Miracle Without a Heartbeat

Until now, I had no idea I had used it like a hazmat suit. Used it to protect my heart in unimaginably heartbreaking situations, yet it gave me an ability to be extremely present for others – especially for women walking through infertility, pregnancy or miscarriages. And then one day it went away…

On Saturday, a few weeks ago, I found myself overcome with nausea and anger when my husband overcooked eggs. I found myself covering my mouth, gagging from upstairs, asking Rocco to go tell Justin to open windows and throw out his breakfast.  

I ran to the store to purchase firewood as it was a cold Seattle spring afternoon and one of our last chances of the season to use the fireplace. Tired and overwhelmed by the smells of the grocery store I found myself staring at pregnancy tests that ironically were right across from the Duraflame logs. I recounted the morning and the past few days. A couple days earlier I had detected a gas leak at our loft, able to smell a tiny leak no one else could. My chest hurt as I held the log in my arms and a few small groceries. When was the last time I had my period?  

It had been many years since I had taken one of these tests, and they were always negative. Negative every time I was late. Negative through fertility treatment. And not just kind of negative, but period inducing 5 minutes after I pee on a stick and waste $20 negative. Remind me throughout my 20’s and early 30’s I am a barren woman kind of negative.

They were on sale for $6.99. Why not?

I got home, ran upstairs, peed and saw blue. Not barely blue, but light up a positive sign, BLUE!!!

“Justin! Babe! I need you!”

Justin ran upstairs with Rocco close behind. 

“Rocco, mama needs a minute with Daddy. Can you go downstairs and we will be down in five minutes?”

I pointed to the bathroom. 

We stood there in shock and embraced. That moment the door flung open, and Rocco grabbed our legs, “I want to hug too,” he said. 

We hugged as a family, Rocco unaware of what had just happened. 

“Well, this is an interesting way to start our 40’s,” Justin said. 

We were happy, in shock, wondering if it was a dream. I felt like I was watching myself instead of experiencing what was happening. 

Since experiencing the loss of our first son (because of a failed adoption 7 years ago) I have found my heart can quickly rejoice and celebrate for others, but is still slow to respond when good things happen to me. I often rely on my sister, close friends or Justin’s emotional response to help my heart get the kickstart it needs. 

Justin was in shock too.

So I tried calling both my sister and close friend, no response; forgetting one was asleep in NYC and the other was on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. 

About an hour later I woke up my sister with a text and a picture of the pregnancy test. We FaceTimed and my sister’s response brought joy and comfort to my heart. Then my vacationing in the Caribbean friend responds, and we have one of my all-time favorite text exchanges of our friendship.

Then we wait. Wait till Monday to try and get into a doctor, only to discover no one will see me until I am at least 8 weeks. 

“But I am almost 40, and this is not supposed to happen to me.”

“You peed on a stick right?”

“Yes.”

“And it was positive?”

“Yes.”

“Congratulations, you are pregnant and we will see you in two and a half weeks on Tuesday, May 15th. ”

Longest two weeks ever, well almost. Bought prenatal vitamins, downloaded pregnancy apps, and ordered “World’s Best Big Brother” and “I’m Going To Be A Big Brother” t-shirts for Rocco in anticipation of telling him the news after school on May 15. 

May 15…

The night before felt like Christmas Eve. I counted the hours until the appointment when we would get to see the baby on the ultrasound and confirm the miracle that was growing in our hearts and my body. 

Morning came. We dropped Rocco off at school and headed to the doctor’s office with an extremely full bladder ready for ultrasounds and lots of blood work. 

We met with a very kind and gracious nurse practitioner named Lisa, explaining our shock of being pregnant and excitement for what was to us a miracle. Almost 18 years of marriage, a diagnosis of unexplained infertility for 13 years, foster care, adoption and now almost 40 years old…

“Well, let’s take a look, and see your baby. We will be able to hear the heartbeat and send you home with pics.” Lisa said.

I lay on my back, Justin holding my hand, our eyes glued to the screen. Lisa navigates the instrument within me, seeming to have some challenges. A black circle emerges. 

It looks empty. It doesn’t look like all the scans I have seen on my pregnancy app. My eyes start to water. 

Lisa begins to explain that we might not be as far along as we thought. She locates a faint yolk sac that has a gray undefined smudge in it. She zooms in and we see a flicker on the screen. 

“I see a flicker,” Justin says. 

Lisa explains it is too faint to confirm if it is my heart or the baby’s. 

She begins to tell us she can’t confirm if the baby has a heartbeat. It might be too early or a failed pregnancy. She rubs my hand and speaks softly.  She explains that the ultrasound shows I am 6 weeks. This is the most important week she explains, and a lot happens, so stay hopeful, we probably have our days off. 

I know I am 8 weeks.

She encourages us to stay hopeful and come back next week. If I am 6 weeks, next week there will be a heartbeat. 

We reach out to a handful of friends and ask them to pray. Justin hides Rocco’s big brother shirt in the trunk, but we stick to our original plan of surprising Rocco with a trip to our favorite ice cream and cookie shop. I seek comfort in a gluten-free Mexican chocolate cookie, imagining what Rocco’s giddy joyful response would have been that day if everything had gone as we had hoped. I picture Rocco putting on his “I’m Going To Be A Big Brother” shirt on, and seeing ice cream handprints all over the front. No shirt today, just unexpected sugar. 

Seven days pass filled with prayer.  During those 7 days, my pregnancy symptoms increase significantly, and I experience exhaustion I have never known. Throughout the day I pray for life, for a heartbeat, for God to show himself strong, to finish the miracle He began. It is a long seven days.

May 22…

This time the appointment is at 11:30am. I try to fill the time with work yet the minutes seem to move even slower. 

We arrive at the doctor’s office and wait some more. It feels less like Christmas morning this time.

Lisa greets us, asks how we are doing. I explain my pregnancy symptoms were significantly more this past week. Smells, nausea, exhaustion. All good signs she explains.

I lay down for the ultrasound. The black sac is easier to find, and the smudge is now more defined. It is quiet in the room. Were we off? Was I really 6 weeks instead of 8? 

It is still quiet.

“I am sorry, I can’t find a heartbeat. It doesn’t look good, but the baby is so high, I do not want to rule out the possibility. I just can’t tell.”

Warm tears begin to roll down my face. 

Lisa begins to ask us dates again. I know I am 8-9 weeks. Not 6.

We are referred to a doctor who used to be an OB/GYN who now does ultrasounds, and has a more advanced machine. We can’t see her until 4pm. 

We wait some more. We try to pass the time walking around Capitol Hill and Seattle University. I am so exhausted I last 15 minutes and end up napping the afternoon in our car. 

4pm…

The doctor greets us aware of our hope and uncertainty. The new machine is a significant upgrade. Like the last row of the airplane by the bathrooms to first class with full meal service upgrade. 

I lay down again.

She locates the sac and says it is very high, making it challenging to see. She zooms in, zooms again, and again. The gray smudge now looks like the outline of a gummy bear. 

“If it has a heartbeat, it will flicker right here.” 

Flicker.

I start to cry, we get excited. 

Doctor measures, and waits for sound. 

Flicker. No sound. No waves. 

No sound. No waves. 

It is so quiet. 

She believes the flicker is my heartbeat and not the baby’s.

She explains for 8-9 weeks things do not look good. There are other signs the pregnancy is not progressing. The only way to tell will be to track my hormone levels this week via blood work, or another ultrasound in 7 days. We choose the blood work. It is Tuesday, we will know by Friday.

Wednesday, I get a call, first set of blood work is in and my levels are high. After reviewing all the ultrasounds the doctor asks the nurse to prepare me for a miscarriage. What to look for, what to do, what my options are… I cry. My HCG levels need to double in the next 24 hours if the pregnancy is progressing. 100K is our Friday hope. 

Thursday afternoon I go in for more blood work. And we wait. 

Friday, we wait some more. My phone is on loud and vibrate, I jump at every text and call. 2pm still no call, so I call. I am told it is a very busy day, my nurse is out and that I might have to wait until Tuesday because of the holiday. I start to cry and explain my amazing nurse wrote me a note, called me, and promised me her colleague would call me back. Yeah, might be Tuesday. I hang up.

I call back and thankfully get a different receptionist with a heart of compassion. I beg her to read me my results, to just give me the number, or email them to me. I just need the HCG level number. I start to cry again and beg them to not make us wait three more days. 

“I promise we will call you back today.”

Rocco wakes up from his nap and just wants to be held. I gladly oblige and he sits on my lap helping me edit photos of gemstones – I highlight, he deletes. We cuddle, he is my comfort. 

The phone rings. 

“Is this Kristen?”

“Yes.”

“Mom, who is it?” Rocco asked.

“Kristen, I have your results, I am so sorry, your HCG levels are beginning to drop….”

I start to cry.

“Your levels are still high so nothing will probably happen for a week or two. Let me talk to you about some options…”

“Thank you. Thank you for calling me back.”

“I am so sorry. Take care.”

“Mom, what is the bad news? Why are you crying? What happened?”

Justin and I make eye contact and I nod. 

Justin begins to explain to Rocco that I was pregnant. 

Rocco gasps and smiles. 

But, the baby inside of me is no longer alive.

He sighs. 

Rocco responds, “Well it is good news and bad news. Good news is God is healing mom’s tummy and she can get pregnant. Bad news because the baby died and I want to be a big brother, and that makes me sad.”

I cry and hold Rocco. So grateful my arms are not empty. I have survived that loss before. 

I stand up, Justin holds me, Rocco grabs our legs, and we find ourselves in the same embrace we were just a few weeks ago. 

May 31…

As I lay here writing, the cramping has begun. The nausea is gone, and the tiredness is now emotional instead of physical. As my hormone levels drop I fell like I am deflating.

My heart aches. More than I thought. In a few hours, my miracle without a heartbeat will be removed from my body, and my womb empty again. 

As I mentioned at the beginning, I felt something I had used for years as a protective layer for my heart left when I became pregnant. 

Infertility.

The diagnosis of not being able to get pregnant had become part of me. I had made my peace, embraced motherhood through adoption and used to be grateful in most situations that I had not experienced the pains of pregnancy and labor that all the women in my life have so graphically shared with me. 

Pregnancy made me feel extremely vulnerable in ways I have not known. In the past week, I have learned 1 in 4 women experience a miscarriage. I thought my infertility made me exempt from this heartache. I thought infertility had given me the ability to fearlessly walk with many women through their journeys of pregnancy, IVF, and miscarriage. With that gone, now all those scenarios I have seen became a possibility – joy, childbirth, giving birth at 40, pain, loss, miscarriage…

My miracle did not have a heartbeat, and now I wrestle with that. Am I still infertile? Am I healed? What does my 40-year-old heart do with a dream I laid down in my 20’s?

I am so grateful for the miracle of being pregnant. To have experienced that change in my body,  to reawaken a desire for more children. I had hoped to hold our miracle this Christmas. Our due date was December 24. 

I don’t have an “everything is going to be all right” verse to share to wrap up the longest blog post of my life. My grief counseling and past experiences of loss have taught me to be present in the pain: to face it, to be honest, and to know suffering is part of the human condition. It is here I have encountered God most intimately. It is in this space I learned God is still good, even when it feels like death won. In facing pain I have learned faith and doubt can coexist, God can handle my disappointment and anger, and that my God is ever-present and always with me. 

17 Comment

  1. Ashley says: Reply

    Oh Kristen, thank you for sharing, and I am devastated with you. Praying for peace and comfort as you guys grieve. I love you!

  2. Love you beyond words. Thank you for sharing so vulnerably. With you heart and soul. xo

  3. Candace E Stimpson says: Reply

    Kristen, this is so beautifully written and I remember hearing your story at Liberty. You are so beautiful. I have no words for your loss. Love to you and the guys. Candace

  4. Brooke wright says: Reply

    Oh Kristen, my heart hurts. I am so sorry for the pain your are feeling, the heart break and loss. I cried as I read your story knowing your journey and your beautiful heart. You are an amazing women full of love and faith. We are praying for you guys and love you very much.

  5. Nick says: Reply

    Am I allowed to say this was beautifully written? Thank you Kristen .. and again so sorry you, Justin, and Rocco had / have to endure this pain. God’s plan always baffles in the present . If we figure it out for this; It will be much later.

  6. Terry and Loreli says: Reply

    Kristen we mourn with you and want you to know that we stand with you in your loss. May God’s everlasting and loving arms be your refuge.

  7. Felicia van pelt says: Reply

    Ugh, sorry to hear this. I’ve had 2 miscarriages before I had a any babies. I’ll be praying for another positive test soon… I’ve heard the next cycle has the highest hormones and thus more likely to conceive. Either way your in gods hands, stay strong and thx for sharing.

  8. DeeDee Flores says: Reply

    Oh Kristen. I am weeping with you today. I am one of the 1 in 4. My heart aches for you, and I’m grateful for your willingness to share your pain. I have no real words of comfort other than I love you and your family and will be lifting you in prayer in the days ahead. I’m sorry, my friend.

  9. Leah says: Reply

    Wow…. this is exactly my story. I am so sorry for your loss. I too was due dec 24 and found out May 17 that my levels were dropping and my baby no longer had a heart beat. This is the second time this has happened to us, experienced the exact situation dec 2017. I hope you get your Miracle – life just isn’t fair sometimes. Take care and thank you for sharing.
    Leah

  10. Y Lamkin says: Reply

    Kristen,
    I don’t have the exact words to express how I feel in this very moment but thank you for writing and sharing this. Despite how difficult this experience is, I still see HOPE and believe you will experience His goodness in the land of the living. Praying and thinking of you friend.

  11. Sara says: Reply

    Friend, my heart breaks for you and your sweet family, knowing this journey you have been walking. Thank you for your words of brokenness that find hope in the truth… ” It is in this space I learned God is still good, even when it feels like death won.” We love you. We are praying.

  12. Maria DeFonte says: Reply

    Praying for you, Justin, and Rocco. You are so beautifully brave. Thank you for writing this. Love you all.

  13. Jennifer Callahan says: Reply

    I am so sorry for your loss and the pain you are all going through right now. Rocco’s words were so beautifully put and I pray that you get the opportunity to see your family expand. You and Justin are amazing parents and wish I could hug you both right now.

  14. Zinty says: Reply

    This spoke to me very personally and powerfully. Thank you so much for sharing, Kristen! I will be praying for you as you continue to grieve and process.

  15. So sorry for your loss, my wife has pcos so we can relate to this in so many ways

  16. Megan M says: Reply

    Kristen, thank you so much for your vulnerability in sharing this. You write with such clarity and beauty. You are an amazing storyteller. Your heart is beautiful and came through so clearly in this post. I don’t know how else to express how much this means to me, but thank you so much for sharing your heart!

  17. Siluo says: Reply

    Kristen, thank you for your vulnerability, your willingness to turn this into something useful for others as you are in the early stages of grappling with it all. For me, it brings tears to my eyes. Some of these tears are for you and some are for me. On e of maybe a few times I have felt empty that at 43, even this moment of hope is something I will likely never know. We all share a common grief and common hope, to give it to God and hold our arms out wide for his embrace. As you fall into God’s arms, you will also fall into that of Justin’s and Rocco’s and that is some form of comfort because this happened to not just you but you all. I pray that more often than not, you three will bring the comfort each needs and at those times when that is not enough that you will feel God’s embrace incredibly, tangibly.

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