“But I can’t find the heartbeat.” Her voice was soft.
* * *
I’d been sitting in the waiting area, reaching the end of my patience and considering leaving and coming back another day. Michael was probably whining up a storm in the park next door by now. But it was too much trouble to make another appointment and besides, I was already at week 11, I couldn’t really delay any longer. I would just do a quick ultrasound, get the photos, leave the blood tests to another day.
Dr Choo apologised for the wait and within seconds I was up on her little bench, pants down and my phone in my hand.
“There’s the gestational sac…”
I was a little distracted fiddling with the buttons, trying to get the video function going, and in the background I could see the swirling, murky images as her wand danced across my belly. In the periphery of my mind, or my gut, I sensed it, like a nightmare suddenly crystallizing around the edges and becoming real.
Eight seconds of silence.
“Can’t see anything?” I half joked.
“I can see something…” Dr Choo replied cautiously, and zoomed in on the image. Something white, bean shaped, and then a little head came into focus. I started to smile with relief.
“But I can’t find the heartbeat.”
Two seconds of devastating silence.
“You can’t find the heartbeat??” My voice was rising into some kind of hysteria.
Dr Choo sighed, and it was her sadness that sealed it. There was no doubt, no room for negotiation.
“It could have stopped about a week or two ago. I’m so sorry.”
* * *
I catapulted myself into the empty room next door, where I was left alone to sob, to scream “Our baby is dead!” into the phone. There seemed to be no other way to make myself understood. Dead. You understand dead.
* * *
I waited three days to get cleaned out. And in those three days, there were moments of perfect normalcy and moments of perfect grief.
There are different ways of looking at this. For me, there has been only one way. She was my baby. My baby, from the time she’d been two little cells and then four and then twenty and grew a small head with eyes and ears and sprouted two arms and legs with tiny fingers and toes.
The second pregnancy, one moves into motherhood instantly. Another one, to take into the fold and to embrace. I’d been down this road before, and I was already at the destination, waiting. There was no “embryo”, no “foetus”, no emotional defence that could have been erected. She existed, and she was mine. My baby.
It didn’t matter that she was the size of a grape. It hurt me, that she was the size of a grape. That she was so small. That she would dissipate into nothing, in the blink of an eye, through a straw.
* * *
I cried for never being able to hold her. I cried for her never getting to know me, to see my face, to hear my voice. I cried for the loneliness of it. The two of us, closer than any two humans could be, and yet I couldn’t reach her. It was a terrible, silent gulf that I couldn’t cross.
* * *
The day before the procedure, I bought flowers. I walked into the supermarket and I bought everything pretty. I told Michael that these were for his baby sister (or maybe brother), and he cooed over them dutifully. I was happy, I felt productive.
That night, I let everybody else take care of dinner, and I trimmed and arranged the flowers in water with grim determination. I’m making something pretty for you. You will not just go, this way. This is the only thing I will ever buy you, and I hope you like them. I think I like them. When I was finished with them, I sat them on my side table.
That was the funeral.
And it was beautiful enough. I cried. I cried and cried.
I’d kind of hoped that I’d get a final ultrasound, just before the procedure. I had no souvenir of her, nothing to remember her by, except a one second memory of her little head. It was important for her to know that I saw her.
But there was no time for sentimentality. The pills I took to “soften the cervix” three hours before the procedure had apparently caused me to finally miscarry. I was bleeding chunks, barely making it into the hospital toilet in time, blood dripping down my legs, and I sobbed as I examined everything that came out of me. Terrified that I would see her, and hoping that I would.
* * *
“Why are you crying?” The nurse asked.
My eyes were closed, coming out of the sedation.
“I’m sad,” I replied. “I’m not in pain.”
“Don’t cry, you’ll get a headache.”
Tissue at my eyelids, a hand wiping my tears away.
I cried a little bit more, not really sure what was going on. But this was better. There was nothing left now for me to dread. It was all over.
* * *
Baby, I know you’re growing up in heaven with all the other kids. I’m sure it’s lots of fun, and you’re doing well, and you are perfectly happy. I’m the only maman you will ever have, and I’m sorry that I can’t be by your side for now. It is so hard for me. That is the hardest thing for a mother – to be separated from her child, and not being able to do a thing about it. But it brings me peace knowing that you are fine. One day I will get to hold you. In the meantime, I know you are watching all of us – you are laughing at your silly, wonderful brother. You are getting to know me, and your papa. One day, we will be reunited and we will finally be able to look into each other’s eyes, and laugh together. I do wonder about your laugh, how it sounds like.
I will see you later. I love you, and always will.