Lindsay lost her son Lucas sixteen weeks into her pregnancy. Here she shares her story.
You stand in front of the blankets and sheets and cry quietly and steadily, mourning for what will never be. People give you a wide berth. The lady behind the till does not chat. She has seen this before and what can she say?
You feel edgy all weekend. You know, intellectually, that you can’t feel regular movements when you are only 16 weeks pregnant but the weird dreams have made you feel odd nevertheless. You have dreamed about dead relatives dropping into situations where they had no business appearing. One particularly disconcerting dream involves your dad, gone 20 years now, coming to a school play to take your child out for the day. He won’t say which child. Your sister, who is in this dream too, is so spitting mad with your long dead father that she can barely look at him.
You drop the lack of movement casually into the conversation with your husband on the Sunday because you need to talk to someone and that makes it feel more real, less like you are feeling paranoid because of your previous two miscarriages. You can’t decide if that makes things better or worse.
So you call the midwife on Monday but she doesn’t get back to you. Then you panic quietly. Inside. Alone. Tuesday means the 16 week check with the midwife anyway and you are hoping, hoping, hoping that she will reassure you. Cold jelly on your swollen stomach and the Doppler that finds the heartbeat, the mad galloping horse beat; a sound that is at once the most exciting thing and the most calming thing you have ever heard.
So she does your blood pressure check and all is good. The pee test is all normal too. So up on the table you go and pull up your shirt, pull down your waistband and she turns on the Doppler. First you hear the wonderful, watery swish-swish-swish; your blood flowing through the placenta. And then you hear the blips and clicks that usually mean the baby is moving. This makes you smile – babies seem to love hearing the amplified noises of the womb and thrash about; little explosions of noise as they lash out with their tiny limbs in their excitement. So you are feeling relieved. This is going well. The midwife explains that it is normal, normal, normal to struggle to find the heartbeat at this early stage, don’t worry. Then she says the placenta is lying to the front so that is making matters more difficult. And she keeps trying. And your smile slips. 15 minutes later, she tells you that she thinks the placenta is obscuring things too much so she is just going to phone the hospital and arrange for you to pop in and be monitored, just to put your mind at rest, of course.
You have to get on with the rest of your day. You don’t talk too much about it and try to be blasé about it. You are restless anyway. There are the usual jobs to do and your other children need to be picked up from school. You drop them at home with their dad and then head off to the hospital, half an hour away. You are going alone because surely this is just a formality, a reassurance that all is going well and that you are worrying so needlessly. You check in at the hospital and sit in the waiting room. When you are led through to the examination area, they are giving you the same story about erratic movements and front-lying placentas, trying to put you at ease. So the midwife tries with the Doppler again and again, she fails to find the heartbeat. This is common, don’t worry, I am just going to call my colleague as she is more experienced. So the more experienced colleague tries and fails as well. Ok, we aren’t sure what is going on so we are going to send you for an ultrasound and make sure everything is ok. You are back in the waiting room and the panic is rising. The urge to cry is becoming overwhelming because you are afraid now.
The walk to the ultrasound room is a long one. You feel your heart sinking further with every step. You are accompanied by the experienced colleague who is actually the head of the department. She talks quietly, trying to keep you calm. So back onto the table, more jelly and the question whether you want the image to show on the tv or not. Of course you want to see it, how can you not? The black and white image of your baby pops up on the screen. It is perfect in every way: the gentle curve of the forehead and nose, the tiny limbs drawn up to the tiny body. You gaze at that image and you know immediately that there is no heartbeat. You think that you always knew and here is your confirmation, in black and white. Tears gather in your eyes but you dare not let them go. What if you are wrong? You aren’t a sonographer so what if they can see something that you can’t? The sonographer’s voice is gentle with pity as she tells you there is no heartbeat. That is when you hear the strangled sounds tearing out of your throat. You clap your hands over your face, hiding from those sympathetic women in the room with you who have done this so many times before. You can hear those sounds but how can that be you? It sounds like some strange animal, heaving and clenching in agony. Somewhere, in the back of your consciousness, you feel bad because you know you are making these other women feel bad for you. What can they say to you? What a dreadful way for them to end their working day. And they lead you out of the room.
The walk back to the private waiting room is at least a mile long. It feels like a walk of shame because you feel the eyes of the other pregnant women on you, curious and glad that it is you and not them. You hear the woman who exclaims “Oh God, I wonder what has happened to her?!” to her friend. They all can see that you failed. The experienced colleague sits you down and asks if they can phone someone for you. You consider this, seriously. Some stranger is going to have to phone your husband and break the news to him. He will be upset. He has never been the kind of man who keeps a stiff upper lip. When he is sad, he cries. This is going to make him cry. You can’t speak at all, let alone to him. You certainly can’t drive home so he has to come here anyway. Maybe it is better if he hears it from someone who is calm rather than you, crying, crying, crying like you may never be able to stop. You give them his number and hope he will forgive you for not being the one who calls.
They offer you tea. It is the British way. Tea will help you to stop crying which will help them because now they need to tell you what happens next and none of that is good. It is all a blur. You talk to your husband and your oldest friend and between them and your mother, your husband has a lift to the hospital and the other children are supervised at home. Then a doctor with absolutely no bedside manner who comes in to confirm your baby is dead inside your body. He shuffles paper and asks questions that you answer automatically. He leaves. Thank God. And so to the experienced colleague who strokes your hand while you cry again and then tells you that you need to take these pills and come back in 48 hours to take some more. She explains that you will have to deliver this dead child on the maternity ward. She tells you that there was nothing you could have done. This was not your fault. You ask her if she is sure and she misunderstands and tells you they can ask another sonographer to do another ultrasound. You are apologetic. No, no, you tell her, are you sure I didn’t do something wrong? How can I have done it right if I couldn’t keep the baby alive? She then asks some pointed questions about alcohol and drugs and no, you haven’t used anything. You have been textbook, goody two shoes because you have already lost 2 babies in the last 18 months. It is not you, it has just happened. It wasn’t you, it just happened.
And then you wait for 48 hours. In that time, you have to buy a blanket for the baby you will never hold. That walk around Mothercare, trying to find something small enough, neutral enough, beautiful enough to contain the body of the child you so desperately wanted. You stand in front of the blankets and sheets and cry quietly and steadily, mourning for what will never be. People give you a wide berth. The lady behind the till does not chat. She has seen this before and what can she say?
And in that time, you hide in your house, in your bed and make your husband do the school run because you cannot face anyone, because you cannot trust yourself to speak to anyone, because you just can’t do it. And then it is time to go to the hospital again. It is almost a relief because this burden, this knowing, this waiting is too much to bear.
And the midwives are apologizing again. You have had your second pill and waiting for the labour to start and the woman in the next room is screaming, screaming, screaming. There is much toing and froing and the screaming continues. In the midst of all the tragedy in your room, you and your husband get the giggles at the expense of this poor woman and her long and painful labour because the entire ward can hear her. In your head, you gently encourage her to moo, stop shrieking and moo and the whole thing will be easier. And after hours of waiting and listening, it all goes quiet and you ask the midwife how that lady is and feel genuinely happy for her that her baby is here and her pain is over. And then you go to the loo for the millionth time and suddenly your own baby arrives, small enough to fit in your hand but everything where it should be. Perfect in every way. A baby that will never be big enough for that enormous blanket. A boy shaped hole in your heart that nothing and no one will ever be able to fill.