Not hearing my baby's heartbeat at that appointment was the beginning of the scariest hour of my life. I KNEW something was terribly wrong, yet I still had room for a painful hope.
Maybe my dates ARE wrong. Maybe the baby is hiding. Maybe...
Fortunately my doctor's office is across the road from a hospital and the ultrasound technician agreed to squeeze me in. I took my doctor's note and a bottle of water and headed across, guzzling all the way. I was determined to fill my bladder in record time so that we could have a great look at my trickster baby. I tried to be amused at the confusion I caused by not being on the appointment books and having the receptionists at both main admitting and radiology calling back to the technician to find out what I was doing there.
I tried to pretend everything was just fine. I needed to believe it. But I was more afraid than I'd ever been of anything.
When it was finally my turn I tried to make small talk with the technician. I let her start taking her photos and knew something was terribly wrong. She wouldn't talk to me. She wouldn't even look at me. She kept the monitor turned away from my line of sight.
And it was so quiet.
Where's the heartbeat? I wondered. I've done this before, and didn't I always get to listen to that comforting "whoosh-whoosh" as they took all their little pictures?
Maybe she has it on mute. Maybe I'm remembering wrong.
I finally cracked a bit and begged her for something.
"You can see my baby in there, right? I mean, I haven't been having a hysterical pregnancy, RIGHT? It's not a tumor or something? Please?"
"No, your baby is here. It's not a tumor. I'm sorry, I'm not supposed to say anything. I can't say anything more."
And the silence was back as, silently, the tears began to roll down my face and my brain clicked to off. I wasn't ready for the truth hidden in those words, and as long as I didn't think about it, it still wasn't true. But I had a feeling that if she moved that sonogram up my body we wouldn't be finding my heartbeat either. And I was pretty sure that I had held my breath since we first started listening for a heartbeat back in the doctor's office.
When she finished she asked me if I was supposed to go back to my family doctor. I told her I wasn't told to. She told me that's where I should go. She would call the radiologist, who would look at the photos and then call my family doctor, and my family doctor would tell me the results. She finally looked me right in the eye and said how sorry she was that she couldn't just tell me more.
And then she asked if I had anyone here for me.
And the denial shield crumbled to pieces.
I had a little cry in the radiology waiting room, among the couple of people waiting for X-rays who doubtless thought I was crazy or something. I rebuilt my denial shield as well as I could and went back across the road. The receptionist was surprised to see me, and I felt better knowing that. I don't know why I thought that made everything all better, but at the time it seemed like a positive sign. I sat and waited some more, and when my name was called I walked back and even tried out a little half smile on my doctor.
She didn't smile back.
She quickly got me seated in a room and then she said the words that finally destroyed my denial shield and my heart.
"Sometime in the last two weeks" was all she said. All she needed to say right then.
She held my hand and let me cry. She handed me tissues and let me cry. She brought me water and let me cry. She asked if I wanted to call anyone and I told her I wanted Hubby, but that he had the cell phone that day. She went and got me her own cell phone and then excused herself because she had more patients in the next room. I finally took a big breath and called Hubby and cried some more. And then I felt guilty for calling him at work with such news. She came back and I pulled myself together enough to ask what was next. She left me alone again to call Labour and Delivery and ask the OB on duty how he wanted to proceed. He wanted to try to get me some answers if I could and wanted me to see the specialist for a more detailed ultrasound. He would set up the appointment and call me at home.
They were sending me home.
I used the doctor's cell phone to call Hubby again and tell him. He was supportive and wanted me to come to him. I just wanted to go home and not miss the call when it came. I knew he probably needed comfort as much as he was offering it, but I wasn't ready to accept any. I wanted to go home and pretend, to hold my baby close and safe within me as long as I could, even if it was too late.
I started trying to put myself together again so that I could get home. It was a fragile job, glued together with grief and denial and avoidance and desire to see my kids and anything else close enough at hand to throw in the mix. I was shown the back way out. I'm sure that was as much so that I wouldn't upset the other patients in the waiting room as to protect me from having to see other people. When I got to the car I remembered--the tank was almost empty and I was supposed to be running errands after my appointment. This was supposed to be a normal, HAPPY day. Instead, the world seemed too bright, too happy. I stopped for gas because I had to and somehow managed to get a gas station without pay at the pump. I actually had to go in and pay, and that's when I discovered that I was incapable of speaking in anything above the smallest whisper. I always wondered why people spoke in whispers at funerals, and now I knew--one's vocal cords actually become paralyzed with grief.
Once safely home I cried some more. I tried to eat something because my morning sickness was still in effect. I sat at the computer and updated my facebook status, then quickly logged out and started watching episodes of Crossing Jordan. As long as I did normal things then everything was normal, right? Hubby called to make sure I had made it home. Eventually I wanted my mom and called her, and then, perversely, didn't want her any more, just wanted to be alone again. The littles came home on their bus run and I gave them big hugs and permission to play Wii so that I could go back to my little cave in the office and cry without upsetting them. The phone call came and I was to report to the hospital in the morning for a diagnostic ultrasound and then over to Labour and Delivery to be induced.
More crying, another call to Hubby, more Crossing Jordan. I managed to make the calls I needed to make to cancel our appointments for the next few days. Saying it out loud hurt more than hearing it out loud. The Princess came home on her later bus run and I didn't even go out to see her, just yelled a cheery hello and let her join the other two on the Wii. Eventually Hubby came home and asked if I had told the kids yet. Not yet I said. Let them be happy a little while longer. Let us all pretend everything is normal. He let me go with that; let me make supper and watch another episode. We said our prayers and started eating and of course the Princess wanted to be excused because she doesn't like supper. Hubby dropped the bomb.
"Mama has something to tell you first"
And so I did, remarkably dry-eyed for the first time all day. The Boy kept happily eating, not understanding what was happening. Sweetpea's eyes filled with tears and she wanted to know if we could get a new baby in my tummy RIGHT NOW. We told her that I was going to have to go to the hospital and get this baby out first, and that seemed to be enough for her. Her tears dried up and she hopped away to play. The Princess cried the way I had in the ultrasound room. Silently, as if her heart were breaking. I'm sure it was. Finally she wailed "So you were sick all that time for NOTHING!". Bless her heart. We had some cuddle time, my mothering child and I, and in between the tears she kept asking why. My heart, in all its jagged little pieces, bled some more for her. I had to tell her that I was asking the same questions, that the doctors would be trying to get us some answers, but that we might never know.
That night in bed I couldn't avoid or pretend any more. Hubby held me while I cried myself to sleep. I kept waking up, crying some more, dozing off, and on and on. I finally got up and showered, packed my L&D bag, wrote notes for school, kissed my babies goodbye for the day, and headed out into the sunny morning. Sunny again? Shouldn't the day reflect my mood? At least I had to scrape my windows of frost before I could go. I got to town early and decided I should probably eat something. I stopped at Subway for a sandwich and more water. Then when I got to the hospital I went straight to the washroom to say goodbye sandwich. One last kick of morning sickness to keep everything surreal.
I checked in quickly through admitting, where the boy checking me in had a laugh with his supervisor over my birthday. Apparently it's his birthday too, and I was the third person that morning with the same birthday that he had checked in. I didn't see the humour. I wondered what terrible things my fellow birth mates were in for. I wondered what bizarre alignment of the stars had contrived to put us all here together. I said a quick prayer for the others out there, that they have a better day than the rest of us.
I walked the slow walk to the elevators and up to the L&D/maternity ward. The specialist's door wasn't open yet, so I got to wait in the open waiting room with a family that looked like they'd been there for hours, waiting to become grandparents/aunts/uncles. "One of these things does not belong here" I thought inanely to myself. Finally the door opened to the specialist's office and I went to another waiting room. This time there were 2 huge posters on the wall showing the development of baby week by week. I noted dismally that we hadn't made it off of poster one and on to poster two, baby and I, and I rubbed my tummy reassuringly, as I had with all my babies from the beginning.
This time the ultrasound was different. The specialist and the nurse were full of sympathy. Sadly, they end up doing this several times a month. I hadn't realized I was one of such a large group of broken-hearted women. This time the ultrasound screen was turned so that I could see, and the specialist talked me through what we were seeing. When she was done she asked if we could do amniocentesis. Anyone who knows me knows that I am TERRIFIED of needles. I knew what amnio was and had decided years ago that it definitely wasn't for me. I asked if it was necessary and she said no, but it might provide some information they wouldn't be able to gather in other ways. Suddenly I was all about the information gathering.
"Do it." I said "But I'm going to keep my eyes closed, if it's all the same to you."
Apparently I'm not the first to say so. They joked that they had talked about getting a supply of blindfolds. And then it was amnio time. If anyone out there is thinking about getting amnio I will say this--IT HUUUUUURTS. Seriously. I don't know why anyone with a healthy baby inside of them would volunteer for such a thing. Ouch.
From there it was over to Labour and Delivery, where I have to say up front that they were fantastic. I know, though I try not to think about it, that abortions are performed there at a later point in pregnancy than I was at. I know that these people need to stay detached in order to do their jobs. But they didn't. They got it. My baby was always respectfully referred to as my baby. I was asked what I wanted to do with my baby when he was born, if I wanted to see him, if I wanted to hold him, if I wanted photos, etc. The nurses were there when I needed them and absent when I wanted to be alone. When I would cry in front of them, I could tell that they had to work not to join me in a good cry themselves. They put me in the last room, farthest away from the constant action as possible. At first I cynically thought that was to keep me from upsetting the others, but I quickly realized that it was for my own benefit, as every new cry and every "whoosh-whoosh" of a monitor that drifted down the hall to my ears made my heart feel like it was breaking all over again and the tears would flow and flow.
I was relieved to discover that I would not need an IV to be induced, that there is a lovely pill that they use. I didn't completely escape getting stuck by needles, as I still needed bloodwork and my Rhogam shot, but I was thankful to have avoided that dreaded IV.
Within 20 minutes of my first dose, my water broke. "Wow" I thought "this is going to be fast". But it wasn't. There was plenty of cramping and discomfort, but things moved slowly. And that was ok too, as I wasn't ready to say goodbye. I don't know if you can ever be ready.
Hubby checked on me at lunchtime that day, and then had to go home to meet the kids coming off the bus. I laboured alone. The nurses worried. They asked if they could call someone. They offered to sit with me; to talk or just sit and be there. But I didn't want company. Who would want company?* It was just baby and I, and I needed to tell him some things if he was still listening. I did a lot of staring blankly at the walls or out the window. A lot of crying, a lot of napping. I tried to read the books I had packed, but my mind was as fluttery as a butterfly and unable to focus on anything. The nurse brought me a stack of magazines, and I would read an article or two and then go back to sitting quietly and doing nothing. I did some pacing, trying to speed things up by walking it out. I started wanting my kids. Sometime in the middle of the night the diarrhea hit. No one had mentioned that it was a side effect of the drug. It didn't really matter, other than being unpleasant.
By morning I was finally bored and frustrated. I was still cramping but wasn't in full labour with timeable contractions. I decided to reach out and called my Bishop for a blessing to speed things up. I thought maybe he could bring his wife with him and I could have a little visit. No one answered. Apparently all I needed to do was call though, because suddenly things started to speed up. I didn't need a blessing. I was having strong contractions, and I started gushing blood. I didn't want anyone again. Until Hubby walked through the door. He had a physiotherapy appointment for his hand and came early so he could check on me. I asked him if he could please come back after his appointment. He did, and within 5 minutes I told him I had to pee. I went into the washroom and felt not pee, but something large slipping out of me. It was wrong. I did not want to go through all of this and then have my baby on the toilet. It felt too undignified (not that delivery is anyway). I asked Hubby to hit the call button and both the nurse and the doctor were right there. Hours ago they had put containers in the toilet just in case this happened--apparently it's not uncommon to the experience. I thought they would come help me to the bed, but the doctor said it was actually a lot easier for them if I just finished up there. The nurse brought a chair for Hubby and he sat beside me and held me as I wept. Wept because it was ending. Wept because I WAS having this baby on a toilet and it felt so wrong. Wept for the heartbeat I'd never get to hear, wept and wept and finally pushed and felt all my dreams slide softly from my body.
When I was able, I moved to the bed and the nurse brought baby to me to look at. At that point we still didn't know if it was a boy or a girl. He had curled up quietly and died inside of me, and he was modestly covered. She took him away to clean him up and then brought him back as I had asked. I held held him close and examined his exquisitely tiny features. I saw him as perfect in my mother's eyes. I touched a fingertip to his tiny hand, with all of it's beautiful fingers. I counted his teeny toes and marveled that I could see the nail beds. I picked up my camera for the first time since the morning sickness hit and tried in vain to capture the beauty of my baby boy. I wished I had a macro lens so that I could preserve all of the little details. I marveled at the veins and muscles I could see through his transparent skin. I longed to give him a kiss but didn't, afraid to hurt him and tear that delicate skin with my chapped lips.
(Why? Why? We had already agreed to an autopsy. What would a kiss have hurt in the grand scheme?)
We gave him a name, a beautiful name for a beautiful boy. We named him Gaelan and I wished a silent blessing upon him, one for tranquility and healing as his name promises.
And then I had to let go.
His little body was decaying before our eyes; the skin drying and starting to tear just from the air. I didn't want to remember him like that. I didn't want to ever let go. I made myself reach for Hubby's hand with one hand and pass him to the nurse with the other. As soon as she left the room I wanted to hit the call button and make her come back, make her bring my Gaelan back to me. I took deep breaths, cried all over Hubby, and let him go.
Later, much later, the regrets came.
I wish I had switched to my long lens. I use it in the garden, why didn't I try it? The nurse would have held him for me so I could get the distance I needed. Why didn't I think of that?
I wish I had kissed him. I kissed all my babies on their sweet brows when they were born, why didn't I do it for him?
I wish I had asked for ink and paper and gotten his perfect little footprints. (As it turned out, the nurse thought of this one and did it for me)
I wish, I wish, I wish.
And while I'm wishing...I wish I had heard that heartbeat before it was gone. I wish I had felt him move within me (I thought I did, a couple of times late at night, but it's really too soon. It was probably gas and imagination. I wish I had KNOWN that movement). I wish we had made it to that magical threshold of 20 weeks where he would be considered a stillbirth and received a death certificate instead of only 16 weeks and considered a late miscarriage. People dismiss a miscarriage in a way they never would a stillbirth. I know I've been guilty of it. I wish that when people ask how many children I have that I could say 4, but I know I'll still say 3 because I don't want to have to explain...but my heart will say 4. I wish the world could know that my son was beautifully and wonderfully made and that I am thankful to have been a part of his very short existence. Even with all the barfing. I wish I hadn't been so unaware of how common it is for babies not to be born perfect and healthy every time, that reaching 12 weeks isn't some assurance of success, that so many walk among us with broken hearts from their lost babies, even now in the 21st century. And I kind of wish I didn't know.
I wish, I wish, I wish.
I wish that I didn't know how hard it was to leave the hospital empty. Empty handed, empty wombed, empty of heart and thought and spirit.
I wish I could show you photos of my baby boy, but I worry that they would not be seen through the loving eyes of a mother and that there would be judgment. And so I'll keep them close, though I will be making a scrapbook for Gaelan. It will be much too thin.
If you're not one of my regular readers and you find this post because you've gone through something similar, I'm so sorry. I hope you find some comfort in knowing there are others out there who mourn with you. Since getting home I've found a couple websites to be helpful: Share offers support to parents and caregivers who've lost a baby at any point. This site offers tips and product to a scrapbooker who wants to preserve those special memories. And I have ordered a pendant from this site that will engrave Gaelan's actual footprints for me to wear near my heart. I'll review it when it arrives, but they have a previously unimaginable collection of beautiful products for anyone whose heart is hurting over a loss.
Thank you all for letting me share our story. I'll be back to posting more regularly. Today we're home because the Boy (maybe it's time for a new bloggy name) has the mumps. And my milk has come in. Yes, this week just keeps delivering the hits. And yet I'm thankful. Thankful for so many things. But that's another post.
*I know some people would and do, but when I'm hurting I want to be alone. If there are other people I feel a burden to care for them and their feelings, and I'm selfish in my pain. I think anyone else going through something similar should do whatever feels right for them. Whatever allows you to get through it.