Today was the day I was supposed to get to tell everyone the happy news about our pregnancy.
Early this morning, we were supposed to go for our 12-week ultrasound to see the baby again. Maybe even hear the heartbeat. Then we would get to share the news more widely than we have so far.
I’ve been looking forward to today for weeks now.
Instead, today’s the day my miscarriage sinks in. There is no ultrasound. No heartbeat. No life.
I began noticing my miscarriage while on holidays in Cuba last week. On my doctor’s advice, we went to a Cuban hospital, even though spotting can totally be normal for women as they move into the second trimester, as I was days away from doing. Unfortunately, things weren’t so easy when we got there. No one at the hospital spoke English and we don’t speak any Spanish.
The walls of the hospital were crumbling. When I laid on my back on the gurney they gave me, I looked at the stained ceiling tiles, one so badly damaged by water, a replacement one had been pasted over top. The wheelchair they gave me had one broken footrest, which made me not feel super secure about what was happening.
The worst part was not being able to communicate with the staff. They pantomimed what they needed me to do. I knew I had to go somewhere when that rickety wheelchair showed up, and the orderly gestured to the seat.
One of our trips was to an ultrasound machine. No one tried to tell my husband and I what they were looking for though. Tears streamed down my face as I tried to study the facial expressions of the doctor, nurse and technician. It didn’t look positive. After returning to my gurney, my father kept asking the nurse: “What did you see? Did you see the baby?”
Her response will haunt my dreams forever. In broken English, the nurse looked at me.
“No. Baby, no. Gone. Baby gone.”
That’s when I screamed. It was a guttural sort of cry I never knew I could make. My husband grabbed me in sorrowful anguish as we cried for the baby we’d never get to meet.
We found out we were pregnant about five weeks before this. It was definitely a shock.
Sure, we had decided it was time “to try, but not try,” but I didn’t even think I could get pregnant, thanks to a gynaecologist I had at 19.
Three weeks after going off birth control, my husband and I had gotten pregnant (though it would take nearly six weeks for us to discover that).
After we got the news (by taking three pregnancy tests by the way), all I felt was numbness. It was a state of disbelief for about a week. Partly because I was so sick, and partly becausse I just wasn’t sure if I could be a mother.
That first week after finding out, we had out first ultrasound. It was a little blob, just about 0.5 cm, but it was our blob. I put that picture on our fridge and would often just stare at it. There was life growing inside of me. How remarkable. That’s when my numbness began to morph into joy.
Two weeks later, we had another ultrasound. The baby was now 1.5 cm and looked like a seahorse. Before leaving, I booked my next ultrasound — our 12-week one — for when we returned from our trip to Cuba.
As we left the diagnostic imaging centre, the receptionist called out something that unsettled me.
“As long as everything goes ok, we’ll see you in four weeks.”
Back in Cuba, the hospital decided I would have to be admitted at a different hospital to get the fetus removed.
We waited nearly two hours for the ambulance transfer. I cried in my hospital cot, as my husband held me, stroking my hair and burying his head in my body.
It was a two-hour ambulance ride that we completed in 90 minutes. My husband tried to hold my hand for the ride, but we were going so fast around corners, he needed to hold on to something that would keep him from flying around the ambulance cabin.
The second hospital was located in the city we had landed in by airplane just 20 hours ago, but there was no chance at catching a flight out of there until our scheduled departure date — still another six days away.
What we didn’t know until we arrived was that I had been transferred to a maternity hospital. As I sat in my wheelchair, I watched the pregnant women and their big bellies waddle around me, my heart breaking a little bit more.
We finally got in to the doctor, hopeful he spoke English. He did not. He examined me and said he was going to call in someone for a second opinion. Twenty minutes after that, he said I had to have surgery immediately.
I was wheeled to the OR, past the pregnant women and children who played in the hospital gardens. I heard the children crying out with excitement as they played, but I couldn’t look up at them. At the OR, I was met by a surgeon dressed in scrubs.
In broken English, I was told that I would not be operated on there after all. I had to go see immigration, then go to a third hospital that was another 4-5 hours away. We also knew that city, Holguin, had an airport. I decided if I was making that journey, I was coming home.
After verifying I was OK to refuse treatment with a nurse back home in Canada, we left the hospital and came back to the resort. Twelve hours after breakfast, we finally got to eat some food again.
The next morning, we called my family doctor who confirmed I was fine to fly and there was no need to have surgery immediately. We began to make arrangements to leave Cuba as quickly as possible.
Since getting the news confirmed, many doctors have told us miscarrying your first pregnancy is quite common.
While that’s nice to know, it doesn’t make you feel any better to know you’re in the majority.
I had gotten attached to the little thing growing inside of me. So had my husband.
Our third day in Cuba was also our last. It began with a 3:30 a.m. wake up call, followed by a four-hour journey to Holguin’s international airport. We found the man at the airport who would help us an hour after we arrived. We surrendered our passports to him as he worked to get us security clearance to come home. (Apparently buying a one-way ticket to Canada from Cuba raises some questions.)
Forty-five anxious minutes later, we handed over the cash for our tickets and made our way through airport security. I’ve never been so thankful to get on an airplane in my life.
Once we landed, we went straight to the emergency room in Toronto. There would be no resolution that night for us either, as there was no ultrasound technician after 5 p.m. Four hours after arriving, the ER doctor did an ultrasound. He admitted he couldn’t find a heartbeat, but told us we’d have to come back for a proper look the next morning.
Exhausted, we went to bed that night grateful to be back in Toronto despite the snowstorm that had hit while we were in the ER waiting room. It was a restless night for me, knowing what was coming, and going through all we had to just to get home.
The next day, we got our confirmation.
A “spontaneous abortion” is what my paperwork from the hospital says. The radiologist estimates the fetus died just before its ninth week. Since that time, I had bought maternity clothes as my pants were tighter. I had looked at baby stuff, but stopped myself from buying it just in case. I had already begun thinking about when we got to find out if the baby was a boy or a girl.
Instead, we came home and began to make the phone calls to un-tell people we had already told.
I cried when the doctor confirmed there was no heartbeat, but felt peace too. We had been through a lot in four days, and I don’t think I could have emotionally taken finding out the Cuban doctors were wrong.
I don’t need surgery either, which made me feel I made the right decision refusing treatment in Cuba. In fact, all the doctors back home we told that the Cubans wanted to operate seemed to be surprised by that advice.
I’ve decided to let my body take care of it naturally. The doctor prescribed me painkillers and rest, and seemed to agree that was the way to go.
My heart still hurts, and so does my husband’s, but we will get through this together. We may not start trying to do this all again right away, and we’re ok with that.
I had dreams about being a mother, and know one day I will. As the final ER doctor said to us, we were able to get pregnant easily, so we should be able to do it again once our hearts have healed and we’re ready to try again.
So today, I’m not publishing the blog post I intended on publishing, or the original one I wrote, but that’s all right. Instead, I’m publishing this piece about the baby we’ll never get to meet, as a tribute to it.
I’ll never forget my first pregnancy, or my first loss, but know I’m stronger today because of it.