We couldn't find the heartbeat. I'm 15 weeks. We heard it four weeks ago at my 11-week visit. We should be able to hear it now, shouldn't we? Is the baby dead? The midwife says it could be "hiding," but we heard it last time. Why would it be hiding now?
The midwife and I had just had a long discussion about my digestive health and the overwhelming, all-consuming difficulties I've been experiencing. None of that seemed to matter in this moment, as new fears suddenly filled my mind.
I've had friends lose babies- friends who went to their prenatal appointments feeling hopeful, only to be met with the terrifying phrase, "I'm not finding the heartbeat." That was their story, their reality. That story became mine this morning.
Thankfully, however, my story doesn't end with "I'm not finding a heartbeat."
My midwife tried to find the heartbeat. I had my Voice Recorder ready on my phone to record the precious sound of life. I had recorded it at my last appointment, but I was hoping to get a better recording this time. I waited while she slowly slid the Doppler around on my belly. And waited. And waited. "That's you," she said as slow and steady beats sounded from the speaker. "Still you," she continued. I thought that I may have been feeling flutters toward the top of
my uterus as she moved the wand around toward the bottom, looking for
the heartbeat. Was that the baby squirming around trying to avoid the
Doppler? It seemed to be taking longer than usual, but I wasn't concerned. I know that sometimes it takes longer to find the heartbeat at the first few appointments.
I didn't feel concerned until the midwife turned off the Doppler and said, "I'm not finding it." She reassured me that sometimes it's hard to find at 15 weeks. She suggested that I walk out to the waiting room and move around a bit before trying again. So I walked to the waiting room, swayed my hips in figure eights, squatted a few times, wiggled around a bit. Then I went back to try again.
Again, I opened the Voice Recorder app on my phone. The Doppler swirled and swirled on my belly as my midwife looked diligently for the heartbeat. I could see by the look on her face that she wanted to find it as badly as I did. But again, time passed- too much time. She wasn't finding it. I let the screen of my phone time out and go black. I set my phone down and stared blankly ahead as I listened to the empty sounds coming from the Doppler's speaker. Empty. Was my womb empty of life? Could it be?
Once again, the midwife turned off the Doppler and said, "I'm not finding the heartbeat, Kim. I'm so sorry." Again, she reassured me that the baby could very likely be "hiding." My eyes immediately welled with tears as I sat up, worried and disappointed. I cried. And I cried. I looked at my midwife and asked, "Why would we not hear it this time if we heard it last time?" She said that it is possible that the baby had died. It's also possible that it was positioned in a way that didn't allow us to pick up the heartbeat on the Doppler. It was an awful feeling, knowing that we had heard it at my last appointment but couldn't find it today.
Our five-year-old was standing, staring at me while I sat on the bed crying. I looked at him and asked, "Do you understand what's happening?" He shook his head. I said, "We couldn't find 'Baby Rumby's' heartbeat. That means that either the baby died, or it's hiding from us. What do you think?" He said, "I think it's hiding." "I hope so," I responded faintly, "But we know that sometimes babies die in their mamas' bellies."
The midwife gave my husband and I a moment to discuss how to proceed. She offered to have me return the next day to try again with the Doppler. She also gave us the option of going for an ultrasound as soon as possible. We decided to take the next available ultrasound appointment. I still couldn't believe this was happening to me. I kept thinking of my many friends who have lost babies, who have sat through a prenatal appointment where they couldn't find the heartbeat and were sent for an ultrasound to confirm that their baby had died. So this is what it feels like, I thought. I was in disbelief that I was now in this position, waiting to go find out the fate of my baby.
While the midwife called to schedule an ultrasound, I texted three ladies from my church, "We can't find the heartbeat. Please pray for me. I'm terrified." The midwife asked if we could make an 11am ultrasound appointment, just an hour later. We answered affirmatively. I texted my Mom to ask if she could meet us at the ultrasound facility to watch the kids during the appointment. We had two vehicles at the midwife's, so we'd have to leave a vehicle and come back for it later since I was too much of a mess to drive. It would only take 13 minutes to get there, according to Google Maps. We started mentally down a hurried path toward an ultrasound.
Just then, the midwife came in and said that the other midwife had just arrived. She had told the other midwife what was happening, and the other midwife offered to try to find a heartbeat using her Doppler. I halfheartedly agreed, although I was doubtful that she would be able to find anything since the first midwife couldn't. It felt like a waste of time, but I agreed. It couldn't hurt to try, I guess.
I lay down and once again lifted my shirt. I closed my eyes and prayed while the cold wand moved slowly over every inch of my belly where my uterus is. "That's just you," she said, searching. I reached out my hand to my five-year-old and three-year-old, who each reached out a hand and placed it in mine. They held my hand, and I smiled a feeble smile at them as the midwife continued searching. She covered my whole uterus but didn't find anything. While I lay there filling with worry, my five-year-old gave my hand
three tight squeezes, which is our family's 'secret code' for 'I love
you.' I teared up, thankful for my boy's tender heart.
As the midwife reached for more gel to keep searching, I was filled with doubt. My womb seemed empty of life. She had already done a very thorough search, covering the whole area. It felt pointless to keep going, but she did. She started at the same point where she had started before, on the bottom right, and slowly moved the wand in little circles, covering every square inch of belly over my uterus, right to left, up, then left to right. Finally, as she circled the wand from left to right across the top of my uterus, nearing the end, there it was. A brief moment of rapid beating- life. "Theeere's baby," she said. I immediately began to cry, the jolting of my abdomen disrupting the sweet sound of the heartbeat. She turned off the Doppler while I lay crying and crying. Sweet relief.
"Shall I cancel the ultrasound?," asked the first midwife, gently. "Yeah," answered the other quietly.
I sat up, weeping, relieved, in disbelief. After a few moments of leaning on my husband, crying, I managed to say, "That was the worst ten minutes of my life." We explained to the kids what had happened, that the second midwife had found the baby's heartbeat. Relieved yet exhausted, we finished up the appointment with a blood draw and went out to the waiting room, still in a bit of shock. I sat on the couch and ate a snack while my husband sat silently by my side. I was so glad that he didn't rush back to work. He just sat with me while I ate, and the kids played with the waiting room toys.
After I finished eating, we bundled up the kids and headed out. My hubby helped me buckle the kids in my car, and he left for his lunch break before going back to work. I got on the road to my parents' house to wind down in their company and process the emotional morning. What a whirlwind.
While our whirlwind ended abruptly with a successful fourth try at finding the heartbeat, I know that so very many other women's whirlwind spirals downward as they go from their prenatal visit to an ultrasound where the tech or a doctor confirms that their baby has died. My heart hurts deeply for these women, as I know that while I felt overwhelming emotion this morning, I've felt only a sliver of the heartache that they endure.