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Dealing with an ectopic pregnancy and the mental health fallout: a 24-year-old’s experience

mathilda huang ectopic pregnancy mental health
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The mid-twenties can be a very trying time for young adults. From moving out to getting married, the world can seem like it is moving too fast for comfort.

Just ask Mathilda Huang, a 24-year-old digital content creator who is a social media influencer, runs a small home business, and holds a corporate job in the banking industry.

When I first met her during Intellect’s inaugural Mental Health Festival Asia last year, we instantly connected. We had so much in common—an ambitious mindset, addiction to the gym, and love for sangria. Mathilda came across as a strong, bold, and powerful woman who could absolutely excel in whatever she does. 

Little did I know that she was dealing with a devastating medical condition on top of her bustling lifestyle: an ectopic pregnancy.

An ectopic pregnancy happens outside the uterus, with the most common area being within a fallopian tube. Globally, only 1 to 2% of pregnancies are ectopic. Unfortunately, Mathilda was one of the women who was diagnosed with this condition. 

Ahead of International Women’s Day, we talk to Mathilda to find out more about her journey navigating through this ordeal, and how she is coping after such a traumatic experience. 

mathilda huang ectopic pregnancy mental health
Photo credit: JT Wong

Trigger warning: The following story contains material that may be traumatising to some audiences.

How did you find out that you had an ectopic pregnancy? How did you feel when you received the news?

On 25th January 2021, I was coming home from a gym session. Around 4pm, I wanted to go to the washroom as I thought I had diarrhoea. 

Everything seemed okay at that point. When I was done, I tried to stand up, but I just couldn’t. I had to keep crouching, and my physical body just wasn’t allowing me to stand up straight. So I realised that there was something wrong in that instant.

It was halfway through my workday, and I didn’t know what was wrong. So I quickly told my boss that I felt unwell and had to nip over to the nearest clinic. Unfortunately, all of the clinics in Singapore are on a break from 2pm to 6pm. The timing was awkward for me because many of the places around my area were closed. However, I searched for the nearest A&E clinic, and there was one that was one kilometre away. 

At that time, I thought it could either be rhabdomyolysis or appendicitis.

So when I went to the A&E, I only had a jacket and my handbag. I waited for my turn. Then I was instructed to do a urine test as a standard protocol. At that point in time, I was freaking out because I realised that it might be something more serious. Then I might have to stay overnight. 

I contacted my insurance agent to discuss the hospital arrangement as money was a significant issue I was struggling with. Even at that point, I was still in pain. I couldn’t really lift my chest and stand properly. 

The nurse returned and escorted me to a room with a doctor. He told me that I was pregnant. And I immediately refuted the claim. But they showed me the ultrasound and diagnosed me with an ectopic pregnancy. 

This happens when a fertilised egg is implanted and grows outside the central cavity of the uterus. That often occurs in a fallopian tube, which carries the eggs from the ovaries to the uterus. And what that means is that the baby was already dead as no fetus could ever survive outside of a womb.

But at that point, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. An hour later, they told me that I had to go for an emergency operation as I had around 700ml of blood pooling within my organs, which might be fatal for me. They had to call a gynaecologist down to operate. 

Without knowing what I was getting myself into, I told them to do whatever would help me get better. Even as I am telling the story now, I still can’t even grasp the idea that I was pregnant at one point and there was a life inside me. 

So I went for the surgery at 10pm and came out around midnight. I fell asleep right after that and stayed an extra day in the hospital. 

How did it impact your daily life? 

The operation was similar to that for appendicitis. However, it left me with three scars—one on each side of my hip bone, and one on my belly button. Physically, I can’t feel the difference as I’m still doing spin classes every day. 

But finance-wise, I am still paying off my debt. There are two costs that I have to pay: the hospital and doctor’s charges. I mentioned contacting my insurance agent, but the insurance did not cover everything. So that is continuing to impact my life because I feel the weight of the debt on my shoulders. 

I tend to be very mindful of everything I do. I would constantly think if I am earning money for myself? Am I wasting my money? I feel like I can’t waste time anymore—I have to clear this debt. Thus, it definitely impacts my mental health a lot too. 

How about the impact on your mental health?

Even now, I am scared to engage in any sexual intercourse in my relationship because of the trauma that I have. I am afraid that the same thing might happen again—I can’t control it. 

So I find that a lot of things that I do nowadays, I am doing it out of fear—it really made me into a different person. I used to be more accessible and happy-go-lucky, but now I am a lot more conscious about my health. 

I also withdrew from life a lot. I didn’t want to hang out with people anymore and waste my time. Basically, I grew resistant to people who would waste my time, and I just focused on the good energies around me. 

Likewise, I had to still carry on with my social media work, even though I still feel traumatised mentally. I had to put up a front to appear like I am completely problem-free. I still had to deal with that while I was handling all these feelings in the background. 

What other difficulties did you face? 

At work, I was idle a lot. I didn’t engage in conversations with my colleagues anymore—I didn’t see the need then. I also didn’t hang out with a lot of my friends, as I felt safer at home. Hence, I worked myself dry as I wanted my financial well-being to be reinstated. I just wanted always to have a surplus of money, not a deficit due to the medical fee’s debt.

Another difficulty was my relationship with my partner, which pushed him away entirely. Only this year, I started reintroducing him back again, letting him share the process I was going through because I realised that he also went through his own version of it. He lost a baby as well, and I felt like I was a horrible partner to him. 

I would tell him that he wouldn’t understand and that he didn’t lose a fallopian tube, but I forgot that he had lost something too.

Did you talk to anyone about it? What was their reaction to it?

I did tell my mom about this, and her response was very cute. She said that it was a scary incident, but she was glad that I was safe now. She told me that it was actually a blessing since raising a child would cost a lot more than S$23,000 (which was my medical bill), and perhaps God was saying that it wasn’t the right time for that.

Looking back, I could see that she was trying to make the moment lighter. She was just glad that I was okay, and as long as I was safe, I think that meant the world to her. 

As for my dad, I tried to hide it from him because, unlike my mom, who prefers me to fail and experience, my dad is more protective and quite old-school. However, he understood instantly after I told him what had happened. 

I feel like my parents were very open, and there was no trouble there. Though, I didn’t want to tell my dad about the money troubles, just because he would then want to help me with everything. I’d rather get this through myself, as I felt like it could make me stronger by dealing with it by myself.

For my friends, I actually lied to them that I had appendicitis at first, but I eventually found the time and was ready to tell them. They were all shocked and asked why didn’t I tell them initially. They were supportive as they wanted to be there for me. 

But I just had to keep it away from them because I felt it might be hard to understand. After all, this event was rare, with only 1 to 2% of women globally facing this pregnancy. I thought it would be hard for them to understand since they had never gone through this. But my family and friends were really chill about it and supportive.

As for my boyfriend, I can’t speak for his experience because he and I went through it differently on that particular day. He has been a supportive partner. Honestly, he slept one night at the hospital because he knew I shouldn’t be alone. He is really one of the sweetest people I know. 

Less than a week after I was discharged, I kept wanting to go out to cycle and go for walks, even though the doctor had asked me to rest in bed. I didn’t really care, and my boyfriend became disappointed with me. 

He also became angry because I wasn’t allowing him into my life to support me—I kept trying to claim it as my own. I felt like it was my own problem, and I had to deal it with myself. It was toxic because it caused him to withdraw every single time, but I still did it anyway—I still stopped him from coming in. 

Even then, he would still want to support me, and today I am learning to let him in and be more open about what I am feeling. 

How was your career impacted by this?

At work, I completely hid it from my team. I only told one or two people that I had appendicitis. I didn’t know why, but as a woman in the banking industry, I didn’t feel comfortable letting anyone know that I was sick and take a break. 

I feel like, at the workplace, everyone tends to write off mental health issues. For example, they might propose a weekly talk on how to manage your mental health. But that might be just to fulfil a requirement by human resources to look after their employees. Who’s to say if they really care? 

It’s very rare to meet people who really care about you in the workplace, especially in a corporate world that is constantly bustling. There might be bigger things in life that are happening,  but it won’t focus on just one employee’s mental health. 

So from an organisational perspective, if I were to tell people that I went through something this traumatic, I felt like I would be seen as a liability because then I need the time to recover. So instead I put up a front and just did my work as usual. 

I’m not going to lie. I didn’t try and reach for the stars because I was busy trying to pick up the pieces in my personal life. So I was nowhere near being a star employee because my mind was always somewhere else. From nine to five, maybe I’d be present physically for about half the time, but my head would be somewhere else.

I also wasn’t comfortable talking to my bosses about my situation. The industry is male-dominated, and my bosses were mainly male. I wasn’t close to my female colleagues either because I didn’t have the chance to meet them due to the COVID-19 situation—only two people could go into the office at a time. So there was no chance for me to connect with other women, and share this story. This further impacted my workplace wellbeing. 

Today, I think I’m doing better, and I’m loosening up more. I like doing what I do at work, and I enjoy going to work. But it was a journey to get here.

What did you do to deal with the mental health issues you were facing?

I am still working on my physical well-being. After the first session, I didn’t return to my gynaecologist because the fear was still there. However, I received a notification from the government for HPV vaccination to prevent cervical cancer. I honestly don’t know what my condition is right now, but that seems like something I can do this year—possibly the first step to dealing with my medical issue.

One of my coping mechanisms was to try and live each day to the fullest. I pushed myself to be productive and do many things every day. I also started meeting with friends to have drinks, which felt like a helpful way for me to cope. 

Now, I feel like I’m fully tapped out. I’ve been trying many things, and I want to start focusing on the things that matter. Everything is still a work in progress, but I’d say having a good support system is one of the main things to prioritise. And my partner has been central to building this. 

How has your life changed since this experience?

When I nearly lost my life one year ago, I think it created a hunger in me that I need to live my life to the fullest. Leave no stone unturned and say whatever I want. Also, just do whatever makes you happy and have no regrets. 

Now, I am not afraid of setting targets or goals. I set a few goals for myself this year: to do journaling, and be a hundred per cent real with my feelings and own them individually. I feel there are so many things I can work on. This whole situation almost robbed my life, but I think now I’m much stronger, and I know I can handle any issue that comes my way. 

Today, I can finally tell this story to others. It still makes me cry because it was a traumatic experience after all. I allow myself to cry, and not to hold myself back from thinking about it anymore. I am learning to be more accepting of what happened to me, and to be more positive and see the better side of things because life is short. 

I’m not here to be sad, and I’m here to bring joy. And I know that I can. I know I have the power to influence people. I have the ability to be my own beacon and light. I was running away from everything, but now, I’m not running anymore.

To wrap up the interview, here are a few words of encouragement and advice from Mathilda: 

To be blunt: get insurance, but look at the terms and conditions to see if they cover you properly because you never know what will happen to you. 

It is also essential to have a good support system. Don’t be afraid to tell people that you’re hurting, because otherwise, you’re only hurting yourself if you carry everything on your own shoulders. Why not share the burden with another person who’s willing?

Another thing would be to take your time to accept things—even if it’s something traumatic. Turn it into something positive instead. In my situation, for example, I feel like from that day onwards my body became capable of handling a lot more. 

Finally, be resourceful. Reach out to others, because there might be another person who went through the same thing, and will be able to help you and guide you through as well. I found mine through Instagram.

You’re not alone

Clearly, the past year has been a rollercoaster ride for Mathilda. But she has emerged the other end even stronger than ever. Today, she is living her life unapologetically and to the fullest extent. 

As we talked, I was touched by her authenticity and fearlessness. In sharing this experience, we hope to help other women who might be living out the same story—you’re not alone.

How Intellect can help

Sharing personal matters at work is tough, leaving employees feeling distressed, isolated, and disengaged. At times, this can strain relationships and lead to impulsive resignations from invested employees.

Having a support system at work is crucial, which is why Intellect introduced Mental Health First Aid™. This two-day course is globally recognised but culturally tailored, empowering your workforce to be the first responders to coworkers who may be struggling.

Make your organisation a safe space with Mental Health First Aid™ today.

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