When a heartbeat isn’t there

The last three weeks have felt like a blur. First there was my whirlwind trip to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, which was fantastic. (You can read some of my posts about palm oil production on TreeHugger to find out more about what I was doing there.)

A early morning view of the mountains that surround San Pedro Sula
A early morning view of the mountains that surround San Pedro Sula

Jason, being the amazing man he is, took the week off work to stay with the boys. His comment over Skype, two days into my trip, was, “If anyone ever suggests that stay-at-home parents have it easy… whack, right in the face!” He later said, “If you’d been gone more than a week, something would have had to go – like bathing.”

Ha! It’s good to feel appreciated. Despite the challenges, he certainly thrived on full-time kid duty and the boys had a blast. If only there were a way to split child-raising and career work 50/50… but unfortunately writing doesn’t pay as well as engineering, so right now it makes more financial sense for me to be the one at home.

Then something very sad happened.

I was supposed to hear my new baby’s heartbeat – yes, I was 15 weeks pregnant with #3 – but it wasn’t there. The midwife immediately sent me to the ultrasound clinic, where I saw something I’ll never forget. A tiny fetus curled up at the bottom of my uterus, little limbs clenched close to its miniature body. All around, the placenta and amniotic fluid swooshed and moved on the screen, but the tiny body never moved. It stayed perfectly still, almost frozen.

“I can’t find a fetal heartbeat,” the technician told me when I finally mustered the courage to ask what he saw.

That was the beginning of the past two weeks, which have been really rough. An obstetrician prescribed medication to kickstart the miscarriage, which, for inexplicable reasons, hadn’t initiated itself. After the physical pain came the barrage of emotional pain – the disappointment, the sadness, the frustration, and the difficult conversations with the many people who knew by then that we were expecting a baby in September.


Ironically, the hardest thing about this miscarriage has turned into the best thing. At first, I felt sick and miserable talking about it with people – dear friends who congratulated me, well-meaning people who had seen my growing belly and touched it with excitement, only to be corrected and told that there was no baby anymore.

I’d hold it together pretty well while we talked, shrugging off my loss and repeating those empty-sounding phrases like, “It’s life. It will pass, I know,” but as soon as I got home, I couldn’t hold back tears. My little boys got so used to seeing me cry that they’d immediately run over with tissues and reassurances. My two-year-old kept repeating, “There’s nothing to be afraid of, Mommy,” and “Are you nice?” which, in toddler language, translates as “Are you okay?”

But then those awkward conversations became blessings in disguise. More and more women told me that they, too, lost pregnancies at all different stages of development – some much earlier, some much later than me. The obstetrician told me that 31% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, and I believe it now. Those sad discoveries were comforting because I didn’t feel so alone. The fact that I was forced to talk publicly about my miscarriage everywhere I went (it’s a small town!) ironically provided greater support and comfort than I would have found in privacy.

I went back to CrossFit this week for the first time in nearly a month. I felt so lonely while doing the workout because for the past three months I’ve been faintly aware of a little presence inside, doing all those clean-and-jerks and pull-ups along with me. Now it’s just me again, and that’s still hard to grasp.

you might also like:
The Human Organ in my Freezer
Helping to birth a baby (not my typical Monday morning)


11 thoughts on “When a heartbeat isn’t there

  1. Very sorry to hear of this loss. I don’t really even know you yet tears were running down my cheek for you as I read your blog. Kathy

  2. So very sad. Sorry for you loss. Thank you for writing courageously. You are not alone. virtual hugs.

  3. I’m sorry to hear this Katherine, but as you can see, you are not alone and we come through this and get stronger. I’ve been there myself. I had a miscarriage before Hugh and then I came very, very close to losing Emma in both my 3rd and my 7th month of pregnancy. I was actually at Arowhon Pines when I started bleeding and phoned my doctor from there and the first thing she said to me was “this isn’t your fault, don’t ever think that” which was a comfort, because it’s always in the back of your mind. It’s wonderful that you have your little boys to care for you.

  4. I empathize with you. I also lost one, actually it was my first. It was hard to take, but at that time they checked the fetus and it was a chromezone that would have let my baby not survive. Take care of yourself . Love aunt B

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