I’m Sorry, There’s No Heartbeat

I had been walking around thinking that I was pregnant and our baby’s heart had already stopped beating!

This essay originally appeared in Issue 6 of Holl & Lane Magazine — a magazine dedicated to sharing truthful, heartfelt storytelling from everyday women. Pick up the full issue in our shop.

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I remember trembling while taking the pregnancy test. Two blue lines appeared almost immediately. My heart was jumping out of my chest. We were pregnant…again, and I was so worried and anxious that I forgot to feel happy. My husband and I had agreed that when it was time to start our family, we would freely let it happen, even if that meant having our babies close together. Yet here I was freaking out about how I was going to be a good wife, mother, daughter, friend, etc., while raising two children under the age of 2. Elise had just turned 9 months old and I enjoyed EVERY minute of being pregnant with her. I felt wonderful the majority of my pregnancy and never felt more womanly and more proud of my body in my life. I didn’t realize that I’d enjoy being pregnant so much. It truly was a beautiful experience and she was such an incredible blessing to us! I just kept thinking about wanting more time to get to know her, how was my body going to handle nursing while growing a baby, and when was I going to sleep?! I felt incredibly selfish and I was ashamed. My husband was reassuring but I could tell that he was worried too.

I called my OB/GYN to let them know of my pregnancy and scheduled my twelve week appointment. I had major guilt about being so anxious and worried. I spent a lot of time assuring the baby that we loved and wanted him/her. Unfortunately, I felt pretty miserable during this pregnancy and it was evident to those closest to me. Elise’s first birthday party was at the end of June and around my ten week mark so we shared our good news with friends and family. That day I also found out that some of our closest friends were expecting their second child and our due dates were two days apart. It was pretty awesome news! Everyone was happy and excited for us. We both went back to work and shared our news with our bosses and co-workers as well.

The Sunday before my twelve week appointment. I was having a really rough day. I felt awful and my mood wasn’t much better. My husband had just expressed his frustration to me by saying, “you don’t even act like you’re pregnant.” I was hurt and angry, and he was right if we were comparing it to my last pregnancy. Fighting back tears, I got up to use the restroom. The next thing I remember is coming out of the bathroom to tell him, “there’s blood.” We had an immediate sense of urgency, dread, guilt, and worry. He had me lie down and we called the on-call number for our OB/GYN. We were told how common spotting is during pregnancy and to try to relax. I could come in for an ultrasound the next morning. I seriously don’t think we slept that night.

I remember walking into the doctor’s office feeling like I was in a fog. I tried to be lighthearted with the ultrasound tech as she worked to get measurements but I couldn’t stop my voice or my body from shaking. I knew it wasn’t good when she told us that she needed to do a vaginal ultrasound because the Doppler wasn’t picking up a heartbeat but I quickly agreed and prayed with my whole body that our baby was just in the wrong position. Then the wind was knocked out of us when she said, “I’m sorry…there is no heartbeat, and your baby is only measuring at 8 weeks.” I honestly don’t remember how I got up and walked out of there. I was crying so hard that I couldn’t see straight or breathe. My husband kept hugging me and saying he was sorry.

A doctor came in and told us how common miscarriage is and what I was experiencing was called, a “missed miscarriage,” which means that my body continued on with my pregnancy for 4 weeks before it recognized that our baby was no longer alive. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! I had been walking around thinking that I was pregnant and telling people that I was pregnant and our baby’s heart had already stopped beating??!! I didn’t understand and along with the bazillion other emotions I was feeling, I felt morbid. I asked the Doctor what needed to happen next and he spoke about letting things happen naturally or scheduling a DNC. He said we didn’t need to make a decision right away and that it was okay to call back in a day or so. We left with heavy hearts and feeling lost.

We began sharing our devastating news and received lots of well meaning, “at least you have Elise, it was God’s plan, 12 weeks isn’t that far along, I know EXACTLY how you’re feeling, etc…”. It didn’t help at all to hear these things, it fact it stung, badly. I was so much more grateful for those who shared a silent hug, held my hand, just said they were sorry, or cried with me. I learned very quickly of the type of support I would offer others moving forward. At home, I felt like a robot and just wanted to sleep. I spent time with Elise and tried to rest. I was exhausted but my mind was all over the place. I wanted to learn all that I could about miscarriage and how it was my fault that it was happening. I needed answers.

I felt so naive and dumbfounded reading about all of the different types of miscarriage, and pregnancy loss. I don’t know how it was possible but my heart broke even more as I read the stories of loss and heartache. I found forum after forum and I couldn’t stop reading. I wanted to validate these parents and their babies and share in their grief. I was now a new member of a ‘secret community’ that I didn’t want to join. I kept trying to minimize our loss because others had experienced multiple loss or had been further along in their pregnancies. I kept trying to talk to God. I wanted to pray, but forgot how. I just kept asking Him to help me.

I don’t remember falling asleep but I woke up in a lot of pain and knew that I needed to get into the bathroom immediately. It all happened so quickly and I felt like a child and didn’t know what to do. There was so much blood and I couldn’t stop shaking. I just sat on the toilet and cried and cried. Jim did his best to console me. I felt like a crazed person staring into the toilet wondering if our baby was in there. I started freaking out about not flushing the toilet and how I would get our baby out! When my mother heard how distressed I was, she grabbed a pair of latex gloves, a container, a small strainer and reacted without hesitation. A mama bear’s instinct and unconditional love for her child and grandchild in action. There is no handbook for experiences like these so we just did the best we could. We blessed our angel baby with holy water and said our goodbyes. I found an excerpt that reminded me of my faith and read it out loud:

“You see, the child lives. Instead of the wind he hears the sound of angels singing before My throne. Instead of the beauty that passes he sees everlasting Beauty — he sees My face. He was created and lived a short time so that the image of his parents imprinted on his face may stand before Me as their personal intercessor. He knows secrets of heaven unknown to men on earth. He laughs with a special joy that only the innocent possess. My ways are not the ways of man. I create for My Kingdom and each creature fills a place in that Kingdom that could not be filled by another. He was created for My joy and his parents’ merits. He has never seen pain or sin. He has never felt hunger or pain. I breathed a soul into a seed, made it grow and called it forth.”

The coming days were somewhat of a blur. Jim was back to work and I was still bleeding, crying, and sleeping a lot. I went in for a check up a couple weeks later and was told that I still needed to pass a centimeter of tissue or I could end up with an infection. In hopes of avoiding a DNC, I was prescribed a medicine that would cause me to have contractions and bleed again. It was excruciating. I felt so numb. Once I was done with the medication, I went in for an ultrasound to make sure it had worked. I told Jim that I just couldn’t wait for this to be over. The ultrasound showed that the medication had done it’s job. But instead of feeling the relief that I thought I’d have, I was devastated that there was no longer any physical trace of our baby. I sat and cried in the parking lot for almost 20 minutes before I could drive home. I couldn’t believe how truly empty I felt.

When I returned to work, I was able to function with much help from my closest friends. At home weeks had gone by and it wasn’t getting any easier to cope. I felt alone, critical of myself, critical with how Jim was coping, terribly afraid that something bad was going to happen to Elise, not wanting to leave the house, not wanting to be in our bathroom; just broken. I couldn’t understand being together for 11 years and not being able to connect with my husband like before. He asked me to go speak to a Priest with him. I didn’t want to go at all but I went. I walked into our meeting with such an attitude. I was pretty much quiet the whole time and then I looked up and said, “ I just have one question. When does the Church expect me to be pregnant again?!!” The Priest looked me in the eye and kindly said, “you don’t let me or anyone else tell you when that time is…” It was just what I needed to hear in that moment and it gave me a glimmer of hope. It was still hard for me to pray for myself but I kept trying. I realized that I needed some grief counseling both individually and with my husband. He agreed and for eight weeks we met with a therapist who among other things, specialized in perinatal grief and loss. I was starting to feel safer and starting to believe that things really were going to be okay.

Four months after our loss, we were pregnant again. This time around, I tried to remain grateful and calm. I had learned the hard way last time and wasn’t going to go down that road again. We went in for an early ultrasound around 6 weeks. This time we saw our sweet baby and heard his/her heartbeat. It was music to our ears! Once you see and hear the heartbeat, chances of a miscarriage reduce greatly. We were cautiously relieved and this time we only told a handful of people we were expecting again. I did my best to soak in every moment of being pregnant and not be fearful. We were asked to come back two weeks later to make sure things were progressing nicely. We couldn’t wait to see and hear our baby again.

Except we wouldn’t. The ultrasound tech quickly turned off the monitor and apologetically told us (again), “I’m sorry…there is no heartbeat, and your baby is measuring a week smaller than it should be.” I laid there with my hands covering my face and remember feeling like my tears were burning my skin. I just kept shaking my head and saying, NO! I wanted to leave but the nurse really wanted me to speak with a Doctor before leaving. I guess maybe she thought it would help. We were again told how common “this” is and until a woman has 3 miscarriages there’s probably nothing to worry about in regards to conceiving and having healthy pregnancy. I don’t remember the rest of the conversation because all I kept thinking was, it’s nine days before Christmas and here we are again. How are we going to get through this again? I decided to go home and wait for things to happen naturally, not knowing how long my body would take this time. I hated that it was Christmas time but was grateful to be off work through the end of the year. I didn’t leave the house much but I made my husband promise to still do our family traditions with Elise even if I wasn’t with them. It was so hard.

Two weeks went by before I miscarried at home again. This time I knew what to expect and handled myself differently than the last time. I cried but this time I was more angry. I no longer trusted my body and if this is how I was going to be repaid for trusting Jesus, then I was pretty sure I knew where that left me. I was completely broken. We decided to take our baby’s remains for some testing. It was a tough decision but we just wanted to know what we were possibly looking at moving forward. We waited two agonizing days and were told that it wasn’t anything genetic that caused the miscarriage. Our baby was given back to us in a beautiful hand painted box. I didn’t expect that and it was one of the nicest things that anyone had done for us during this time. I never expected that we’d be “here” again and there were things that I handled better and things that I handled worse this time around. We still got the well-meaning, “…at least you can have a child, maybe you’re only supposed to have one…” and it still hurt and pissed me off. I was still deathly afraid of Elise getting hurt or me ruining her because of how I was handling myself.

My faith was tested in ways I never imagined and I wasn’t proud of the way I dealt with it. I was finally able to talk with God and I let him know that if this was my cross to bear that I’d gladly do it…I just wanted to help someone else not feel alone or crazy! I told my husband that I needed a year to just be a wife and mother, to renew and strengthen my faith, and to be good to my body again. Our family and friends rallied around us again and loved us without judgment. Those who had survived loss like ours, reassured us and let us know that they understood. As much as I hated joining the “1 in 4” community, I am so grateful for all the love, support, guidance, prayers, silence, and acknowledgment of all of our babies. I have a beautiful statue of a baby sleeping in angel wings in our flower bed and we plant new flowers every Spring in their honor. I also wear an angel ring so I have something in their memory close to me daily.

I’m thankful Elise was too young to understand exactly what was happening. I did let her see me cry and she knew that Mommy was sad and didn’t feel well. I tried very hard to protect her from the darkness that I was experiencing, knowing that at one time, she was the reason the light inside me stayed alive. We are also beyond humbled and grateful that she became a big sister when we welcomed our son James Jr., nine days after her third birthday!

Words by Bridget Cousino

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