to look quite concerned.”
Her doctor arranged for Liz to go to a private London hospital for tests. Liz said, “I spent a lot of time in hospitals a few years ago when several of my family members died, all quite soon after one another, so I was frightened at the idea of going in.”
Rob accompanied Liz to hospital, where she underwent a series of blood tests and scans. The results suggested she had suffered an ectopic pregnancy. This is when a fertilized egg becomes implanted outside the womb, most often in the fallopian tubes. It often causes abdominal pain and irregular bleeding. If the pregnancy is not caught in time, the tube can burst, causing a huge loss of blood which can prove fatal. Only half of all women who have ectopic pregnancies go on to have a successful pregnancy in the womb. The embryo has to be removed surgically or dislodged with drugs. Sometimes the fallopian tube will be removed as well if it has been damaged.
Though an ectopic pregnancy was first suspected, it turned out that some of her fallopian tubes had glued themselves together.
“When the doctor said ectopic pregnancy, Rob shot me a really sad look. But at that time I didn’t know much about it,” says Liz. “I thought maybe you could still have the baby.”
“Then a few minutes later a nurse came in to take yet another blood test and I asked her: “Do you always lose the baby in an ectopic pregnancy?””
“When she said “yes”, all I wanted was to be able to have that child. Even though I had always been careful not to get pregnant, and we had never even discussed having a family, I suddenly really wanted to become a mother.”
Liz was told she would need surgery and was warned she might lose a fallopian tube.
“The hospital was really busy that night, so they had to put me on a post-natal ward,” recalled Liz. “There were babies everywhere and all I could think was: “Oh my God, I might not be able to have kids.” It was really upsetting.”
When it was time to have her operation the next morning, Liz was terrified. “I’d never had surgery before and I was scared of even having the anaesthetic. At one point, I got off the bed and refused to continue with it. Rob had to repeatedly calm me down. The surgeon kept coming in, saying: “Are we on or not?” I knew I had to have the operation – I was just nervous about it.”
During the operation, it emerged that Liz was not pregnant. Her symptoms were the result of her fallopian tubes being stuck together.
“This normally occurs when adhesions – bands of tissue – form outside the fallopian tubes,” explained Professor James Walker of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. “These often occur after some sort of pelvic infection, although normally the infection has cleared up by the time the adhesions are discovered. The infection leads to stickiness, causing the tubes to stick together or leading to the formation of the bands of tissue that then cause the tubes to adhere to each other. Adhesions can also occur after surgery or following appendicitis. A quarter of all women will develop them at some point, but many will have no symptoms. The main symptom is pain, as the band of tissue pulls on the fallopian tubes and twists them. Unless women are in pain or are unable to conceive, they may be unaware that they have them,” said Professor Walker. “Their symptoms may be worse when they menstruate because the uterus contracts. Having a period has a slight inflammatory effect, which can aggravate the adhesions, too.”
The symptoms can also worsen if a woman has a mild infection elsewhere in the body, because this can cause slight inflammation in the fallopian tubes. If this happens and the tubes become swollen, a scan can check whether or not there’s an ectopic pregnancy. The problem is that if the tubes develop a kink or become blocked because of adhesions, it affects a woman’s fertility and increases the risk of an ectopic pregnancy later.
Liz awoke from the operation to find out she had not been pregnant after all.
“I felt disappointed that I had not been pregnant, but relieved that I still had the chance to start a family when I wanted to. The surgeon told me he had separated my fallopian tubes and said I was “good to go”.”
Although Liz was assured she’d be able to have children, her experience opened her eyes to those who cannot.
“One of the first things I did when I got better was to go and see a friend who had a stall at a health show,” she said. Next to her stall was another one promoting egg donation for infertile couples. “My initial reaction was: “That’s a bit full on.” But I thought about what might have happened to me, and about friends who are trying to conceive with IVF and having no luck. My mum had a real battle to have me and my brother. She had miscarriages before she had me and a miscarriage after. She only managed to have my little brother Joe by having hormone injections to stop her body miscarrying the baby. Thinking about this made me realize that egg donation would be a really good thing to do. I know I will need counselling before I go through with it, as all donors do, and I need to consider it a bit more, but I’m really up for it. My family and Rob are fine about me doing it too.”
“I don’t mind the idea of the donation process,” she said, referring to the fact that donors have to undergo daily hormone injections for a month before the eggs are retrieved.
“I’m on a bone-marrow donor list, too. I’d like to help someone. Right now I am feeling broody and I think I’d like to start trying for children sooner rather than later. But I am lucky, as I now know there is nothing to stop me having a family. Other women can’t think like that, and that must be the worst thing in the world.”
“Having thought even briefly that I might never be able to have my own children made me realize what agony that would be, and made me want to help people in that situation,” she said.