"I can't find the heartbeat."
Updated: Aug 17, 2018
This post is best read while listening to 'Hey, that's no way to say goodbye' by Leonard Cohen.
It's been almost exactly one year - a year since my first pregnancy, a year since feeling my life was going to be completely revolutionised by a tiny human being, a year since losing it all to the sound of the most excruciating words: "I'm afraid I can't find the heartbeat."
Daniel and I had embarked on our first pregnancy journey with all the innocence and goodwill of this world - I, particularly, was ready to shout out the happy news right from week 4, and had no idea whatsoever that miscarriages were actually 'a thing'. Of course, they happened, but a) I didn't know anyone who had experienced one, and b) surely they wouldn't happen to someone like me. I had given up smoking in 2012, didn't drink much (and stopped completely as soon as I found out I was expecting), was very fit and had no health problems at all. So, waiting after week 12 before telling the world felt like a ridiculous imposition that I really couldn't understand.
Right from the start, my first pregnancy wasn't at all the joyous, elated experience that I had imagined growing up. I was an anxious mess. I couldn't stand the nausea - my emetophobia and agoraphobia reached sky-high levels - I felt like I was losing control of my body, I had trouble sleeping and frequent panic attacks. I cried often, and I often told myself that I would be a shit mum - surely this baby deserved better.
I was convinced that I was expecting a girl. I thought about her as dark-haired, blue-eyed Sofia. I felt ambivalent about her - on my good days, I would speak to her softly, rubbing my non-existent bump and fantasising about having her in my arms. On my bad days, I wouldn't leave the bed, eat, or talk to anyone - let alone talk to Sofia.
It's still not clear to me why, but during week 8 I convinced myself that something wasn't quite right. I didn't have any bleeding, pain, or other symptoms - it was probably all in my head. Still, I rang the Early Pregnancy Unit of my local hospital and they suggested to pop in for a reassurance scan at any time.
On Tuesday 8th August 2017, Daniel and I woke up in a good mood. I suddenly felt more confident about myself and Sofia - it was like waking up from a bad dream and realising it was just that... a bad dream. The reality was different, the reality was good. We were going to have this scan, see our baby for the first time, have a picture printed out and go home relieved. I felt dizzy with excitement on the bus ride to the hospital. I naturally wasn't showing yet, but I decided to wear my 'Baby on board' badge with pride on my summer coat. The morning was clear, fresh, and full of possibilities - or so I thought.
Once in the scan room, the midwife and I chatted politely for a few moments, while I was getting ready to have my examination. A few minutes after laying on the scanning bed, the nightmarish feelings of the previous days suddenly came rushing back. The midwife wasn't talking anymore, she just sat still and frowned, while looking at a screen that I couldn't see. What was going on? Where was my baby? Then, the words that not even time will ever erase from my memory: "The baby is where it should be... But I'm afraid I can't find the heartbeat."
I thought I was going to faint. Instead, my eyes filled with tears and my throat opened to let out a cry. I tried to sit up but I was shaking and it felt like shifting a giant weight - I couldn't. I felt Daniel's arms supporting me, while the midwife called a doctor to confirm what she had seen. I don't remember anything else, apart from the genuinely apologetic face of the doctor telling me that she was very sorry but the findings were correct. My baby had died. The only thing I managed to ask was: "When? When did this happen?" They said that, judging by the baby's measurements, it probably happened about two or three days earlier. 'Saturday.' I said to myself. 'When I had the most horrible panic attack and kept telling myself I couldn't do this, that I couldn't be a mum.' Another giant wave of pain drowned me, and the tears simply couldn't stop.
Suddenly, it occurred to me that if my baby was dead but still inside me, I would somehow need to... birth them? Expel them? I was at a loss for words. Everything felt so cold and clinical. In a haze, I agreed to undergo a minor operation under local anaesthetic, in which they would 'remove' Sofia from my womb in a matter of minutes. They had a slot for the following morning, and I took it. I wanted this to get done as quickly as possible - I genuinely couldn't stand the thought of a dead baby-to-be inside me.
We managed to order a cab and get back home quickly. I don't remember walking out of the hospital, or walking up the stairs of our new flat - the two-bedroom flat that we had moved into only months before, in the hope of starting a family. I just remember taking off all my clothes and slipping under the duvet, in the dark. It was all over, and I felt like a piece of my flesh had been ripped off me and thrown away. How could I suddenly have grown so attached to this tiny being? How could I feel so much pain? How could I say goodbye to this speckle of life that had sprouted inside me and had silently been taken away? How could I explain this pain, this grief, this rage to other people, when it was so new and alien and terrifying to myself?
The morning of the 9th I was admitted to the Whittington Hospital as an outpatient. Walking through the EPU and seeing women with babies, bumps and smiles hurt like hell, but I was thankfully allowed to stay in a quiet, private room where I spent a few hours with Daniel. I was given drugs to prepare my body to say goodbye to the baby that never was. Daniel sat next to me the entire time, playing music from my iPhone and reading excerpts from Bruce Springsteen's autobiography out loud - to make me laugh and forget about what was to come. The pain, the tears, and all our shattered dreams.
As anticipated, the procedure was very quick but also very painful. I squeezed Daniel's hand so hard, as if that primal gesture could make the physical pain go away - it didn't, but it reminded me that I wasn't alone, and that I would be fine. One day, I would be fine. It took me nearly six months to be fine enough, for the panic attacks to slowly fade and for my broody feelings to reappear, stronger and more real than ever before. I wanted to move on, I wanted a baby, and I wanted a normal, healthy and happy pregnancy. Surely, I deserved it? One thing I knew for certain: if I were to have a girl, I wouldn't call her Sofia. That name was already taken - it was the name of my first child.