Ectopic Pregnancy by
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Prompted By Illness

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Lippes Loop form of IUD

I began a new job in May, 1981. I had interviewed for it for quite some time, (Walt at MDS), and had to convince two hardcore male chauvinists that I was the right person for the job, though my immediate supervisor was enthusiastic about hiring me. The two older men hired a man my age (with less experience) at the same time…just in case I didn’t work out, so I came into the company with a chip on my shoulder and something to prove. The product was a combination of expensive software and consulting services. It had a long, complicated sales cycle. I was (of course) the only woman (I was in my late 20s at the time of my hire) and there were only a few on the sales side.

The company was founded to do marketing brand models. Our side of the company was comprised of smart MBA-types who implemented the large-scale financial and marketing modeling using decision support systems, an innovative technology, supported by the multi-dimensional proprietary software that was used by our company, now available for sale, called Express. It was true that I had limited knowledge of both software and business. Yet with my theater background, I had outstanding presentation skills, had been a successful salesperson in a tech-adjacent industry for over three years, had excellent follow-up skills and could always bring along one of those smart MBA-types for follow-on presentations to customize presentations and explain the usage of Express for each customer’s needs. But learning how to present this product took time and my new mentor and I went on a lot of calls together for many months.

Aug, 1981, Cathy Stephenson, Betsy, Christie

In early August I went on my annual trip back to my beloved camp in Northern Michigan with my dear friend Christie to see the operetta, sing with the high school choir and hang out with our former teachers. We did this for a decade; it was a constant on our calendar, an oasis of joy and refreshment of the spirit. We shared a small cabin and talked about everything. During this visit, I commented that I had a period that hadn’t ended. I bled for 5 weeks. Christie does not suffer fools lightly. She looked at with me with concern. “Betsy, that’s not normal! You should see your doctor as soon as you return home.” Of course she was correct. But I had a history of irregular periods and breakthrough bleeding. I was not in pain, no cramping or fever, so I hadn’t been concerned.

I called my doctor’s office as soon as I returned to Boston. He was on vacation, and given my history of irregular periods, his partner wouldn’t see me. He told me to wait for my doctor to return the following Monday, which I did. I saw him that Monday afternoon. I had a sales presentation scheduled at Liberty Mutual (around the block from my Back Bay condo) with my manager on Tuesday afternoon.

I saw my doctor on Monday afternoon. I still had in a Lippes Loop from years ago. He examined me and drew blood. I got a call from him at my home the next morning, where I awaited Barry to come for our appointment. The doctor said, “You’re pregnant and we don’t where.”” What do you mean, ‘you don’t know where?’ What are my choices, my ear or my elbow?” He tried to explain to me about an ectopic pregnancy, but he never used the words “Fallopian tube” and I didn’t understand. He said I should pack an overnight bag, meet him in his office as soon as I could and we would go together to the hospital, which adjoined the medical building. My heart began to race.

I called Dan to come home from his office and waited for Barry to show up (no cell phones in those days). Barry came within a few moments and sat with me, trying to keep me calm, poor dear. He was such a nice man (he is no longer with us, having lost a battle to cancer some years ago). Dan came home a bit later and Barry bid a hasty farewell. Dan and I drove out to the Newton-Wellesley Hospital, went to the doctor’s office, then on to surgery.

The doctor used a laparoscope through my navel to see where the ectopic pregnancy was implanted, then cut it out of my left Fallopian tube, leaving a huge incision along my abdomen, and me considerably less fertile, with only one working Fallopian tube. His partner, who wouldn’t see me a week earlier, came by on rounds on Wednesday morning to check on the incision. He was dressed for his golf game (in those days, doctors played golf on Wednesdays). He had evidently assisted at the operation and closed the incision. He seemed pleased with his handiwork and commented that it was a good thing I came in when I did, as it was about to rupture (which might have killed me at the worst, but certainly would have caused serious complications). I commented that HE wouldn’t see me a week earlier. I had somehow offended him with that remark. His rebuttal: “I’m not GOD!” I was in the hospital for four days before being released.

Healing from an abdominal incision like that takes a long time. It left a long scar. I was out of work for the better part of a month. The other new hire was very kind to me. He visited me in the hospital, brought my mail and office gossip. He told me that Barry’s VP was overheard saying, “Why was she trying to get pregnant anyway?” WHAT? Did he not understand the point of the IUD? It only motivated me more. Of course I wound up being the top salesperson in the office (indeed, there was a time when I was one of the top software salespeople in all of New England). I showed them!

When I finally did become pregnant with David, I left this OBGYN practice immediately. I would never let these men touch me again.

With all that is going on in reproductive health these days, I think it is important to share this story as widely as possible. I was lucky. Despite some delays, I was able to get the life-saving help that I needed, covered by insurance. I didn’t have the state or the NOT Grand Old Party and “religious” fools telling me what I can or cannot do with my body! I would likely not be here to tell this story in today’s climate, depending on where I live. And certainly wouldn’t have my two wonderful children and granddaughter with another on the way. MY BODY, MY CHOICE!

 

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.


Characterizations: moving, well written

Comments

  1. Khati Hendry says:

    Thanks for submitting this story—so timely indeed! It is outrageous what uninformed religious bigots are doing to women in this country, and meddling with people’s health and lives. Pregnancy is both a life -producing and life-threatening event. So glad you did well ultimately (and in your career at the same time—wow).

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, Khati. I am routinely screaming at the TV and newspapers these days. Even exchanging emails with friends about that horrible judge in Alabama who wrote his long screed, quoting from his bible about when life begins and blah, blah, blah. I want to see him try to diaper that frozen embryo, snuggle with it, feed it, burp it. That is LIFE! Not a few frozen cells, waiting to be implanted in a waiting uterus, as important an innovation as IVF is. The Jewish faith believes life begins when the baby takes its first breath. How dare this momser (Yiddish) tell me that his religion is more important than mine! Yes, I am furious!!! Have none of these “judges” actually read the Constitution of the United States, which guarantees the separation of church and state?

  2. Betsy, what a harrowing story, you’ve been thru the wringer.

    We have several friends whose beautiful children were born as a result of IVF, and years ago I had two abortions, performed by my own gynecologist. Were we living in other states today would we all be criminals?

    After SCOTUS reversed Roe did we know how much worse it would get? What country are we living in anyway?

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I also have friends whose children were born via IVF. And one friend whose grandchild is right now being carried by a surrogate, hoping for a successful, full-term pregnancy. We are keeping our fingers and toes crossed for her. IVF is an important medical break-through, not always successful, costly, difficult and complicated. How dare these MEN (always men) pass judgement on such medical conditions.

      Nine months after my ectopic pregnancy, with the same IUD in place (my doctor never recommended removing it), I was again pregnant. With the likelihood of complications (and possibility of future sterility), I opted for an abortion. I never looked back or regretted the move. Not for a moment.

      It does feel like we are headed for some dystopian universe, Dana. I think Alito and Thomas knew exactly what they were doing when they overturned Dobbs, can’t say about Roberts or the others, but those two lay in wait for the right time and pounced. I don’t know about the arc of the universe, but I hope those five will come to reap what they have sowed.

  3. My first partner died of metastatic cancer that began after her long-term use of an IUD. It would probably be impossible to determine whether the IUD was responsible (we had parted ways long before her illness set in). But I often think that the coil was designed by men for the convenience of men. Imagine struggling through any of this in Texas!

    I am determined to believe that none of the “states-rights” misogyny or the hatred of women exhibited by SCOTUS will last. But in the meantime, let’s hope that younger voters will get past their hang up about grandfather presidents.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Charlie, I am unaware of a link between IUDs and cancer, but who knows? Mostly seems they cause ectopic pregnancies.

      The pendulum has swung way too far away from reproductive freedom, so it must move back that way, but I fear it will take a very long time. Meanwhile, we MUST vote for the only man who will protect us. I don’t care how old he is. I loved my grandfather and he loved me!

  4. Suzy says:

    Betsy, I’m so glad you resurrected this old story that you had trashed, and gave it to us now. We are indeed in a frightening time, and women in so many states no longer have the right to control their bodies. I had two legal and perfectly safe abortions, one in the ’80s and one in the ’90s, and can’t imagine what it would have been like if I had had to go to some back-alley abortionist. I’m still furious at McConnell for what he did with Supreme Court nominations – Merrick Garland should be there instead of Amy [expletive] Barrett. Of course on this site you are preaching to the choir, but let’s hope young people get the message.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Suzy: to clarify, I wrote the first few sentences of the story, but moved on to a different one all those years ago and never came back to it, eventually trashing the entire effort, but was so incensed by all that’s going on with reproductive rights (and IVF) that I wanted to write it and looked for some appropriate prompt other than “potpourri”, which wouldn’t go live for about two weeks. I wanted it immediately available yesterday.

      Like you, I had a legal abortion 9 months after this story (with the same IUD still inserted), though I got some push-back from my doctor, but I cannot imagine what women are going through now in SO many crazy states controlled by Republican, theocratic legislators. I agree with you entirely about McConnell’s underhanded handling of Garland’s Supreme Court nomination, then pushing though ACB while early voting had commenced in an election year! And yes, preaching to the choir here. This whole country makes me furious, including those who are hesitating for one moment to vote for Biden for ANY reason at all. Do they actually want the Orange Monster back in the White House? Please, my blood pressure is rising at the thought.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    OMG, Betsy, another thing we have in common. I had an IUD and ectopic pregnancy when my second child was not quite a year old. Clearly, I did not want to be pregnant then and never thought about it when I was in pain after eating a very rich dessert. Turns out my doctor thought I had a cyst when he saw me a month earlier for my routine exam. He didn’t tell me because cysts usually go away on their own and (I kid you not), he didn’t like to “worry his little women.”) Needless to say, I never saw him again. My body, my choice.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I hope OBGYNs are learning better bedside manners these days, Laurie. That condescending attitude was certainly NOT appreciated by US, am I right? I am happy to learn that you survived your ordeal also and moved on from that jerk (I was at a fancy dinner party decades later, seated next to an impressive female OBGYN who told me these two whom I dealt with all those years ago eventually parted ways, but the one who said, “I’m not GOD!” came out of the closet, became a leading fertility expert in these parts and had an excellent reputation. Wild, isn’t it?

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