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The radiologist cried when she gave me the news. Her face flushed, eyes focused on her hands, she spoke quickly. The ultrasound had picked up no detectable heartbeat and she believed the baby had died.
“I am 98-per-cent certain,” she said, wiping her eyes with her sleeve. Clearly flustered, perhaps by her own reaction, she left the office hurriedly and with little follow-through.
I returned home incredibly confused. I had been provided with no direction about what to do next, or what to expect.
I kept thinking, “If I am 11 weeks pregnant and my baby only measured six weeks, how could I have carried him or her for five more weeks with no idea?” There was a strange sense of guilt attached to the loss.
The morning after is hazy in memory. My husband, Dave, and I drove to the hospital. Even if there was only a 2-per-cent chance our baby was alive, we wanted to do everything we possibly could. What followed was two weeks of hospital visits and blood tests; blue hospital gown on and off; countless ultrasounds, a small, grainy image appearing on the screen every time. Our baby.
When my pregnancy hormone levels continued to rise, it was thought that it might, in fact, be a viable pregnancy and my dates had simply been incorrect.
Not having a decisive answer was the most difficult part. On particularly hopeful days, I would imagine the incredible story of survival I would tell the baby if he or she lived. The following day, in a more practical frame of mind, I would resign myself to the most likely conclusion. Either way, I was determined to remain as outwardly calm as possible, as I didn’t want our two-year-old daughter to be aware of any changes.
But at night I had terrible dreams in which I was constantly misplacing things, losing people. I would wake hot, thirsty and out of sorts. In the midst of a move at the time, I had a strange sense of relief and routine in the daytime with the monotony of packing and labelling boxes.
Eventually, the inevitable was concluded.
“Development appears to have stopped around six weeks.” The gynecologist paused and looked across the desk at me. I didn’t respond. “Miscarriages are very common. That said, it certainly doesn’t make your loss any easier.”
“No,” I replied, worried that if I said more I would begin to cry.
Her news that my baby had died, while certainly not unexpected, was accompanied by such an acute sense of loss, it came as a shock even to me. When I stood to leave, I suddenly felt so very tired.
I eventually miscarried the morning after our move. The house full of boxes and no phone connected, I’d decided to take my daughter for a walk. As soon as we sat down at a local café, I began experiencing severe cramping and blood loss. Too embarrassed to ask the staff for help, I hurried out the door, my daughter in one hand, the other hand clutching my bag behind me.
By the time we reached my GP’s office, my dress was covered in blood. “Here, you can use this,” she said, handing me a large red sweater. “Tie it around your waist until you get to your car.” At that time, her practicality and kindness seemed immeasurable.
Returning home that afternoon, I had an idea of what to expect, but I was certainly not prepared. I experienced continued contractions comparable to early labour and my blood pressure dropped. I found myself once more in the emergency ward.
As I lay on the hospital bed that night, nearing the end of the miscarriage, the doctor on call turned to me. She had forceps in one hand and a dish in the other. “Would you like to see?” she asked, approaching the bed. I put up my hand, quickly drawing back.
In retrospect, I realize this was a reasonable question which she probably had to ask. At the time, I was horrified. From the minute I had read the positive pregnancy result three months before, I’d had an image of our baby in my head.
I had pulled out boxes of baby clothes, begun rereading books on pregnancy dos and don’ts. I had imagined our family as is, plus one.
If I had looked then, that image would have permanently altered. I would have remembered the baby in a permanent state of distress. And this would have made an already so very sad situation unbearable.
For weeks after the miscarriage, while lying awake at night, I would place my hand on my stomach. No bump. The baby had been there, and just as quickly he or she was gone. I would get up, make a cup of tea and sit in the kitchen, surrounded by boxes.
Eventually, life returned to normal and I began to feel myself again. I folded away the baby clothes, put aside keepsakes and slept peacefully. On the expected due date, however, I still found myself thinking, “This is when he or she would have been born.”
I think perhaps there will always be a sense of sadness that I will never meet the person who made such a profound impact in such a very short span of time.
I am pregnant again. At our first ultrasound, I entered the room hesitantly. And when the sound of a steady heartbeat was heard, the feeling of relief and joy was incalculable.
Kate Barnett lives in Vancouver.