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Learning to Listen, by Cheryl Chambers
"No, no. I'm going to be okay," I told myself.

Thunk. My head hit the floor and the next thing I knew my husband was home from the store. Sure. I would be just fine. Nothing was really wrong. Hey, I'd called my doctor, hadn't I? What I neglected to remind myself was that I told the doctor one of my symptoms was a full stomach, like I had painful gas. Right. Like too many vegetables turn a body into a folding chair and blind one with pain. Unfortunately for me, I downplayed my body's screams for help. In an effort to be a trooper I almost died.

Pain, by Pritika Chowdhry
by Pritika Chowdhry

For a few weeks before I felt the beginning stages of pregnancy discomfort. My back ached, and every once in a while I felt a precise pain in my right side. But nothing seemed wrong. I had experienced aches and pains with my other pregnancies; how was this any different?

Two weeks after I discovered I was pregnant, I began bleeding. It was light, and I assumed that this was implantation bleeding, when the fertilized egg attaches itself to the uterine wall. With my second son, the same type of bleeding had occurred, to the point that I actually used a tampon for a week, thinking I had my period. The bleeding this time continued for two more days, and when it increased, I doubted the accuracy of my pregnancy test. I went to the drugstore after work and bought another one. This one also returned a positive result. About an hour later real pain started.

After vomiting and experiencing increased weakness, I thought I might be miscarrying. I had heard that miscarriages could be painful, and felt that the sharp abdominal pains were like the contractions that could occur. I lay in bed all night in agony, a bucket at my side.

The next morning, when I was preparing to go to the doctor, I was in so much pain that I couldn't dress myself. Getting pants on never had been this difficult, even when I tried to put a pair of size eights on my size twelve butt. I called the office to make sure that I could still see a doctor if I missed my appointment. The receptionist assured me that they wanted to see me, and to come in when I could. My stomach had bloated so much at this point that I could only fit into an old stretched out pair of grey sweats with paint splattered down the side. And I was embarrassed! Here I was a woman with lips the color of her own pale skin from loss of blood, and I was concerned the doctor might look down on me for my pants. Maybe this had to do with something I'd been told before. Something every good mother should know. Always dress yourself and your children well so that you will be treated nicely at the hospital.

My life on the line and I thought about the really important things I'd learned over the years. For all the time I've spent calling myself a feminist, I refused to believe in myself and what my body told me.

By the time the doctor sent me to the emergency room, my fallopian tube had ruptured and I'd lost a liter of blood. Surgery removed the ruptured tube, and that night I required a blood transfusion. Suddenly the grey pants looked pretty darn good. They'd gotten me out of the house and into proper medical care. I was so caught up in the superficial worries that so many woman are raised to believe that I neglected myself. Not wanting anyone to think that I was too weak to handle a situation, I brushed off what most men would have rushed to the emergency room for in a heartbeat. My concern for the way I looked nearly became more important than my own life. I guess I didn't stop to think that a corpse generally doesn't look so hot.

In today's world, where many women feel they need to do it all, they put themselves in jeopardy. Without modern medicine I would have died. If I'd paid more attention to the warning signs my body gave me, and considered the possibility of serious danger to myself, I would have had a much less terrifying and imminent situation.

About one in every two hundred pregnancies is ectopic. That doesn't seem all that common, right? Well, the rate of ectopic pregnancy, or a pregnancy in which the fertilized egg begins to develop outside of the uterus, is increasing. Since 1970, the rate of ectopic pregnancy has increased by four times while, thankfully, the rate of maternal fatality has decreased 90%. The risk to pregnant mothers certainly has decreased, but the increasing number of ectopic pregnancies means that women still need to be aware of this very serious complication.

My own children are boys. But if I had a daughter I'd be quick to give her some advice. And I'd also show her a pair of grey pants that are the most beautiful pants I've ever seen.

BIO: Cheryl Chambers is a writer and teach living in Buffalo, N.Y. Her fiction has appeared at and and is forthcoming in Yankee Pot Roast.

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