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She thought she was going into the clinic for a regular check-up after a delayed period.

Within the span of a few hours, Cheyenne Tan would receive a life-changing diagnosis and undergo emergency surgery to remove one of her fallopian tubes — all while her husband was on the other side of the world.

Recounting the day she found out about her ectopic pregnancy (more on that later), Cheyenne, now 28, explains that she made the appointment with her gynaecologist after her period had been delayed a month and home pregnancy tests turned out negative.

“She didn’t find the baby in the womb”

“I went in not expecting anything [serious], I thought she would just be like, oh, you’re stressed,” she says.

To her surprise, a urine test revealed that she was expecting.

Cheyenne and her husband had just got hitched four months prior, in September 2019, and weren’t actively trying for a baby. Still, she wasn’t too upset at the news.

But things took a turn for the worse when it came time for an ultrasound to check on the foetus.

“So she kind of moved it around my tummy area to find the baby because she didn’t find it in the womb. And that’s when she saw it in the fallopian tube.”

An ectopic pregnancy, also known as an extrauterine pregnancy, happens when a fertilised egg implants outside the uterus. The condition can cause internal bleeding, which can be life-threatening.

(Here are “9 Celebrity Mums Who Went Through Tough Pregnancies“)

In Cheyenne’s case, the six-week old foetus had implanted in her right fallopian tube, and she had to be rushed into surgery that same day to remove the affected tube.

As luck would have it, her husband was travelling to New York for a business trip at the time, so she had to go through with the surgery without him.

She describes sitting in the clinic’s waiting room alone and trying to keep her composure as it was filled with “happy pregnant women” and she didn’t want to be the “random woman crying in the corner”.

She only allowed herself to break down while she was in her hospital room fasting before her surgery, she confessed.

“There was something that kind of hit me quite hard — just hearing the sounds (during the ultrasound) and realising that there’s something living in there that cannot ever fully become a baby.”

At the same time, she also counts herself “super lucky” that her ectopic pregnancy was caught early and hadn’t yet ruptured. 

“I really could have died. If I had done something differently that morning like gone for a workout, who knows?” 

By 11pm that day, she would be out of surgery. Two days later, she was discharged, but her ordeal was far from over.

Cheyenne’s husband immediately flew back to Singapore to be with her as soon as he heard the news. PHOTO: Cheyenne Tan

A “long, hard fight” with her insurance company

Besides recuperating from surgery, which left the entire right side of her body in pain, Cheyenne says having to “fight” with her insurance company to get her hospital bill covered was an added source of stress.

At the time, she had gone to a private hospital, and had requested for a single room.

“It was just purely because it would be uncomfortable for me to be in a room with a mother who had just delivered her baby, whereas I just lost one,” she explains.

Frustration seeps through her voice as she recounts that her insurance agent at the time had assured her it would all be covered. But it was only when she was discharged that she found out that she had to bear the costs of the single room.

“We had to pay $5,000 out of pocket instead of having the entire costs covered. So I actually fought a long, hard fight. But to no avail.”

She had to go over her medical reports, which included ultrasounds and graphic photos of the tissue that had been removed from her body. The process, taking place just days after her surgery, was “a little traumatising”.

She eventually gave up and made peace with forking out the money. She says, “Every single conversation I had with them was just me reliving that whole experience, and not in a really positive way.”

The aftermath: Guilt, anxiety and body image issues

Besides the insurance situation, which Cheyenne says she’s grateful to her husband for handling, the ectopic pregnancy also had profound impacts on her mental health.

After the ectopic pregnancy, Cheyenne says she’s “100 per cent sure” that her body has changed. She’d already struggled with body image issues, so going up a dress size was “really depressing”, she shares.

Then, Covid-19 hit, leaving her to recuperate at home while processing what had happened.

“I was kind of in a dark place. I’d constantly question myself and be like, why can’t I do a basic like, woman thing and have a baby? Is something wrong with my body?”

In reality, there’s no way to prevent ectopic pregnancies from happening, says Dr Koh Gim Hwee, a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology, and a consultant at Raffles Women’s Centre.

While ectopic pregnancies are extremely rare, occurring in just 1 per cent of all pregnancies, anyone who is in early pregnancy is at risk, says Dr Koh.

“Though we think ectopic pregnancy occurs to those with damaged fallopian tubes, it sometimes occurs to those with absolutely normal fallopian tubes,” she adds.

“It can also happen in IVF pregnancy when an embryo is transferred into the uterus and somehow flows through the internal tube opening and into the fallopian tube.”

(Read also “Couple Shares Their IVF And Fertility Journey After 3 Miscarriages“)

Experiencing bleeding in early pregnancy can be one sign of an ectopic pregnancy, but the only way to rule it out is to do an ultrasound scan, says Dr Koh.

Two years on, Cheyenne says the near-death experience has taught her to take things in life as they come.

Admitting that she used to be anxious and high-strung, she says she now takes inspiration from classic song Que Sera, Sera and believes that whatever will be, will be.

“Now we’re just like, if we have a kid, we have a kid. If we don’t have a kid, we don’t have a kid.”

Inspiring other women with her story

The only thing that pulled her out of her brooding was channelling her energy into volunteering and sharing her story, Cheyenne tells us.

“Resting at home, you have a lot of excess energy because you are basically just lying there being a potato,” she laughs.

To take her mind off things, she began volunteering at Meet-the-People sessions and baking to raise funds for migrant workers affected by the pandemic.

She also serendipitously discovered Project It’ll Be Alright, a compilation of youth’s stories aiming to promote mental wellness, thanks to a social media post by MP Sun Xueling.

The cause resonated with her, Cheyenne says, and she decided that she wanted her story to be part of the project.

Her efforts to spread awareness left her feeling a lot less alone as more women began to reach out to her to share their own ectopic pregnancy experiences, she says.

One woman who was moved by Cheyenne’s story is influencer and fitness instructor Mathilda Huang, who went through a traumatic ectopic pregnancy of her own in January 2021.

The 25-year-old tells us that she broke down when she saw an Instagram post on Cheyenne’s story pop up on her news feed.

“Cheyenne helped me so much — she doesn’t know this but just her sharing her experience alone and being so open to share her tips and recovery process was so heartwarming and it encouraged me to share my story as well.

“I realised that if someone else could put her heart and soul out there and help someone who happened to just across the post, why can’t I do it too?”

Connecting with Cheyenne eventually helped Mathilda build up the courage to go public with her own story (she’d previously told most of her acquaintances that she had suffered from appendicitis instead). 

On Mathilda, Cheyenne shares she’s “really, really happy” that her experience was able to have a positive effect on someone. 

“In general, I think women need to pay more attention to their bodies and take better care of their bodies.

“So raising awareness, for me, was really important so I can help other ladies discover it early by going for regular checkups, or at least I can help those going through it feel less alone.” 

This article was first published in AsiaOne.