Each visit to the Obstetrician became more exciting as my baby bump grew. The routine was so familiar now:
Blood pressure – tick
Urine sample – tick
Onto the couch for the fetal heart Doppler check. That familiar sploshing sound of the placenta and then the blip, blip of my baby’s heartbeat. But wait – the midwife moved the Doppler from one spot to the next. ‘Some more gel will help me find the spot’, she said.
She chattered whilst trying not to look concerned. ‘I’m having trouble with this machine,’ she said calmly. ‘I’ll just get the doctor. I’ll be back in a moment.’
Was it the machine, or was there a problem, I mused? I’d come to this appointment alone, as it was late in my pregnancy and my husband, Ron, had been to the two significant earlier scans. The midwife returned with the doctor, both trying to appear relaxed and casual.
‘It seems that the placenta sounds are obscuring the baby’s heartbeat today, so we’ll have another listen,’ said the doctor. Try as she might and pressing the probe in every conceivable spot, she couldn’t hear a heartbeat.
Silence – cold, stony silence!
‘I’ll ring the Scan Rooms and get them to do a more thorough scan to find the heartbeat,’ the doctor said as she left to find the nearest phone. Her midwife stayed to reassure me that it would be ok, but my gut feeling was telling me otherwise.
When situations like this occur, it’s amazing how quickly the Scan Rooms can be ready for you. I was given a glass of water to help fill my bladder, I dressed, then wandered to the Scan Rooms around the corner, with no recollection of how I got there. My mind was racing through all the ‘What if’ scenarios about what might happen. Is it all a bad dream? What if they’ve made a mistake? All these thoughts in the short walk between doctor’s rooms.
I was welcomed calmly and ushered straight in. The doctor said, ‘I’ll be doing your scan today. We just need to have a closer look to make sure that everything is ok,’ she said.
Once again the sploshing placenta followed by the deathly silence. Over and over she tried, with no success.
‘I’m so sorry Gail. There’s no heartbeat. Your baby has died. I’m very sorry to have to tell you this.’
What had I done wrong to make this happen? How was I going to break the news to Ron? I rang him to ask if he could meet me at the doctors, but didn’t tell him why. Goodness knows what thoughts were rummaging around in his head as he drove to that appointment.
Of course the Scan Room doctor rang the Obstetrician to convey the findings of the ultrasound, which had confirmed that my gut instinct was right – our baby was dead. Never doubt a mother’s intuition!
Ron looked dumbfounded as he grappled with the news that unbeknown to us, our baby who had been kicking around in it’s warm, cosy cocoon two days ago, now lay still and silent, never to come home to join our family.
‘Hard as this is, we need to talk about delivering your baby. You’ll need to be induced, which can cause the labour to begin with more intensity than if it occurred naturally,’ the doctor said. ‘Many mothers in this situation want to have a caesarian, to get the whole thing over and done with. Because that’s major surgery, it’s better if you can have the baby naturally. You can see and nurse your baby if you want to, but you don’t have to. It’s up to you.’
All the details were discussed and the induction planned for the next day. When we arrived the waiting room was dotted with other Mum’s who had planned deliveries or inductions the same day. Awaiting my induction, I could hear the cry of a newborn as it entered the world in the next room. I heard the elation of the parents as they held their little one for the first time.
Whilst labouring, a nurse who meant to be kind, said to us, ‘At least you know you can get pregnant. You can always have another baby.’ Seriously, was that meant to soothe our hearts that were breaking? Was that meant to help us deal with the fact that we would have to go home empty handed to a nursery that was waiting for our baby?
My first labour had been very easy – a mere four hours from start to finish, but this was so difficult, which I thought odd for a second pregnancy. A nurse explained that this was because I wasn’t co-operating because I didn’t want to deliver a dead baby.
And so it was that our daughter was born, with no cry and no life to live. And whilst this was supposed to be a time of great joy, we had to decide whether to have a public funeral or a private affair for this baby who none of our friends and family would ever meet.
Read the next chapter in Gail’s Unscrambling Grief story here.
Watch The Deafening Silence here.