There are tons of contraception options on the market, from The Pill to the injection and everything in between. Its main job – aside from stymieing period pains and clearing up skin – is to keep your oven bun-free. But with each Pill, injection or IUD, there’s the tiny window or chance that it could leave you in that exact position.
Just ask freelance writer Amy Gibbings, who fell pregnant while on the Mirena (a type of IUD) and didn’t know about it. It almost cost her her life.
About three months ago, she was camping with her boyfriend when “a deeper, harder penetration caused sudden, excruciating pain in my cervix,” she says. “This was followed by cramps in my abdomen, vaginal spasms and nausea. I was overcome by lightheadedness and could barely talk. Sweat poured from my stomach and back and I vomited up yellow fluorescent bile. I was quickly rushed to the hospital which was fortunately only 20 minutes away.”
At the waiting room, Amy had to wait about 20 minutes, in excruciating pain, to be seen. “Because of the intense pain in my abdomen and vagina, it took me two attempts before I could finally pass enough urine for a sample,” she says. After tests were conducted, the doctor told her she was pregnant.
“Because you have an IUD I suspect that this is an ectopic pregnancy that has ruptured. These are almost never viable pregnancies,” her doctor said. An ectopic pregnancy happens when the fertilised egg grows outside of the uterus, most often in the fallopian tube. In Amy’s case, the pregnancy was in her left tube. It had ruptured and was filling her abdomen with blood, leading to Amy’s intense pain.
She’d lost half her blood supply, had dangerously low blood pressure and was in septic shock. They needed to operate immediately to remove the foetus and blood from her abdomen. In the process, she lost her left fallopian tube but is still able to have children, according to her doctor.
Amy’s doing better now, but she’s elected to have the Mirena removed. “The fear of having another ectopic is too great,” she says. “Losing both fallopian tubes would mean losing the ability to fall pregnant naturally – a risk I’m not prepared to take.”
READ MORE: 9 Mirena Side Effects You Should Know About
Looking back, there were signs that Amy was pregnant. But they were so subtle, she could easily dismiss them as PMS or something else. “A first sign to look out for is a missed period,” says her gynaecologist, Dr Candice Morrison. “However, this depends on the individual as some women don’t have a period on the Mirena, in which case the start of bleeding could indicate an ectopic pregnancy.”
Other are just as innocuous: tender breasts, fatigue, nausea. “Admittedly all the signs were there to warn me. Swollen, tender breasts for more than two weeks, and sudden bleeding that I foolishly assumed was a period – and so I just blamed it on an unusual spike in my hormones,” says Amy. “Because the stats indicated to me that falling pregnant was so rare I just never believed I could be. Had I been a little wiser I would have gone straight to the gynaecologist.”
Even so, Amy doesn’t condemn the Mirena and still thinks it’s a viable birth control option. “I wish to share my story as a warning. To be aware of the unlikely but possible 1% chance of falling pregnant on the Mirena, to listen to your body carefully, to regard it gently and with respect,” she says. “I think sometimes, especially as women, we forget how fine-tuned and intelligent this life-giving, human-creating vessel is.”