R was anxious this morning, told me he was feeling shaky and scared. I could feel the baby moving as we ate breakfast, and tried to reassure him.
I arrived a few minutes late to the fetal assessment room. The nurse was one I hadn’t met. I climbed slowly and gingerly onto the bed, nursing the rib I broke on the weekend (another story), wincing at the pain, but not feeling overly anxious about the test.
The nurse started to move the monitor around my belly, trying to find the baby’s heartbeat. Nothing. She tried some more. Still nothing. I thought about how I hadn’t felt the baby move on the way to the hospital or, really, since breakfast. She tried some more. Still nothing.
I panicked. My chest constricted. I began to breathe more quickly. ‘You can’t find his heartbeat?’ I asked the nurse, my voice high and scared. ‘You can’t find it?’
‘No, no, no. I can’t do this again. I can’t do this again.’ I was sobbing and breathing hard and didn’t want anyone to touch me or look at me. Another nurse came into the room. They called for an ultrasound machine. I felt like throwing up. The second nurse told me I had to ‘think good thoughts’ and I wanted to push her away from me. Good thoughts don’t keep babies alive, I wanted to scream. And if the baby is already dead, then good thoughts sure as hell aren’t going to bring him back to life.
I waited for the ultrasound. I couldn’t look at anyone. I couldn’t control my breath; I sobbed and heaved and wondered how I would ever tell E that her Baby Brudder was dead, too. It didn’t matter that I had felt him move only an hour and a half earlier. ‘He’s just hiding,’ the nurses tried again to reassure me, but that’s what they said with A, too, and she wasn’t hiding.
The ultrasound machine was wheeled in and the woman who brought it was as unable to look at me as I was to look at her. I remembered everything about being in assessment at L&D when the doctor looked for A’s heartbeat and confirmed what I already knew, that she was gone.
‘There he is. His head’s over here. He’s lying cross-wise. There’s his heart. There it is: look. He’s ok.’
But, I couldn’t look. And I couldn’t talk. Could only cry and cry and cry.
‘There we told you,’ said the second nurse. And then, clucking, looked at my chart and added, ‘You still have a long time. Two months. That’s lots of time. You can’t keep doing this to yourself.’
I keep replaying these words over and marvelling at the insensitivity of them. Keep doing what to myself? Why would a person in my position, with my experience, not be expected to react the way I did to minute after long long minute of no heartbeat on a monitor? I am holding myself together so well on a daily basis and I cannot consider my reaction today to be either irrational or inappropriate. It made her uncomfortable and that was what she had a problem with: too fucking bad, lady. ‘You need to think positive,’ she said. Why couldn’t she see that my reaction today was testament to how positively I have been thinking despite my terrible fears? If I was not thinking positively, to some degree, then what happened today would not have been as shocking and distressing as it was.
I cried through the whole test, even as this little boy started to kick and roll and assert himself, the fact of his living, his life. The first nurse, who was kind and sincere, murmured at one point, ‘I wonder what you’re thinking?’ And I wished I could tell her, because I think she really wanted to know, to understand.
But I couldn’t talk. Everything had gone out of me except the tears.