My Baby’s Heartbeat

I remember the night my mother miscarried. All she’d ever wanted was a son; instead she had me. I was seven years old, an only child already half deprived of affection because both my parents were emotionally unavailable, and insanely jealous when they told me I would have a baby brother or sister in about seven months. I found myself wishing the baby would go away. And then it did, and I hated myself for killing my sibling, even if only in thought. My mother wept and wailed like I had never heard.

“My baby!” she cried while my father tried in vain to comfort her. “I’ve lost my baby!”

“But I’m your baby, Momma,” I called out. “I’m right here.”

She couldn’t hear me though, couldn’t even bear to look at me. I was alive, and the baby she was convinced was her son, was dead. She was never the same towards me after that.

I mourned my little brother Luke and carried him in my heart all my life. As far as I was concerned, I did have a brother; he was just never born. Yet I could never fully grasp the depth of her pain which, added to her depression, caused her to resent me and broke our relationship for all time. I never forgave her for failing to love me. That is, until now.

A week ago I found myself going through all the symptoms, without the exception of morning sickness. I was forgetting things, feeling exhausted even though my son is now sleeping through the night, and I ate two entire bags of cookies by myself without a second thought. I have two beautiful babies already—a four-year-old daughter and twenty-month-old son—so I know what it is to be pregnant. I bought a test and there it was, the two lines confirming my pregnancy. I was thrilled. I kept it to myself all weekend, because I wanted to be able to tell my husband exactly how far along I was before dropping the bomb on him. He didn’t want a third child, and this wasn’t planned. I’ve been on birth control all along, so either I missed or the pill failed, but either way, we had a third child on the way. I knew the initial reception of the news might not be so welcoming, yet I didn’t entirely care. I knew he’d love this baby as much as the first two and be fine once he got over the shock, and while I was terribly anxious at the thought of having another so soon, I knew I’d make it work and we’d continue to be a happy family.

Tuesday morning came and I went for my ultrasound, leaving the children at home with their father. I had been due to get a checkup ultrasound anyway for my fibroids, so I didn’t even have to worry about explaining it just yet. I was elated and feeling wonderful. And then I noticed the ultrasound technician’s expression, and my heart sank.

“Are you detecting a heartbeat?” I asked nervously.

She nodded, refusing to meet my eye. “Yes, a strong one. But…it looks like an ectopic pregnancy. I’m so sorry.”

I felt like someone had struck me in the face. The tears flowed and I just lay there waiting for the doctor, begging God to let the tech be mistaken. This couldn’t possibly be true. But it was. And the pain in my heart was unbearable.

My baby was exactly six weeks and three days along, and snugly lodged inside my left fallopian tube. The doctor, a kindly older gentleman, told me gently that my tube was on the verge of rupture, and I required immediate surgery to terminate the pregnancy. I pleaded for ways to save the baby, but this is only 21st century Earth, not some wonderful science fiction novel, and no technology exists that can save a baby in an ectopic pregnancy or transplant it into the uterus. The simple truth of the matter was, if I tried to continue carrying the child, the baby was doomed to die. And so was I. They could save me, however. And yet all I wanted in that moment was to die with my unborn child.

The baby was only one inch in size, yet at that age, she (I’m convinced it was a girl) was already developing a face, eyes, and tiny feet and hands. And she had a heartbeat; she was alive. How could I let them kill my child? I asked the tech to let me see my baby. There she was on the screen, perfect, heart beating…and not located in my uterus. Even in my traumatized state of misery, I understood with a terrible certainty that she would not survive much longer.

I was rushed to the emergency room at the hospital where, upon determining that I was both stable and, to the astonishment of the medical staff, in no real pain (highly unusual so late into an ectopic pregnancy), I was left to wait close to fifteen hours for surgery. I insisted my husband stay home with the children because I didn’t want my little ones to see me this way. I can only imagine how he must have felt. I begged him not to tell anyone; I would tell my best friend and one or two others, but I knew I’d receive nothing but platitudes and sympathy and, from some, judgment, and I couldn’t bear the thought of any of it. Thus, our families have no idea this happened and likely never will, nor do most of our friends. I refused the offer of a counselor, and turned away most of the nurses when they tried to offer comfort. “Look at the bigger picture,” “You’re so blessed, you have a boy and a girl already,” “You can always have another child,” “It wasn’t meant to be,” “God has a plan,” etc., were all thrown at me with good intentions. And not one word of it made anything easier. In fact, it made it worse.

Alone in a darkened room on a very uncomfortable bed with an IV in my arm, unable to eat or even drink water in preparation for my surgery, I wept as I have never done. The thought of my baby—my third child, who I named Kassandra—dying that very night filled me with the most intense pain and grief of my entire life. I hated my body for betraying me, and I could not understand why this was happening. I still don’t understand. Kassandra was just a tiny, innocent baby, who would never cry, laugh, crawl, walk or see the sun. I would never see her beautiful face, never kiss her tiny fingers and toes, never hold or rock her, never nurse her, never see her grow. My husband would never know our second daughter, and my babies would never know their sister. Our families would never meet her. She wasn’t even going to be truly born; her life was simply going to be severed from within the shelter of my body and snuffed out like a candle. The tiny spark of life within me would be extinguished, and a major part of me was dying with her.

Somewhere along the line, I felt as though I was communicating with Kassandra on a level beyond ordinary understanding, and she bade me to forgive my own mother. I did. For the first time in my life, I knew my mother’s pain and I can never be angry with her again. However, I also vowed to myself, Kassandra, and God that I will not turn away from my living children as she did from me; my lesson from her is to cherish my babies, and hold them close, no matter how much I ache for Kassandra.

When the time finally came to go to surgery, I wept even harder and sang broken lullabies to her in my mind, whispering over and over, “Goodbye my baby, I’m so sorry.” The anesthesiologist, a gentle Asian man, tried very hard to comfort me, not with empty platitudes, but with great kindness. I don’t even remember what he said exactly; I just recall what a dear and compassionate soul he was. The OB-GYN surgeon was also very kind, and held my hand while I was put under, assuring me she wouldn’t take my other fallopian tube unless it was severely damaged, so that I might have a chance for another child later. Even as the anesthetic took effect I sang “Sleep My Angel” in my mind and bid the Archangels Gabriel and Raphael to be with Kassandra and keep her shining little soul safe. Dimly, I heard one of the nurses remark that my eyes were so swollen from crying, and then the darkness of oblivion came and I knew nothing.

I woke up some time later feeling sore, groggy and empty. I’m told that some women still “feel pregnant” after losing a baby, but I knew without a doubt I wasn’t. Kassandra was gone.

The last few days I have been completely bereft. Were it not for my children and especially my son who, thankfully, is still nursing (a great comfort to me), I don’t know if I would even have the will to get out of bed. The hospital could not even give us Kassandra’s remains to bury, nor issue a death certificate; she was too young. It’s almost as if she never existed. And yet she did.

My husband has taken it far better than me. I am his primary concern and he does everything he can to be supportive and distract me from my agony. I suppose to a man it’s not entirely “real” until they get to feel a baby’s kicks through the mother’s belly, and certainly I was weeks away from that. But for me, the moment I knew I was pregnant, the reality of having a third child set in.

When you lose a child, a part of you dies forever, regardless of their age. I have lost one of the better parts of my soul and I feel half dead inside. Only my living children give me any reason to smile. The pregnancy and post-partum hormones are still raging inside me, and I am in physical pain from the surgery. Yet these are not the worst parts. It is knowing my third child is dead that kills me.

I’m telling my story partly out of a desperate need for self-therapy, and a need to make Kassandra’s existence known in some small way; I’m also doing it because I am one of thousands if not millions of mothers throughout time who have lost a baby via ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth, even abortion—and who is being told just days after my baby’s death to “move on,” “stop being selfish” and “be grateful for what you have.” Moving on is currently impossible; gratitude for my family is a given. If grieving over my child makes me selfish, then I am guilty as charged. But it is clear to me that only those who have suffered such a terrible loss can comprehend the depths of torture I am going through.

I believe it is important to make others aware that babies—regardless of their age—are human beings and God’s true gifts. Kassandra was a gift, taken away from me before I could even see her face. Did she come only to teach me how to forgive my own mother? Was she a tiny soul too pure for this world, and so returned to the angels? Was there something wrong with her physically which meant she wouldn’t live even had she been born, and therefore returned to heaven early? I may never know. All I know is that she was my third baby, and I loved her. I love her still. And I refuse to forget her.

Infant Loss Remembrance Day is October 15th, and every year, mothers all over North America gather for walks and events to commemorate their beloved babies. This year, I will be at one of these events, to honour Kassandra, and my unborn brother Luke. I would give anything to turn back the clock and undo their deaths, but I can’t. All I can do is hold them in my heart and remember them. That’s all any of us can do. We may move on, but not without the memory of our babies. Never without them.

“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.” – 
Kahlil Gibran

Samantha Larson

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