Monday 24 October 2016

Very soon after we heard our baby's heartbeat, it stopped beating for good. And I had no idea

Writer Isabel Hayes was delighted to share news of her pregnancy with family and friends, unaware that she had alread lost the baby

Published 16/10/2015 | 02:30

Isabel Hayes thinks of the baby, and future, she lost every day. Photo: El Keegan
Isabel Hayes thinks of the baby, and future, she lost every day. Photo: El Keegan

Last June, my husband and I sat in an ultrasound clinic in Dublin and listened to the most amazing sound in the world - our unborn baby's heartbeat thrumming through the room.

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It was only six weeks and three days old, but our little foetus had a strong and healthy heartbeat of 125 beats a minute. The sonographer smiled. "Your chances of having a miscarriage are very low once you hear a heartbeat," she told us, and we breathed sighs of relief.

Up to one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage - good odds that suddenly seem stacked against you when you find out you're expecting and start to imagine every little twinge is an impending catastrophe. This was my second pregnancy, but I still booked an early scan to give us peace of mind. To hear that the chance of miscarriage was significantly lowered was a weight off our shoulders. We felt we could begin to look forward to having a baby in early February - a little brother or sister for our one-year-old son.

The sonographer meant well, but I wish she hadn't told us that. Very soon after we heard our baby's heartbeat, it stopped beating for good. And I had no idea.

It's called a missed miscarriage. Your baby dies, but for some reason your body isn't aware of it and there are no signs or symptoms. Over the next three weeks, I still felt pregnant. My first pregnancy was pretty easy, so when I didn't become nauseous I just assumed I was breezing through it. I put on weight and my stomach started to protrude. My skin broke out in pregnancy acne.

I'd already told my family, but now I shared the news with friends. We got more and more excited as the weeks ticked by, looking at double buggies and researching how to parent two children under two.

When I had a tiny amount of bleeding at nine weeks, I willed myself not to panic. There was no telltale cramping to signal a miscarriage and I felt fine. I rang a hospital midwife who advised me to come in, but I told my husband to stay at home with our son. I was sure everything was fine.

I'll never forget the ultrasound in Holles Street that day and the unbearably long silence as the sonographer stared at the screen. "Is everything OK?" I finally blurted out, fear creeping in. It wasn't. Our baby had never grown past the six week stage. There was no heartbeat.

I'll never forget the midwife who wrapped me tightly in her arms as I clung to her and sobbed. She was aghast that I had come in on my own.

I'll never forget phoning my husband and hearing our son babbling in the background as I told him our other baby hadn't made it. Watching his face crumple with grief later that day was perhaps the hardest thing of all. Like me, he had been sure everything was OK.

I felt grief-stricken and bereft, but I also felt cheated and stupid. How could my body have tricked me in this way? How could I not have known something was wrong? Why had I put so much faith in one early ultrasound?

In the midst of our anguish, we had to decide what to do next. I could wait for the baby to spontaneously miscarry, but that could take weeks and wasn't recommended. So I had the choice of taking pills and miscarrying at home or having a D&C under general anaesthetic.

I was paralysed with indecision and ended up going to my GP the next day to go over the options again. I hated the thought of miscarrying over several days at home and eventually decided to have a D&C, but it was five days before the hospital could fit me in.

During those five long days, I was in a frozen state of limbo. I looked and felt pregnant, but I wasn't. Not anymore. I woke up every morning thinking everything was fine, before remembering it wasn't. I would drink wine every evening, feel guilty, and have to remind myself that my baby was far beyond harm's reach.

On the day I should have been 10 weeks pregnant, I had a D&C - or more specifically an ERPC (Evacuation of Retained Products of Conception). Such a horrible term. I woke up in the recovery room beside an excited woman who had just given birth to a baby boy and I cried and cried.

The next few weeks were hard for us both. I cried a lot. We drank a lot of wine. But we're lucky - we have our gorgeous little boy to keep us busy, and amazing family and friends.

It's been a few months now and those closest to me still ask how I'm getting on, but for the most part the world believes I should be fine. That's OK, because most of the time I am. But it's easy to see why miscarriage is known as the hidden grief. No one really knows how much love and hope and excitement we invested in that tiny little being. To most people, it was an abstract idea. To us, it was a whole new future.

I still feel a pang when I see the double buggy we were looking at, or the bigger car we were going to buy to fit our family of four.

I still dissolve into tears sometimes for no particular reason.

I never knew there was an International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day until this year.

I probably won't do anything in particular to mark it, but at some point during the day I'll be thinking of our baby who didn't make it. Just like any other day, really.

Irish Independent

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