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No heartbeat. Fetal demise.

These were the words I was told at my routine appointment three days ago when the archaic-looking cassette recorder my doctor uses to listen to the heartbeat didn’t pick up anything.

Oh, she’s not in the right place. I just had too much pasta in Italy, I thought. The doctor went from being jovial to dead silence. He took me down the hall to a room with a sonogram machine. I had to sit there awhile, alone, while the antiquated machine was roused from its slumber enough to start making annoying noises. I still felt like I knew everything was alright because I hadn’t had any signs or symptoms, no bleeding. He would be in here soon and realize that it was all OK.

Still, my heart started to quicken and my palms became sweaty as little shards of what this could mean shot through.

When he re-entered the room, I couldn’t see the machine so I remained fixed on his face, searching his expression for a sign it was all OK. More concern only took over and the silence became deafening. Then he turned to me and said “There is no heartbeat. She stopped growing about two weeks ago. Her gestational age is showing 14 weeks.”

I was 17 weeks pregnant.

“I’m going to need to send you for a second opinion.” Oh good, maybe these machines are too outdated and another, more expensive machine will tell us everything is OK. But of course, that was wishful, desperate thinking.

“Ummm, is there a chance she’s just very still, sleeping?”

“No. There is no heartbeat.” 

“So a second opinion is just a matter of procedure?”

“Yes, I’m sorry.”

He talked about me needing a D&E as I gathered my belongings and was ushered to the office assistant’s desk to call my husband. Because of course, this was the day I left my cell phone in the car. I called my husband and through tears and gasps said, “You need to come here now.” Panicked, he said he would get coverage for his class and be there right away. I neglected to tell him why or maybe I thought it was implied. He drove to me not knowing if there was a problem with the baby or if the problem was with me.

Devastated, I remained on hold the entire time I was waiting for him, trying to schedule the second opinion ultrasound. The soonest they could get me in was four hours from then. My husband called our IVF clinic who told us to come right away. 

Our IVF clinic ushered us into a room quickly, but then we waited for what seemed like forever. My husband still held out hope, and so did I, in spite of the facts. My IVF doctor told us the same thing: there is no heartbeat and she stopped growing about two weeks ago.

That was when I last saw her on ultrasound. The day before our trip, I went in to have her spinal cord looked at and saw her moving. I saw her flip from one side to another, like a fish. I saw her respond to my stomach being pushed on. She could hear us, our voices and our laughter. Then sometime in the last few weeks, the muffled sounds she was hearing fell silent, and no one knows why.

Immediately we began questioning everything we had done, starting with the trip. Carrying my other child, softly jumping on the bed with her. Drinking a cup of coffee every day. We were told time and again it would not be any one of those factors or even all of them. That a normal pregnancy can not just withstand such activities but thrive. Remember, babies whose mothers even abuse drugs usually make it through the pregnancy, or we wouldn’t have drug-addicted babies born, someone told me. 

All signs point to this baby not having the genetic makeup to continue to grow and progress and join us in the world out here like we so desperately wanted her to. We will ask for genetic testing to be done on all 24 chromosomes, at the recommendation of my IVF doctor, and hope that this will give us some answers.

This is all a horrible nightmare. We thought we were in the clear. We were out of the first trimester. One round of genetic testing came back clear, and she was growing normally.

I was, and am, beyond devastated.

Right next to me is the pink bonnet I was crocheting for her, a quarter finished.

It’s not just this baby that has been taken away from us and our family. It is the loss for our other child who was going to have a sister, a best friend for life. It is the love we have for her now and the knowledge that would only continue to grow infinitely. I was starting to see her going through all of her sister’s stages and was beyond and thrilled to put her in some of her clothes. I began ordering her some outfits here and there and I would look at the doll-like clothes and imagine her in them. I placed an order about a week ago that hasn’t even arrived yet. My husband will have to open it and send it back.

She’s still with me now. And it is the strangest feeling in the world because her perfect little lifeless body is all curled up and safe. But our time together, at least in the physical realm, is coming to an end. My D&E procedure is scheduled for today, just a few hours from now. I want the procedure to take place and at the same time, I do not want to give her up. It is one of the worst trials I have been through and we sure seem to have had our fair share in these last few years, our first few years of marriage.

I have to remember one thing: on the way to that appointment, I called my husband and told him how happy I was. How perfect I felt our life currently was, and that it was not any one thing I could put my finger on. She was a huge part of that because we were growing our family, but there were other things bringing me joy, too. I have to remember that those other positive aspects are still there, though they are dimmed by the shadow this sadness is casting. I have to remember how lucky and blessed we are to have a happy, healthy almost 20-month-old. I imagine going through this and not having her, like many couples do.

It’s too hard to see right now in the thick of it, but there is a reason for this.

Her little life has had—and will continue to have—meaning.

Originally published on the author’s blog.

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Megan Swanek

 IVF × 4 = One miracle baby. OC, CA. Wife, mom, school counselor, runner, blogger, aspiring world traveler.

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