When you’re pregnant, the sound of a Doppler not picking up a heartbeat is deafening.
That quiet when you’re waiting for the reassuring, rhythmic beating is enough to send chills down your spine and fear into your heart. It’s an experience I would never wish on anyone, but sadly it very recently happened to me.
Miscarriage is often not talked about; it’s a taboo subject. So, in an effort to break the silence for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month, I’m telling my story.
This pregnancy didn’t start the way my other two did, so from the very beginning, I had feelings of unease. Right after learning we were pregnant, I started bleeding and actually thought I was having a miscarriage at 6 weeks. I called my doctor and we went through the typical testing to see if my hCG hormone levels were increasing as necessary and to verify that the embryo was developing as it should be. I laid low for about a week and eventually the bleeding stopped. With my previous two pregnancies, once the pregnancy test showed positive, I never saw another drop of blood until delivery. My OB assured me that the pregnancy was progressing normally, the embryo was developing correctly, and that I should try not to worry and move forward with the pregnancy.
Things went relatively smoothly for the next few weeks with morning sickness and exhaustion making themselves present. However, I began spotting again at about 12 weeks and was called in for another ultrasound to check if there was a possible placenta previa that could be the cause of the bleeding. The baby was moving around on the screen and I felt some relief at seeing the tiny arms and legs flailing about, seemingly unfazed by everything that was causing me concern. Nothing noticeable seemed to be causing the bleeding and the obstetrician tried to comfort me saying sometimes women bleed during pregnancy for no definitive reason. At that point, the baby’s growth was on schedule, so I tried my best to not worry. That proved to be a hard feat as the bleeding continued for the next six weeks.
At my 18-week midwife appointment, we dove right into my continued concerns.
I informed her that in addition to bleeding, I wasn’t showing, hadn’t felt the baby move and was scared something was really wrong. At the end of the appointment, she used the Doppler to listen to the heartbeat but it took several minutes for her to find it. She said it was because the baby was moving around, however, I never actually heard it. Tears streamed down my face with relief when she said she heard the heartbeat. She believed it was safe for us to move forward because the risk of miscarriage was minimal. I had felt like something was wrong throughout the pregnancy so we hadn’t told very many people we were expecting. With this news, we decided it was time to start preparing for our little one to arrive.
A week later, I received my after visit summary from the midwife and it said that should I continue to bleed, I needed to notify the office for another dose of RhoGAM. I have a negative blood type so they wanted to prevent my body from thinking the baby was a foreign object if it had positive blood. This prompted me to call the office because my bleeding had actually gotten worse. Upon receiving this news, the midwife team decided to have me come in to be seen again. When I got there, the midwife informed me that she wanted to do an exam to see if the cervix could be causing the bleeding. She offered to use the Doppler right away so we could hear the reassuring sound of the heartbeat to put us at ease. In those moments while she searched for the heartbeat and we were met with the same silence as my last appointment, my heart dropped. Ironically, it’s one of the loudest sounds I’ve ever heard; the rush of your heart speeding up is like white noise blaring on an old TV. Being a nurse, you know enough to recognize when something is wrong and fear kicked into overdrive when the thumping never came. After a few minutes, the midwife stopped searching. She told me she wasn’t going to do the exam and that she was going to get the OB for an ultrasound.
As she left the room, she squeezed my shoulder and softly said, “I have to tell you, at this far along we should have found the heartbeat immediately.”
I was moved to an ultrasound room in the back of the building which was a very ominous sign. The 20 minutes that I sat in that dark room waiting for my doctor to come seemed like the longest of my life. My anxiety was off the charts and I tormented myself with the possibilities of what was happening. I had a sliver of hope that everything was going to be fine, but intuitively I knew something was very wrong. When my OB finally came into the room she got right down to business: Ultrasound machine on, warm jelly in place, wand pressing into my abdomen in search of an answer. The minutes that passed by in that dark room, while I stared at the ceiling praying for her to say they’d made a mistake, took in eternity. As time continued to drag by without a sound, my hope slipped away. Because if everything was OK, she would’ve told me immediately, right? Her quiet whisper of, “I’m so sorry, Betsey, your baby has no heartbeat” tore the sobs I was desperately trying to keep inside from my body. How has this happened? My doctor held me as I sobbed on the table in that dark room. She rubbed my back and whispered how sorry she was over and over.
On the drive home, I did my best to pull myself together and be strong, but all I wanted to do was fall into a puddle on the floor. I didn’t call my husband to tell him what happened even though I knew he was waiting for me. It wasn’t something you said over the phone. When I walked into the house, he was surprised and I could see the immediate concern on his face. I have no doubt my face was swollen and red from my crying. He asked what happened but the only words I could manage to get out were, “I’m sorry.” He clutched me to his chest as I sobbed in his arms. I felt responsible, that I’d done something wrong and hadn’t protected our baby. He told me it wasn’t my fault as we cried together, but in those moments it was hard to believe.
Having to tell our daughter we lost the baby was one of the most heartbreaking things of this whole experience.
As a seven-year-old who had a little brother already, she understood what had been taken away from us and I wasn’t prepared for her grief on top of ours. How do you explain infant loss and miscarriage to your child; that even though Mom had been pregnant, the baby was never going to come? That night we ordered Chinese takeout, put on a movie and cried as we all held each other. In the midst of our tears, my husband and I had to make a decision no parent should ever have to make.
Because we were in the second trimester, we were given the option of having a surgical procedure to remove the baby, a D&C, or go to the Labor & Delivery unit to be induced and have the baby naturally. My heart couldn’t stand the thought of any harm coming to our baby so we chose to be induced and deliver our child. I didn’t want to be put under anesthesia to have the surgeons remove the baby and then wake up with him was gone. While we knew going through labor and delivery was going to be the hardest thing I’d ever been through, it was the decision that was right for us. We called the midwife that evening and arranged to go to the hospital the next morning.
Walking up to the labor and delivery unit had been a time of excitement and anticipation with my previous two pregnancies. One goes to L&D to welcome new life, not to say goodbye.
That morning it was eerily quiet as we made our way from the almost empty parking garage through the maze of hospital hallways and up the elevator to the 7th floor to check in. As I walked up to the desk, the tears came. I had felt fairly numb until I got on the floor, only crying when my mother and daughter cried as we’d left the house. But knowing that there were women in the rooms all around me that were going to be celebrating the life they created broke me and I let the tears fall. It didn’t go unnoticed that they brought me to a room in a corner of the floor that had no one else around. I sincerely appreciated their thoughtfulness.
It’s amazing all the things they have to go over when you’ve had a miscarriage: options for testing to find out what happened, possible risks and outcomes, what to do with the baby once delivered, etc. We were lucky that the obstetrician willingly spent the time needed with us to go over the pieces of this unwanted puzzle. She wasn’t upset with my indecisiveness or my overflowing emotion. I think my husband would agree that everyone was sensitive to our needs during that time. We were given the option of an amniocentesis to collect baby’s DNA from the amniotic fluid, an autopsy on the baby and testing of the placenta in order to get answers to the ever-present question of “why did this happen?” but in my shock and numbness, I didn’t think it was something I could handle. My husband and I both decided the information wasn’t necessary; it didn’t change the outcome. No matter what, we would still be facing infant loss.
The labor was fairly uneventful until my water broke and everything picked up speed. Laboring when you know you won’t take your baby home is like being in limbo. You want it to be over but at the same time you don’t, because then you’ll have to face the disheartening reality that your child is truly gone. The contractions became intense and while I have been through labor before, it wasn’t the same. With normal labor, contractions ebb and flow with relief between them but this was one continuous, consuming pain. There was a part of me that felt like I deserved the pain and needed to go through it as the last thing I could do to feel my child while still within me. However, the pain got the best of me. When you know you’re going to deliver a child that won’t be breathing, you don’t have the same coping skills to get through the pain of labor. My body made the decision for me to give into intervention. I became nauseous, my vision dimmed, I lost my hearing and voice, and I lost sensation in my limbs. I realized I had to let go of my unnecessary desire to forgo pain medication and get the epidural. I was unconsciously punishing myself and my body had enough.
Jeremy and I were given the right nurse at the right time and I will be forever grateful she was there. When I was able to speak again, I apologized to our nurse, Adaline, for what she walked into. She looked me in the eyes and told me she had chosen to be with us and knew exactly what she was walking into. She believed that it was important to be witness to these moments in order to become a better nurse. This beautiful woman was our angel that night, of this I’m sure. She was patient and kind, she laughed and cried with us and she very obviously understood the magnitude of what was happening in our lives. She let us rest and checked on us periodically to make sure we had everything we needed.
When the time came, the delivery of the baby was fairly easy. Because he was so tiny, there was no stretching or awkward shoulders in the way and he slid out with no resistance. It took only one push. I was stunned the second I realized it was done. The physician covered the baby and waited for my husband and me to prepare ourselves. With silent tears streaming down my face, she told us it was a boy. Our nurse took the baby to wrap him securely for us. She offered to describe him so we could decide if we wanted to hold him, but Jeremy and I both knew we couldn’t let this opportunity with our beautiful boy pass us by. Adaline gave us our son and we were both amazed at how small he was. His tiny fingers, little ears, closed eyes- it was all there in our perfect little boy. We spent almost two hours with him, holding him, memorizing his face, and praying for him. When they took his tiny lifeless body away, Jeremy and I held each other through the pain of our precious baby being gone…
I didn’t understand what the loss of a child before they even get to take their first breath felt like.
I get it now: the heartache, the pain, and the grief of infant loss. When Jeremy and I received the devastating news that we’d lost our son, Travis James, one month ago, our lives changed in an instant. We’ve become part of a club that we never wanted to join. At almost 20 weeks along, we discovered our beautiful baby boy had no heartbeat. We were lucky to be provided the opportunity to go through labor to deliver our him and while it was absolutely one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through, I will forever be grateful for the time we were given to be with our son. I share this to let those who have gone through a miscarriage or may go through the loss of a pregnancy that they are not alone.