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When I Heard the Words ‘Fetal Demise’ for the First Time

Drip on the background a hospital corridor concept

The day my daughter died started out like any other day. My husband made us fruit smoothies for breakfast and we went to work together as we always did. I sat at my desk and began to work. I drank my smoothie and smiled for my daughter, who liked the drink and often kicked when I took a sip. I had been feeling her less and less, and now at 37 weeks, I had started to drop. Being full-term meant there was not a lot of room in there for her to move around and so I was not that alarmed that I did not feel her as much. I had been to the doctor that Tuesday and we heard her heartbeat and all was fine.

Sometime after lunch, I remember telling my husband that I hated not feeling her as much. I also remember emailing him later that afternoon that I had, in fact, felt her. I was worried a little, but what first time mom is not? We finished out the work day and went home.

That night was our last Labor and Delivery class. It was a four-week class that we enjoyed for the most part, although it did freak us out a bit. We watched lots of movies and practiced breathing and talked with other soon-to-be-parents. At the end of class, I happened to mention to the nurse who led the class, Peg, that I had felt decreased movement over the past few hours. Peg said not to worry too much, but to get something sugary and go home and lie on my left side and wait for six kicks in an hour. If I did not feel them, then she suggested I call my doctor—just to be on the safe side.

I did as Peg asked. I felt nothing. After about 15 minutes or so, my husband decided to call the doctor. The doctor suggested we go to the hospital and get hooked up to monitors to see what was going on. We did not want to wait an hour—it was time to go…now.

I started to cry. I was in a blind panic and could not see straight. I asked my husband if he was worried and he flat out said no. We had gone to every appointment that we were supposed to, had all the blood work done that was required…in short, we did everything we could to make sure our daughter would grow strong and healthy and this little hiccup was just us being overly careful and cautious. Nonetheless, we flew to the hospital.

Upon arrival, I was offered a wheelchair. I politely declined, as I was in no pain and felt fine to walk to the Maternity floor. We talked to the nurse on the way to triage about how happy we were to be this close to being parents and how we knew she was a girl, and other such small talk. I started to relax and feel a little better.

Once there, they hooked me up to a monitor. And then…nothing. They put a monitor on my finger as they said they wanted to differentiate the heartbeats—not read mine instead of the baby’s and vice versa. When they could not hear her heartbeat, they rolled in the ultrasound machine. Then they called for another nurse. Then another. Then I heard them whisper to call the doctor.

We asked what was happening and they said it was too soon to tell. There could be an issue with the cord or the baby could be hiding. Huh? There were no cord issues before and she had never “hidden” in the past. What the hell was going on?

After a few more minutes, we moved into a Labor and Delivery Room and they instructed me to put on a gown and wait for the doctor who was on her way. I changed and then sat on the bed and after some time had passed, I asked my husband what he thought was going on. He was stoic and calm and said he did not want to alarm me, but if the baby was in distress, they would have rushed me off to surgery. However, they had not done that. They had us wait. Which he did not feel was a good sign.

He was right.

Our OB came in a short while later and with the ultrasound machine, she looked to see what was going on. After what seemed like an eternity, she turned to us and with a crushed look on her face, she said she was sorry, but there was no cardiac activity. Everything stopped. My world literally froze. It was then that we heard the words “fetal demise” for the first time.

Fetal demise is the new word for stillborn, apparently. The doctor continued saying that we did nothing wrong and that this was not our fault and she was so sorry. She asked if we needed or wanted anything. I remember saying that I wanted my baby. It was all I wanted from the moment we made her. And now she was gone. How could this be? What did we do wrong? What did I do wrong?

Turns out I did nothing wrong. It is not uncommon to question yourself and your partner, but there really is nowhere to place the blame. We did all the tests afterwards and they were inconclusive. For whatever reason, my beautiful little girl just died.

It took me years of grief counseling and support groups and talking about my child to come to terms with her death. While I will never understand it, at least I finally know, with my whole soul, that there was nothing that I did wrong.


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