I’m sorry. I can’t find a heartbeat.

Way back when, back when my life was so different, when my husband and I used to get up and go to work, spend eight to ten hours at the office before coming home and going to work out, then coming back home and eating a leisurely dinner, then watching movie or reading a book, or any number of other things to chill out and relax, back when I worked in an office in a corporate job, one of our administrative assistants announced her pregnancy. She was so happy. She’d taken a pee-stick test that morning, and she’d gotten two lines. She was glowing, gushing, already picking names and shopping for baby clothes. I was happy for her, but didn’t think much of it. A few weeks later, when she went in for her first prenatal appointment and discovered her baby had no heartbeat, I remember the mascara-smeared tears sliding down her pale face as she sat at her desk. I remember how withdrawn she was, how lifeless. I remember feeling sad for her, and I have to think I told her I was sorry, but I don’t remember that. I only remember thinking she’d get pregnant again and have another baby. And she did, a beautiful little girl who is now a student at the Coast Guard Academy.

Miscarriage, to me, was just one of those things that happened, kinda like a false start in a swim meet. Growing up I had an aunt who had repeated miscarriages between her two live births. We were always sad, but it wasn’t talked about much and my parents always said she could try again. Then, much later, one of my besties from forever was giddy happy to be pregnant, then she miscarried, too. I remember being on the phone with her and listening to her cry, listening to her agony and devastation, and again, I’m pretty sure I told her I was sorry, but I didn’t get it. I really, really didn’t get what she was going through. Not until it happened to me.

Pregnancy didn’t come easy to me. In fact, we were downright reproductively challenged. It took us ten years and a whole lot of intervention to conceive. After five or so years we consoled ourselves with a trip to Hawaii.   Then another, and another. Before you knew it we’d become regulars. Then it happened. We did our first IVF cycle and we conceived. It was perfect, it was beautiful. Terrific HCG numbers. Strong heartbeat. Everything…perfect.

But I was scared. No one really understood why, because everything looked so good, but I was really scared that finally, finally our dreams were about to come true—what if something happened?  But we cruised past twelve weeks. First trimester in the bag. All those screening tests aced. Thirteen weeks. Fourteen weeks. Fifteen weeks. A girl. We were having a girl, and she was perfect. Sixteen weeks. I started to show. We went furniture shopping. Seventeen weeks. Everyone was so happy. We started thinking names. Eighteen weeks. We were almost half way there. Nineteen weeks.

Then it happened. I woke up one morning and noticed a bit of dark blood. I wasn’t overly panicked, but called the doctor anyway, and they suggested I come in for a sono to just take a look. I did. My husband had a meeting, so I went alone, all decked out in my cute little early maternity outfit. I settled in on the sonogram table, all chatty with the technician, and we got started. And her face changed. I remember that so vividly. The chatting stopped. It was like everything stopped. The world…my life. The room got so quiet. She wasn’t saying anything, just running that little thingie over my belly, with the most serious expression on her face. And I knew. Before she said those words, “I’m sorry. I can’t find a heartbeat,” I knew. And in those moments, those quiet, still, frozen moments alone on that exam table, everything about me, and everything about my life, changed. More than my baby died; the girl I’d been died, too.

Some memories of the ensuing days are incredibly vivid, like going in for the D&C and having the nurse ask me, “do you know why you’re here?”  Yes. Yes! I knew why I was there, damn it. Other moments are a blur. My husband and sister were amazing. I remember that. My in-laws, who’d been waiting so patiently for so long were lovely, as well. Only later did I find out my mother-in-law had hung up the phone and cried her eyes out. My own parents…I don’t remember. I’m sure they were sad, but emotion is not my family’s thing, and I just don’t remember much about their reaction.

Other things stick out, most notably the kindness of people I barely knew, and relative, or at least seeming, indifference of people I’d considered close friends. People who behaved like I had before, when confronted with someone’s miscarriage. People who, despite how desperately I’d needed something else from them, I now realize just didn’t get it. Didn’t understand. Because they couldn’t. Sometimes you just don’t realize how hot the fire is, or bitterly cold the winter is, until you experience it yourself. I ended up calling my longtime bestie and apologizing to her, for not getting it, not understanding, not being the friend she needed during those dark days.

So much ensued. Another pregnancy, this one twins. Eighteen more weeks of relatively perfection, until another sonogram, also at nineteen weeks, but this time with a perinatologist rather than a technician, and the frozen look on his face as he lifted a hand to chin and told me that he was sorry, but Baby B had passed away. Baby A was fine, and she was born seventeen weeks later. Today she is nine, and the brightest light in my life.

More stuff. More pregnancies. Another miscarriage. An ectopic. A failed IVF. Another miscarriage. Then another pregnancy…and another frozen sonogram, this time at sixteen weeks. Except he wasn’t gone this time. We still had a heartbeat. But he was failing, and the well-meaning doctor, the same one who’d discovered Baby B was gone, advised us to prepare. And we did.

Today that baby is seven weeks shy of turning five, and if you follow me on Facebook, you know just how ALIVE he is. Come May, for his birthday, I’ll tell his story.

When I tell people my history, inevitably many of them tell me how sorry they are. Some cry…they’re usually the ones who have walked in similar shoes. Others mutter something polite or change the subject.

But you know, it’s strange. When I look back, I now see a journey. I see a path, a path that led through some dark, lonely, shattering times, but brought me to a place where the sun still shone. I can’t say I’m happy any of that happened…how could I?  But I can look back and see life at work, transformation, like a stream working against rock. So many lessons learned, so many changes. But I’m so grateful for them, too. I’m grateful for all the things that I know now, that I didn’t before. I’m grateful for the pain that I feel when I hear about another woman’s miscarriage, and I’m grateful that I now know to open my arms and close them around her, hold on tight. I’m grateful that I can, because the person I was before…couldn’t.

Looking back, the road we walked taught me about highs and lows and hopes and dreams, about faith and fear, that kind of soul deep fear that gnaws away at you, about grief and sorrow. But it also taught me about humanity and compassion, and even forgiveness, because I realize now that sometimes when people disappoint you or let you down, it’s not because they want to, but because they don’t know. They don’t realize what you need or know how to give it to you. I’ve learned to never let my discomfort stand in the way of reaching out to someone, and that even if you don’t know the exact right thing to say, fumbling through something is better than dead silence.

I’ve learned that you can’t always change the road you walk, only how you respond to that road. That life isn’t a punishment, but a journey. That we’re not islands, not meant to be, that you can’t do everything alone. That it’s okay to hurt and be weak, to need help. That strangers can be unbelievably kind, and that crying is good for the soul. That sometimes you need to be broken, so you can be put back together and readied for what comes next.

And love. I learned to love in a way I never loved before, never even imagined, so bone-deep, so all-encompassing that it absolutely terrifies, even as it fills all these nooks and crannies inside you that you never knew were empty.

I’m often reminded of a parable I once heard:

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling.

It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil, without saying a word.

In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl.

Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.

Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me what you see.”

“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied.

Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its richness and savored its aroma.

The daughter then asked, “What does it mean, mother?”

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity – boiling water. Each reacted differently.

The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

“Which are you?” she asked her daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?”

Before my miscarriages, I was the egg, tucked beneath a shell and kind of hard inside. During my miscarriages I was the carrot, so broken down and weakened. But I like to think that with time I’ve become more like the coffee bean, transformed by the boiling water, but neither hardened nor weakened, simply changed into something new and different and better than before, ready for what lay ahead. And for that, for the person I’ve become, or at least the person I now realize I want to be, the person I try to be—the wife, the mother, the friend—I finally have peace.

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41 thoughts on “I’m sorry. I can’t find a heartbeat.

    • Thanks, Maisey 🙂 They were some dark years, but I’ve come to know we all have dark times. What is a blessing for one person can be a trial for another. I remember during all those years of trying to have a baby watching my friends and relatives get pregnant at the drop of a hat…and gosh, did it hurt. But I also know those experiences transformed me, and I’m so grateful for that transformation.

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  1. My heart goes out to you and everyone who has suffered the challenges that come with infertility and conception. I was like you, and didn’t understand, until I was in the thick of it myself. In the winter of 2010, after having 3 successful pregnancies and giving birth to three healthy children, I went through the confusion and pain of an ectopic pregnancy. I’m not sure if I’m coffee yet, but I hope to be one day ❤

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    • Huge, warm, all-enveloping hugs to you, Annabelle. I’m so sorry for what you experienced. That kind of confusion and pain is like this great big dark cloud that lingers, even on the brightest of days. What pulled me through was the concept of life being a journey, and that something could be drawn from every experience. I used to struggle with the question “why do bad things happen to good people?”…and honestly, I still rage about that sometimes. But in my quieter moments, I’ve learned to immerse myself in the beauty of what is real in any given moment, the whole Power of Now thing. It was a life-changing book for me. If you haven’t read it, you might want to give it a try 🙂

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    • Yowza, Shana…thank you! Seriously. I wasn’t sure I made the point, or simply said, what I wanted to say. I felt I may have just rambled. For so long after my experiences I wanted to write a book, a collection of short stories written by women who had experienced infertility and miscarriage, women who had walked through the pain and the fire and come out on the other side, because there IS another side, and when I was hurting, stories of women who’d made it there were what pulled me through. I have friends who have gone on to have babies. I have friends who adopted. And I have friends who never had children, but who have gone on to embrace the beautiful life ahead of them. We all have paths to walk, and every path has beauty and meaning, even if sometimes we can’t see it. THAT is what I want everyone to know.

      Heck…maybe the Universe is still nudging me to write that book 🙂

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    • It’s a fear you never imagine, until you’re in those shoes. I’m so glad women seem more open to discussing these things now. The more we talk and understand, the less alone any of us feel.

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  2. Ellie, my friend, I’m in tears here.; I remember sharing those difficult times with you and now I wonder if I did and said the right things. If not, please forgive me. What a beautiful blog, proving once again what a wonderful person you are and what a great writer!. Hugs!

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    • Ahhh, Cathy. Trust me, you were there. You’ve been there for a long, long time, one of those bright lights that shine through even the darkest times. You’ve taught me a lot, and for that I will be forever grateful. Even if you are a Scorpio.

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  3. Glad to see some good feedback. Hate it when you pour your all into writing something and nothing comes back. Your blog today is powerful stuff. Forwarded to a couple friends who have had similar life experiences. Hugs to an old friend.

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    • Thanks, Jessie. Life is a strange road. There are no instruction manuals…and I think maybe that’s the point. I’ve come to look at virtually everything as a lesson. Sometimes a lot easier said than done, but the one thing that is becoming clearer and clearer to me is that we’re all in this together.

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  4. You have changed and grown a lot. Bet these days you wouldn’t force a kid to eat spinach, lol. I’ve changed, too. I’m an egg now. Safer that way.

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    • Oh, I don’t know about that, Di. I am still an Aries 🙂

      And…I’m pretty sure you’ve got some coffee in there somewhere. Don’t be afraid of that!!

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  5. I cry for you but I am happy that you are the coffee bean. I really don’t know what else to say, but I will say that I feel you are strong in the best way possible.

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    • Thank you. I’m definitely a work-in-progress, but then, I think we all are 🙂 That’s part of it, I think. Learn and grow, learn and grow.

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  6. This was SO beautiful, Ellie. Everything about it touched my heart so deeply. You are some kinda woman, as my dad would say. I’m happy, too, that you’re the coffee bean! What a great metaphor!!! XOXO

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    • Thanks, Kieran 🙂 I’ve always liked that analogy, too, and I think we probably vacillate between carrot, egg, and coffee at different times in our lives, and that’s okay. Sometimes we need that hard shell, and sometimes we need to be soft 🙂

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  7. So beautiful, Ellie, I really loved that parable. I’d like to think I’m the coffee, but I don’t know. I know the water (as it were) has definitely changed me. I’m simply not the same woman as I was before infertility and before the miscarriages.

    Emily had two miscarriages before I had one and I remember when I had my first thinking about whether or not I had been sympathetic enough, if I had shown her adequately how so very sorry I was for her loss. I feel like if I learned anything about walking through my own grief was to empathize with other people’s. I learned that there’s really nothing to say, but I’m sorry. Nothing. Nothing will ever make it better and people just say the stupidest things EVER when they should just keep their mouths shut. 🙂

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    • They do change you. They really do. I’m not the same person at all. But the good news is I’m comfortable with who I am, and I’m so glad I know now to reach out and “be there” for other women in similar situations. I didn’t know that before. And holy cow, when someone like Princess Kate announces her pregnancy virtually as soon as the pee stick changes, I find myself holding my breath. Those first 12 weeks are SO risky. With Jack, we didn’t even announce until 17 weeks or so, in an attempt to spare our family from anxiety and stress…but I’ll be darned if we didn’t marinate in anxiety and stress anyway.

      Hugs to you, Robyn. Big, warm hugs.

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  8. Bless you, Bless you, Bless you. My niece went through a similar experience to yours and we all cried with her. Today, she has a three-year-old little girl and is expecting another little girl any day now. My own doctor lost her baby in the same way and has yet to get pregnant again. I pray for her. Sometimes, we tend to forget how truly blessed we are when we have a normal, uneventful pregnancy resulting in a healthy baby. Although I was only able to have two children, I feel so thankful for them.

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  9. I haven’t been through all that you have but I have had the “there’s no heartbeat” conversation and it’s been the most emotionally brutal of my life! It is true that you can’t understand until you’ve been there and then you appreciate the situation in a way that you couldn’t have before!

    It was over a year after our miscarriage that I understood how true “that which does not kill you makes you stronger” really is! I felt dead inside for a long time but I knew I had to keep moving forward. I had to face the pain. I had to talk about it. I felt so ashamed for being too weak to hide the tears but I needed to admit to myself that it was okay to feel that way.

    In a way, I’m kind of glad that I’m not alone. Not to say that I’m glad others have had the same painful experiences, but there are others who truly understand. Sisters in solidarity!

    Bless your family! I’m so happy that while you’ve been through so much pain, you have two beautiful children to show for it ❤

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    • I can totally relate to the “dead inside” feeling. I felt that for so long. Cold. That’s what I remember, feeling so, so cold and alone, like I wanted to reach out and grab something, that I needed to, but I had no idea what. It can be such a helpless feeling.

      Please know that you’re NOT alone, and that the night is darkest just before the dawn. The sun does rise, one way or another.

      Big, warm hugs to you.

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  10. Pingback: Focus On: Collaborative Blogs | The Daily Post

  11. Thank you so much for sharing your story and the incredible vulnerability that comes with it – I started a series called ‘Taboo Topics’ on my blog to deal with issues that are prevalent that people rarely speak about [and so the idea that a lot of people are struggling quietly with these things by themselves] and so ‘Losing a Child’ was the first story that was covered and it was incredibly life-giving having some of my good friends share some heart-warming [and heart-breaking, mostly both at once] stories on the topic which i think is so incredibly powerful for others who may be reading and having gone through it. So thank you for being one of those people to share and really invite people into your story. [this is where the stories are and it has been exciting to see the network formed by the people who shared their stories with each other – http://brettfish.wordpress.com/2012/03/10/taboo-topics-losing-a-baby-intro%5D
    much love
    brett fish

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  12. It’s a quiet Saturday night here. Husband reading, toddler sleeping, and me sobbing over your blog. Thank you for helping me understand the people who don’t understand. To me that was the piece that didn’t fit. The piece that I’ve agonised over. Why didn’t they understand and why didn’t they help? Why did they look blankly at me? I understand now. Thank you for sharing your story. You’ve changed the course of my life. I feel like I can finally release the hurt and disappointment and pain.

    X Angelina.

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    • Hi, Angelina…your comments touched me in a way I can’t even begin to explain. Miscarriage changed me so profoundly. Through the heartbreak I found a compassion I never had before and began to see the world in an entirely different way. It became so clear to me who I wanted to be…and who I did not want to be. I can’t stand that so many women suffer silently. That society sweeps miscarriage away like it’s no more than spilled milk. That women who’ve lost a baby are expected to bounce back and be perky, to carry on as if nothing of consequence happened. If people don’t talk about it–if they aren’t allowed to talk about it–how can others know how deep the pain runs? And if no one knows, how can they be there for you? I think we need to start a conversation, and my hope is that that conversation leads to greater recognition, deeper compassion, and more support.

      Hugs to you, Angelina…I wish you peace, happiness, and dreams that come true.

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  13. Wow Ellie, reading your post I had chills and had to hold back the tears as I am at work! You summed up so much of what I feel!
    I had an ectopic pregnancy at Christmas time (surgery on Christmas Eve!) and I’m coming up to what would have been the due date next month and its really hard! Really really hard.
    I really feel so changed by this experience and that I am not the same person I was and it so great to read of someone else who feels that way.
    My heart was swollen by mother’s love for my baby and it can never shrink back to what it was before just because I dont have that baby with me now to pour my love into! I also feel strangely comforted by knowing that God actually walks this journey with me and mourns with me. Even though it would be so great and simple if he was a dairy cow God who just churned out what I wanted… that is not the case, and some how the truth of that is very deep and very beautiful. I feel the most sad for people who are on this journey and dont seem to find any riches here.
    Ellie you are an amazing writer, thanks for sharing! I will keep reading your work!

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