My nurse was growing visibly frustrated as she searched and searched for the sound of my baby’s heartbeat with the small round disc. I searched her poker face for answers, for emotion, for a sign of what to think and feel. She never made eye contact with me until exasperated she asked
“Didn’t your OB do a doppler in the office?”
“No” I said timidly.
She left me to turn down the loud heartbeats coming from the other machines in the room. I grabbed my phone to text Scott as quickly as I could like a high school kid in chem class, trying to squeeze it in before the teacher returned. I felt like I was in trouble, like I was annoying her. I texted:
Nearing the library, Scott got my message. He was was scared by it, but confused as I had been, and deliberated about what to do being so close to completing his task and the threat of icy roads causing further delay. He too thought this was just some fluke thing; things always seemed to work out in the end, and we praised God to be sure, but felt a bit like life would always be good for us, before that day. He drove one more block then quickly turned around and came to me as fast as he could in Seattle’s rush hour traffic amidst snow and ice.
Anxious and confused, I laid still as I could while my heart raced frantically within my chest. In desperation she sent a new nurse to work on me. A tall, sweet cheeked, familiar woman came in. She had been my first nurse to orient me to this whole business of being pregnant 5 years before with my first daughter. She knew me, my babies, my stories. I needed that, I was so scared, felt so alone.
“Oh God, please let Scott come quickly!” I prayed
The first thing Kelly did was look me in the eyes and smile at me. She said my name acknowledging that I was a human being in her care that needed to be treated as such.
“Now let’s find that heartbeat.” She said with her characteristic slight giggle.
She was calm and happy. I didn’t know if I could believe her words, but I appreciated them. She felt around my belly with her hands, feeling the form of my full grown son and with a start said,
“Oh there he is, I think I felt him move there! Now let’s get this machine to work.”
I didn’t stop looking at her face, her ever-present dimples, her happy eyes. She kept talking to me throughout, telling me what she was doing in a matter of fact but sweet way that soothed me. I was calming but it was my quickened heartbeat that kept giving us hope and causing the trouble. A baby’s heart rate is around 140 beats per minute in the third trimester of life. An average adult heart rate is between 60 to 100 beats per minute, the difference is rather significant, usually mine is on the low end. We’d jump and smile at one another when we heard the fast thump-thump and then both of us would realize it was too slow to be my baby’s. Then she’d gather more goop and go for another swoop around and around my belly before pressing the doppler in again at the ideal place on my lower abdomen his heart should be strongest and we would hold our breath to listen.
“Let’s just get you in for an ultrasound.” She said, again with a smile and a reassuring pat to my arm, “I’ll get Dr. B”
She left me alone again and I stole a glance at my phone. Scott had texted: “I’m coming”
I was relieved. It couldn’t be fast enough.
Dr. B, a slight 5 foot tall blonde woman, who makes up for her small stature in wisdom and experience, came just a few minutes later and looked at me with reserved concern. In a kind but matter-of-fact way she said, “let’s see what is going on.”
She laced her arm in mine to help me off the table and her short legs moved us briskly down the hall. I wanted to dig my heals in and stop all of this. I looked frantically up and down down the hallways for Scott. I had no idea where he was, when he would arrive. I felt like a wild animal being taken to my cage.
The office was barren, thank God, and the windows that displayed a beautiful view of the Seattle’s city skyline had gone dark from the early winter sunset. Dr. B was quiet as she moved us quickly down the hall except for one question; “Have you felt him move today?”
That was the question I’d come to hate at each of my appointments, for no apparent reason whatsoever, when nothing was wrong. When she asked it, my body went weak and I nearly collapsed if it weren’t for her strong arm holding me up. The veil of confusion began to part and deep dark heavy reality crept over me.
“No,” I stammered, “Well, yes, he had hiccups this morning…”
My mind searched for another moment and panic started to take hold.
“That was it, nothing else. I haven’t felt him since. Oh God, no, no, no” I whispered my desperate prayer. It was starting to make sense to me that something might actually be wrong and I was finding it hard to breath.
As my body weakened and slowed, Dr. B’s became stronger and she urged me forward, around the corner and into the ultrasound room, shutting the door behind us. I was was scared, anxious and searching around hoping for Scott to walk through the door. Reluctantly, in slow motion, I got onto the exam table as Dr. B prepared the ultrasound machine and wielded the weapon that would seal our fate.
“Oh God please let my baby be okay! Please let him be ok! Please Lord, please!”
I prayed over and over fast as I could, hoping against everything this machine would make everything right and the whole thing would just be some error in technology.
The ultrasound room was dim, with a soft glowing light like a night light just above the machine to light up the keyboard and controls. Dr. B scrolled over the image of my baby, the outline of his body, his distinct profile with facial features I had come to recognize, fully formed arms, round belly, and large chest cavity where his full flesh heart had once filled and fluttered rapidly while arms and legs flickered and flexed. His body was still, his chest cavity a dark void, and I knew he was gone before a word fell from Dr. B’s lips.
“Oh Heather, I am so sorry,” Dr. B’s voice was so soft, serious, “he is gone.”
And there I dove into the deep end of grief for the first real time in my life. The unbearable happened and I hadn’t been able to prevent it, predict it, prepare for it or pray it away. It swept me down and out into the cold dark waters where breathing gets hard and I wondered if the effort it takes to stay above water was really worth it.