On 12th July, 2019 our seemingly perfect life came crashing down when we heard those dreaded words, “I’m sorry but there is no heartbeat.”
A few days after my 32nd birthday in March we woke up to the best birthday present ever – those two blazing pink lines.
Our journey to pregnancy was by no means straightforward. With a PCOS diagnosis and almost absent periods, a part of me was convinced that pregnancy was not in the cards for me.
We have always been very open about exploring all ways of adding to our family but after a lot of thought we decided we wanted to give the pregnancy route a try.
And this route turned out to be far more arduous than we expected.
But finally, three OBGYNs, two homeopathy doctors, fifteen months of trying every ‘natural’ method known, three clomid cycles and lots of rummaging up my lady parts later, we succeeded!
When we fell pregnant I naively believed that the hard part was over. We were aware of the 1 in 4 statistic and had two very close family members suffer early losses that very same month and so were cautious about not getting too excited just yet.
But like any newly pregnant couple we started dreaming of our lives as new parents. With every week and each milestone we became more hopeful and allowed ourselves a little more joy.
At seven weeks we heard that precious, strong heartbeat.
At twelve weeks we had a flawless NT scan and great double marker test results – we were now officially in the ‘safe zone.’
At sixteen weeks we had an uneventful routine appointment, everything was progressing well.
At seventeen weeks my belly really popped and I thought I started to feel some initial flutters.
All my early pregnancy symptoms were beginning to ease up, my energy levels were back up, I had my appetite back, I had cut back a little at work, and I remember thinking wow, this is what the pregnancy glow feels like.
Life was amazing.
That evening I clicked the first and only picture of my pregnant belly and sent it to my family and close friends.
I now officially believed that this was happening; we were going to be parents in November and I could start buying maternity clothes and getting a nursery ready.
At nineteen weeks and three days I woke up to a little spotting. I knew that spotting during pregnancy is fairly common so I wasn’t too perturbed. I was still shaken enough to call my doctor though.
She didn’t seem too concerned either and kindly offered to see us immediately (at 7:30 AM that morning) just to check the baby’s heart beat and reassure us since it would be a few hours before we would be able to go in for complete scan to find the cause of the bleeding.
We went in to see her. I was nervous but also excited to see how much our baby had grown since our 12 week scan.
She scanned for a few minutes, monitors facing away from us, and then said that it was best for us to go see a radiologist instead since she wasn’t able to see any movement and felt that maybe she was missing something or maybe the baby was asleep.
We had a few hours to kill before the radiologists come in, so we went home. I ate something to try and wake the baby up.
I was still not overly stressed and even told my husband to go in to work. Luckily his better sense prevailed and he didn’t listen to me.
At 10:30 AM we finally got to meet the radiologist. He began scanning and after what seemed like a lifetime said, “There is something wrong. The baby is measuring a few weeks behind.”
I was still hopeful; I knew that many babies measured small.
He then followed that up with, “There is no movement and…. there is no heartbeat.” The intensity of his words didn’t sink in even then and I remember thinking – ok so this is a tiny glitch but surely modern medicine can fix this.
I cleaned up and came out into the waiting room to wait for the scan report. And then I saw it: ‘Intrauterine fetal demise.’ It hit me like a truck.
I felt the wind knocked out of me, I physically felt my heart shattering and the pieces falling to the pit of my stomach.
My legs buckled and I wasn’t able to move.
The rest of the day was a blur. We went to see my OBGYN again and she told us what to expect next – I would take a pill that day to stop my pregnancy hormones and 24 hours later was to get admitted in hospital to take the remaining pills to induce labour and to deliver our baby.
I was still reeling from the shock of the news and barely managed to squeeze out a few words – I asked if this was my fault and if we could find out what happened to our baby.
She assured me that there is nothing I did that would have caused this and said we could ask for an autopsy.
We went home and spent that evening trying to come to terms with what was happening but mostly just terrified about the next day.
We settled into bed that night and decided to watch an episode of Stranger Things to get our minds of everything.
Midway through the episode, I started cramping. I thought this was just a normal part of the process and since I was not expecting anything to happen until the next day, just got a heating pad for my stomach and carried on.
By midnight the cramping had intensified and by 2 AM I was terribly uncomfortable and in excruciating pain. I wasn’t able to sit or lay down and just kept pacing.
I had decided to wait until 6 AM to call my doctor, I wasn’t bleeding and so didn’t think of going in sooner.
I didn’t know that I was in labour.
At 3 AM I started to bleed heavily, I felt this immense pressure and before I knew it passed a large pomegranate sized ball at home. We called my doctor. She said to try and bring whatever ‘tissue’ I’d passed so far to the hospital in a container and to come in immediately.
But the trauma of seeing so much blood and the excruciating pain made everything hazy and we just focused on getting to the hospital.
I was immediately wheeled into the delivery room and my doctor began scanning. She told me that the fetus had passed and I just had to deliver the remaining placental tissue, which she recommended doing under general anesthesia as I had already lost too much blood by this point.
I didn’t register what this meant at the time but once I woke up from the anesthesia and was back in the room it hit me – the large pomegranate ball was my baby, in a fully intact sac.
I flushed my baby down the toilet. This thought haunts me until today.
And this is where the what if’s, if only’s and the lifetime of regrets begin.
In India, fetal sex determination is illegal due to the high prevalence of sex selection and female foeticide and so we never knew the gender of our baby.
At our final scan it never occurred to me to ask the radiologist the gender, and to this date I don’t know if he would’ve told us, or if he could’ve told us, since our scan report still had the standard disclaimer of, “At no point did I disclose the gender of the fetus.”
Once we came home from the hospital I began desperately scouring the deepest, darkest corners of the internet to find out how this happened to our perfectly healthy baby and to find fellow bereaved parents.
I wanted someone to tell me how to survive this. I wanted a ‘what to expect’ guide on pregnancy loss.
It doesn’t exist.
There are no tips on week by week progression, the size of your grief fruit doesn’t grow from a blueberry to a watermelon in 39 weeks; it happens in an instant and it never leaves.
I did however come across a few blogs and groups on facebook where I spent most of my sleepless nights reading other loss stories. I found some comfort in this.
For a brief moment I felt less alone, loss happens (1 in 4, remember). It can happen well into your ‘safe zone’, and it sadly also happens after full term, healthy pregnancies.
But the more I read their stories the more alone I began to feel.
Most moms who lost their babies at a similar gestation, got to see their babies, name them, hold them, take pictures, take foot prints, build memory boxes, cremate / bury their babies.
My pomegranate was flushed down the toilet. If only I had asked my doctor more questions on what to expect that night, if only I knew what labour felt like, if only I had gone to the hospital sooner.
I then began searching specifically for Indian baby loss support groups and blogs – because surely a fellow Indian loss mom may not have known her baby’s gender, may not have seen or held her baby, and may know exactly how I feel.
But to my absolute surprise there were none. There were groups for virtually everything else including one for Indian pet loss grief support but none for baby loss.
I even went to existing baby loss groups and typed ‘India’ in the search box to search for stories from Indian moms and still nothing.
The silence of baby loss is very real. And in a country like India, it is far more deafening.
I share my story with the hope to start a conversation, to break this silence, and to maybe offer some comfort to a fellow loss mom on one such sleepless night.
I am still very new to my journey of loss, the grief is still very raw and very present and I still haven’t figured out how to navigate this new normal. But there is no other event in my life thus far that has had such a transformative effect on me.
I am no longer the person I was before July 12th and I never will be that person again. I have lost that naivety that comes with being a non-loss mom, but I have gained so much perspective.
Ironically I feel calmer, I have stopped trying to control my future knowing that there are so many things in life we cannot control. I have accepted that medicine does not have all the answers (this was a big one for me).
I am not blinded by the facade of happy social media posts and know that everyone has their share of struggles.
And above all I know that life can be so precarious and can change in an instant, and so, I try to be grateful every day for the health and happiness of my loved ones.
I still struggle to come to terms with the fact that barring a few ultrasound pictures I have no tangible memories of my baby, but I know that the memories of my pregnancy and the five months we spent together will always remain vivid and bright and undying.
“Babies lost in the womb were never touched by fear, they were never cold, never hungry, never alone and importantly always knew love.” – Zoe Clark-Coates