There were four of us, four hearts beating. One in Daddy, one in Elle, and two in Mommy. Our newest little heart, Marley, was not planned. She was a complete surprise. She knocked us right on our asses. We weren’t actually told for sure that she was a she, but I’m going with she because that’s what we felt. And Marley, if you were going to surprise us otherwise, you were just as loved, and would still be Marley. We didn’t know how we were going to make it work, but we knew we were going to, and we knew we were already in love. I had many moments of guilt when I worried she could already feel it in my womb, feel the fear and uncertainty over the love. I would sit with my eyes closed and send her all the love in my heart, tell her she was precious and special and that no matter what happened we would all be okay, the four of us.
I had been to one appointment already when she was just a tiny little peanut, but even then I could see her heart, I could see it beating. What an amazing picture that is, and what truth it tells. What represents life better than a beating heart. We talk about our hearts in profound ways, not just our physical hearts, but the hearts that really feel life, love, sadness, joy, betrayal, loss, peace and so much more. Now my body had the ultimate task of nurturing and protecting and growing another beating heart.
At my twelve week checkup I was elated. I sat waiting for the midwife, and all I felt was smooth sailing. We’d made it uneventfully (minus the extreme nausea and exhaustion) to that golden twelve week mark and came out on the right side. As I waited I thought of all the adorable ways we could announce to the world that Elle was going to be a big sister. My midwife came in and we talked about my just showing belly and the VBAC I was determined to have. After our chat it was time to take a listen to her heart. I was ready to record it so hubby could hear when he got home….only she couldn’t find it. No panic yet, she said, my uterus was tilted and she probably couldn’t get the right spot, she would get the ultrasound machine and take a quick look. So I sat and waited and like she had said, tried not to panic yet. She came back with the ultrasound and flipped it on. There was that picture we’re so used to seeing, the beautiful black and white that brings so many smiles and tears. After some searching and poking and swishing around, there she was. I could see her, looking more like a baby than the last time I saw her. She had grown, she was there, but the first thing I noticed before the midwife even said it was that I couldn’t see her heart beating. Then she just said it. “I don’t see a heartbeat, Erin.” All of the sudden that picture looked so scary. I wanted her out of there, not because I didn’t want her, but because it looked so cold and dangerous and lonely in there. And I was her mother, and wasn’t I supposed to make it better? Wasn’t my body supposed to protect her? Wasn’t it supposed to be the safest place she could ever be? I knew in my head what I would be told, what all mothers who go through this are told, that it wasn’t my fault, that I didn’t do anything wrong. But my heart felt like my body had failed her. MY body, no one else’s. She was completely reliant on me. My heart was still beating, but hers was not.
I was shuffled through rooms, another ultrasound, another confirmation. Through my fog, the busy office hummed with life and happy activity around me. Back into another room with my midwife. She told me about what to expect physically, again that it was not my fault. She knew I would be okay physically, but what she was most concerned about was my heart. But my heart was still beating, and hers was not. Was there anyone I needed to call? Could I drive myself home? Could I come back tomorrow to see the doctor? I vaguely remember answering all of these questions before being let out the back door. It was meant to make me feel more comfortable, so I didn’t have to walk out through the waiting room with all the big, bouncing bellies. It felt like slinking away with my tail between my legs. There I crept, the one that failed, the one who wasn’t a whole woman. There is great heartache and sadness that comes with the loss of a child in womb, no matter what stage of life, because with the loss of this new person who you have already loved and accepted, there is a loss of trust and faith in your own body to do what it was so beautifully designed to do.
Then I had the task of saying the words out loud. How would I tell my husband? We lost the baby… But that wasn’t true. She wasn’t lost. I knew exactly where she was. I had just seen her. She was still there. The baby died…. It was so cold and hard. It didn’t sound real. What I felt the most was that the baby’s heart stopped beating. So that is what I said.
I am blessed with the most loving, gentle and supportive man God could have ever given me. And with his strength and love I made it through the first few days. The emotions came in great tidal waves, powerful and overwhelming. I could cry when I needed to cry, be silent when I needed to be silent, talk when I needed to talk, and be held when I needed to be held. He told me to write. Write if I couldn’t find the words that I needed to say to him, write because he knew there were words that were too hard to say, write because writing is my therapy. And with our love and strength we will make it through the next few days, and the next, and the next. My heart will start to feel what I know in my head. That my body WAS protecting our baby, protecting her from something that wasn’t right, something that God and my body knew that I didn’t. It allowed her to be free of whatever that something was. I will love and trust the body that I was given, because how can you walk around all day in something that you do not love? How can you love your neighbor as yourself, when you do not love yourself? It will begin a healing process. Two definitions from the Miriam-Webster dictionary of the word heal are: to make sound or whole again, or to cause something undesirable to be overcome. I choose the second definition, because the first one assumes that there was a time when you were not whole. The second definition challenges you to overcome that feeling of less than wholeness and embrace the truth that even in loss your body has done amazing things.
I debated publishing this post because only a very few people knew what had happened, and because I generally just like writing something that will make people feel uplifted and hopeful. But then I thought about all the families in this situation who have lost a child so early. As our doctor just said, 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage before the 12th week. It’s a statistic that doesn’t make anything or anyone feel any better, and causes people to feel that they should keep the loss and grief to themselves. For healing to take place, there has to be an acceptance that there is a wound, whether it be mental, physical, emotional or spiritual. There are lots of wounds out there waiting to be recognized and cared for by someone as gently and lovingly as I know mine will be. Hopefully, a hurting mama will read this and know that her wound is worth recognizing and making known so that a hurting mama can turn into a healing mama.