Anna* was jumping for joy when she discovered she was pregnant. In a few weeks, an ectopic pregnancy left her without a fallopian tube and a continuing trauma over the betrayal of a nation that refused to offer her a choice.
All it took was five weeks for Anna’s world to radically change forever. The excitement of finding out she was pregnant was quickly replaced with grave concern.
Anna knew something was wrong immediately. Several pregnancy tests yielded conflicting results, giving Anna some indication that there were serious complications with her pregnancy.
Bleeding soon started and Anna immediately went to Mater Dei Hospital. Having conducted her own research, Anna feared it could be an ectopic pregnancy. She relayed her concerns to doctors, but she was brushed off, with doctors dismissing the worrying signs as a likely miscarriage.
“If you had an ectopic pregnancy, you would not even be walking,” medical staff told Anna.
Her bleeding continued and she made regular visits to the hospital roughly every other day for blood tests. Two weeks after her first visit, doctors noticed something was seriously wrong and she was admitted.
Anna was stable, conscious, and not in pain throughout her stay at the hospital. She was vocally hesitant about entering surgery and she suspects that doctors were employing a ‘wait and see’ approach.
Doctors later confirmed Anna’s longstanding fears, she had an ectopic pregnancy.
She asked doctors whether there was an injection she could take, having heard about the non-invasive procedure from her own independent research. She received no advice on other alternatives.
Anna was never told by doctors that a medicine called methotrexate could be administered to treat the ectopic pregnancy without the need for surgery and therefore save her fallopian tube.
Anna knew this was available abroad and up to a few years ago, it was still not an option in the country.
“They were professional doctors. I’m sure they wanted to help me but their hands were tied,” Anna told Lovin Malta.
Anna spent five days in the hospital, uncertain about her future. On the fifth day of her admission, consultants told her that they would “either operate or she would die”. As a result of the surgery, Anna lost one of her fallopian tubes.
In cases of ectopic pregnancies, in which the pregnancy is non-viable and can be fatal, gynaecologists use the “principle of double-effect”. This involves ending the pregnancy indirectly through the surgical removal of the whole fallopian tube. This reduces her chances of future pregnancies and has made her more susceptible to another ectopic pregnancy.
“I had no choice in my fate. I was forced into a difficult decision without knowing the full choice. The only options available to me were to face surgery or die,” she said.
A post-surgery analysis uncovered that there were only fragments of conception in the tube as the pregnancy was already terminated. It was unviable well before the surgery and could have been tackled non-invasively without surgery.
The trauma was both physical and mental. It’s the psychological anguish that sticks with Anna. She’s furious at the way she was treated and the betrayal from a state who should be duty-bound to protect women.
Support following the traumatic event was lacking. Anna says that Mater Dei did provide a bereavement nurse. However, it’s not what she needed.
“I had come to terms with losing my baby weeks before when the bleeding began. I was angry at how my life and my fertility were put at risk for a totalitarian approach to a grey issue,” she explained.
Anna found support in foreign organisations. While still at hospital, she was in contact with a UK-based ectopic pregnancy foundation, who provided her with all the information, assistance, and comfort she needed.
Anna now questions whether doctors were afraid to suggest the procedures in the face of a staunchly pro-life medical sector.
“How can a doctor speak up and suggest a procedure that is considered abortive by current laws?” Anna asks today.
She also discovered that there exists another surgical option, that of removing the pregnancy instead of the whole tube. However, it was never offered or discussed.
She believes that a staunchly anti-abortion perspective is preventing doctors from giving the right medical treatment according to each individual case.
Anna was spurred on to come forward after a Maltese woman’s life was needlessly put at risk, having faced several hurdles and procedural delays before accessing the drug to treat her ectopic pregnancy.
Anna was angered with the comments she saw, as many dismissed the woman’s claims about how ectopic pregnancies are treated in Malta.
“About one in 80 pregnancies are ectopic. It can happen to anyone and women should be presented with all options and be given a choice,” she said.
Anna believes that the abortion debate is not a black and white issue as it should be allowed in certain circumstances.
“Although some people are compassionate, there are many who also call you a murderer, even though I wanted my pregnancy more than anything,” she said.
“People who are against amending the law will easily to tell you ‘go abroad and get an abortion if you want one’. In cases of ectopic pregnancy, it is a ticking bomb that can put your life in serious danger. I was even told myself not to board a plane because it could be fatal,” she said.
All Anna wants is an informed debate. This is something that cannot be treated as a simple black or white issue. There are many women whose lives could be in danger and we cannot let this issue go on any longer because of totalitarian legislation.
*Names have been changed to ensure anonymity
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