Read the beginning of Journey into Motherhood here.
It seems nonsensical even to me but even after my mid-wife was unable to detect the baby's heart beat, I still was not concerned. I was 5 months into my pregnancy and since most miscarriages happen within the first trimester, loosing the baby now seemed inconceivable. Corrine’s face was slightly strained but she also reiterated the fact that the baby was still very small and it was possibly in such a position that kept us from being able to catch its heart beat. She escorted us to the receptionist and instructed her to call the medical imaging office for an immediate sonogram for a fetal heart check.
As Seth and I got into our car and made the very short trip to the medical imaging building, we both wore smiles. We focused on the fact that we were getting an early ultra sound. I remember that by this time, that very small “what if” had grown just a tiny bit. The “what if something is wrong with our baby” question was now about the size of “what if I get bit by a mosquito and contract the West Nile virus?” It was somewhat more plausible than an asteroid landing on our house, but still not enough to cause a panic. Neither of us expressed our inner debate of whether or not something may actually be wrong but instead we talked about the prospect of finding out the gender today instead of having to wait another week.
We were taken back to an ultra sound room as soon as we walked into the door of Oxford Medical Imaging. A petite woman with short dark hair was our technician. I have seen her for subsequent pregnancies several times since May 11, 2005. I do not know if she remembers me but I always and instantly recognize her. She nonchalantly asked what brought us in today. The question surprised me and I wondered if she was asking to figure out if we knew what she knew. I thought to myself that it was strange to ask but she was a very pleasant person so I assumed that she had a reason for asking.
“We couldn’t find the heart beat at my OB’s office” I said, trying to sound unconcerned. The truth was that now being in the ultra sound room and preparing to have a concrete “Yes there is a heartbeat” or “No there is not heart beat”, I was beginning to feel afraid.
I laid down and stared at the screen. Seth must have also realized that we were here to discover something much more important than our baby’s gender, because as I glued my eyes on the monitor, I felt his hand slide onto the table and clasp my hand.
Silence thundered through the small room.
The technician glided the device slowly across my stomach and clicked keys on her keyboard. She did not identify any parts of the anatomy, as had happened in our early ultrasound. Although I was looking at the monitor and knew that the baby was visible, I could not focus. The only one of my five senses that was functioning was my sense of hearing. I strained my ears trying to hear the rapid beating of a baby’s heart. But I could not hear it. Finally, I had to know.
“I don’t hear the heart beat,” I said in a small voice. It was a statement, but a question. And a plea. A plea to be told that I just needed to wait a minute. A plea to tell me that she had not turned the sound on yet. A plea to tell me that all was well.
“There is no heart beat.” She said in a soft but still professional way. Simultaneously, she handed me the tissue box. She rose from her stool, and turned the lights on. She said that she would be right back and she left.
Seth hugged me and I know I cried a few tears. But we had barely begun to allow the words to register. The technician returned and said that we should return to my obstetrician’s office; they were expecting me.
We walked out into the waiting room and through the doors. The other employees had downward cast eyes and sad expressions. I am sure that our faces betrayed our feelings but we robotically walked, one foot in front of the other, out to the hall, down the elevator and wordlessly made our way back to my doctor’s office.
The office was almost empty since it was now lunch time. One receptionist was at the desk but Corrine herself came out to the waiting room and showed us into an exam room. Since Corrine was a nurse midwife and not an actual obstetrician, she wanted to wait until one of the OBs, who are a married couple, returned. Dr. G was on her way.
While Seth still did not cry, by now, I was sobbing. I left the exam room to use the restroom and crossed paths with the poor receptionist who had the most pitiful expression on her face. I wished that I could have changed my expression and given her some assurance that I really was okay; I could not.
Dr. G and Corrine were soon standing the exam room leaning on the cabinets. The ultrasound had confirmed no heart beat and also showed some abnormalities with the baby. The baby appeared to have spinal bifida so extreme that it had taken its life even before birth. Corrine was mostly quiet and stood more like a friend in the room rather than a medical professional. The doctor went over our options. We did not have to decide anything right then. We could even take a week and just come to terms with the situation. This idea, though now seems almost wise, seemed horrific at that moment. To walk around with my child lifeless inside of me was not an option I would even consider. We could have a D&C performed, but this far into the pregnancy it would have to take place in a big hospital a few hours away. Or labor could be induced and I would deliver the baby. My decision was made fairly quickly but I still asked a few questions. What would be the best option for future pregnancies? An induced delivery was best in that regard because of the scarring involved with a D&C performed at 20 weeks. But Dr. G was quick to balance that statement out with a warning that a vaginal delivery would be hard. It would be hard physically and mostly, she emphasized that it would take its emotional toll. I acknowledge that fact, as it seemed obvious but I knew that I would not have a D&C. I told her that I wanted to be induced that day. She suggested that we go eat some lunch and think it over. Now I realize that she was afraid that I was being rash but I am such a person that once my mind is made up about something, few people can change it and most don’t even try. This was Dr. G’s attempt to slow me down.
We went to Arby’s. I remember getting a Diet Pepsi, something I had avoided all pregnancy to try to limit the aspartame the baby received. Seth saw me filling my cup and knew… might as well, right? The baby is gone. As we ate, my resolve to have labor induced as soon as possible only grew stronger. Seth, normally slower than I to make decisions in all areas of life, wanted to just allow me to do what I needed.
I remember so clearly how odd it felt to be sitting in a fast food place. Looking like we had on any other day. No one would ever have looked at the young couple sitting in a booth and would have guessed that our hopes had just been crushed. No one looking at me would know that a dead baby was sleeping inside me. No one would have ever guessed what topic we were discussing: How to address the death of our first baby.
Seth was quiet. Unemotional. Trying to be a source of strength for me. He asked one question. Though I could tell he did not want to sound stupid asking, he just had to ask it.
“So the baby really is gone, then? They are sure.”
“Yes. There was no heart beat…. Yes…” I knew why he asked. He just wanted to make sure we weren’t giving up on a miracle from God if there was still a possibility.
We had yet to learn all that we were in for but here was the first wave of one faucet of what we would experience: The disappointment of one another. As a spouse, one of our primary duties is to comfort each other. The Bible instructs it, even. But comforting one another is exceedingly difficult when you are in such great need of comfort yourself. And when your grief and your spouse’s grief, though stemmed from the same root, take very different forms and are expressed in very different ways, it’s harder to know what the other person needs.
Immediately, I recalled a lesson that I had learned from observation as a teenage girl. Every one grieves differently. A family, who instead of letting tragedy draw them closer, allowed the difficulties to drive wedges between its members. As each person looked solely inward at their own personal losses, they refused to give much consideration to the feelings of others or give mercy as those emotions ran their course. The fact that each person grieves in their own unique way was a thought in my mind on this day and for many months to come. The temptation to focus all thoughts of what I lost, instead of what others have lost, would make this sad time in our marriage weaken us, instead of being a binding force to make us stronger. I so badly wanted at least one good thing to come out of the loss of our baby and that one good thing could be a bond shared by none other but Seth and I. I not only lost my baby. Seth not only lost his baby. We lost our baby.
Grace would be freely offered to each other. It was unspoken between us but true and evident, if to no one else but to each other.