I’ll never forget the emptiness I felt afterward. You’re meant to come away with a little baby after giving birth, not be sent home from the hospital with a broken heart.
My husband and I spent five years trying to have a baby. In the midst of transitioning to a new fertility doctor, a miracle had happened. I was pregnant!
We were both overjoyed and our hearts were full. The first trimester brought constant nausea, some dizziness, and a miscarriage scare. When we reached the second trimester we sighed with relief. We scheduled a photo shoot to share our exciting news and started looking at baby items for the nursery.
In the first trimester, we had two dating scans, a scan after our miscarriage scare, another private scan, and the 13-week nuchal translucency (NT) scan. The NT scan showed a low risk for problems. At each scan, we were assured our baby had a strong heartbeat. Hearing our baby’s heartbeat felt magical.
However, at our last scan we knew something was wrong. Even though the scanner said the heartbeat was strong, she grew silent. The scan itself seemed to take ages. She didn’t give us the usual reassurance that our baby was growing well and everything looked normal. When we asked, her only words were “you’ll need to talk with your midwife.”
We contacted our midwife. She said they’d found an abnormality they’d never seen before. She apologized that as it was a Friday, we couldn’t see a specialist until the next week. She said it might be nothing and abnormalities sometimes go away as the baby grows, but on the other hand it could be something. I cried for the rest of that day.
The next week we had our appointment at the Antenatal Clinic only to learn that we’d have to travel to our country’s capital city for the specialists and scanning equipment we needed. Two weeks later we finally had the appointment. We went in with positive outlooks, and even made plans to take a tour of the local birthing unit. We didn’t expect the bad news we were about to receive.
As I lay back looking at the ceiling and the scan began, I knew something was really wrong. The specialist was quiet. I’ll never forget the look on her face when she said, “I’m afraid it’s the worst-case scenario.” She rang the capital city specialist who confirmed there was no longer any need for us to come down. We were told the complication was too severe and our baby wouldn’t make it to birth. Our beautiful baby’s organs would stop developing and eventually shut down, stopping the heart. We were told we could terminate the pregnancy now or wait until our baby died naturally in my womb. Our specialist highly recommended scheduling the termination as soon as possible, as waiting would cause additional complications. The thought of our baby slowly dying was heartbreaking. We agreed to go through with the termination.
What a horrible process TFMR can be. For those that don’t know, TFMR stands for Termination For Medical Reasons and is a term I only learned afterward. Two days after our specialist appointment we had to go into the outpatient unit to sign a lot of paperwork and have some more tests. At this appointment, we were told about the termination process. I’d never been more terrified in my life. We returned two days later, a Saturday, and they administered Mifepristone and took blood samples. They sent me home for 48 hours, after which I’d return to have labor induced and give birth.
Knowing I had taken medication to stop my baby’s heartbeat is something that will haunt me forever. I spent a lot of time in bed, crying and wishing I was dead myself.
By Saturday afternoon, I was severely nauseous (one of the side effects of Mifepristone) and by midday Sunday I was vomiting. As of Sunday evening, I hadn’t eaten for 24 hours, couldn’t keep liquid down, and the vomiting was getting worse. I didn’t know how I was meant to give birth the next day when I was a zombie on the verge of collapsing. My husband rang the support line at the hospital and they told him to bring me in immediately for an IV line and nausea medication. My room was already prepared, so we would just stay in overnight.
It was the start of the worst 24 hours of my life. None of the nurses could find a vein and I got faint as I’m not a fan of needles (or hospitals for that matter). To make matters worse, our government announced another COVID-19 lockdown. This meant no one was allowed to have a support person with them after midnight. I told the nurses that my husband was still allowed with me as it had already been arranged for him and my mum to attend the labor and birth. The nurses said, “No, you’ll no longer be able to have any support people with you.” I felt like the world had stopped. How could such an unbearable experience actually get worse? I started shaking uncontrollably, crying hysterically and hyperventilating. I couldn’t go through labor and give birth to our baby by myself. I just couldn’t do it. I felt everything spinning and remember all the nurses rushing a bed to me.
The nurse said I looked a bit better and was getting some color back in my face. I was hooked up to the IV line. They called the ward where my room was booked and I was allowed one support person. I hugged my husband the tightest I’d ever hugged him. While my mum might not be able to be there, we could get through this together.
The nurses in the ward were amazing. They’d prepared my single room with a recliner made up with blankets for my husband. We had our own ensuite. I was still shaking from shock, fear, and exhaustion. But the nurses did all they could to look after me and help me get some sleep.
The night seemed to last forever but eventually, morning came. My nurse started the process of inducing me into labor by inserting the medication vaginally. After the initial induction, medication would then be given orally every 3-4 hours until the baby was born. We were told to prepare for a very long day. If there was one small positive from the whole experience it’s that my contractions started mid-morning and by midday, I had given birth to our baby. Labor was excruciatingly horrible; I’ve never been in so much pain in my life. The nurses were amazed it was over so quickly—normally takes a lot longer.
I asked my nurse how anyone has more than one child as I couldn’t comprehend going through labor ever again. She said that for normal births the joy of holding your baby trumps the labor experience, but because I didn’t have that I’d unfortunately only remember the pain. I’ll never forget the emptiness I felt afterward. You’re meant to come away with a little baby after giving birth, not be sent home from the hospital with a broken heart.
We’d originally decided not to see the baby, however, our hospital said that while there’s no right option, more people regret not seeing their baby than regret seeing them. It was a hard decision to make. The nurse cleaned up our baby and brought them in for us to see. When I close my eyes, I can still see their little fingers, toes and peaceful face.
They kept us in for four more hours to make sure I was bleeding normally (not too heavy), take some more bloodwork, and sign the paperwork to approve the post mortem. We had to have this done as the specialists still couldn’t diagnose exactly why our baby had developed a severe abnormality. When we get the results back in the next six weeks we might also be able to find out the gender.
The days that followed were hard. I had to keep reminding myself that I had just recently been through labor which is why my body wasn’t back to normal. Lots of crying, hugging my husband and my fur babies, feeling alone, and hating the world. Questioning what I had ever done for the universe to hate me so much. Every time I walked past the room we were going to use as our nursery, I would feel a bit more hollow inside. Watching TV, suddenly every show seemed to reference pregnancy or children. While all our family and friends had been supportive when we said we were losing our baby, no one had messaged to see how I was after giving birth. This is understandable as we hadn’t actually gone into detail about the process of losing our baby, but it was a weird thing. Life seemed to go on. I felt we were forgotten.
I return to work two weeks later. It’s a strange feeling when everything seems “back to normal” yet it really isn’t. I went back on birth control. After so long trying to get pregnant, it was a hard decision but I’m just not strong enough to go through that again. Not yet, anyway.
Finding support has been difficult as everything online or locally was either for miscarriage or stillbirth. Our situation didn’t fit the definition of miscarriage but the stillbirth support groups only consider it stillbirth if past 20 weeks of pregnancy, which we weren’t.
I came across the term TFMR in the days after and thankfully found this website, which had stories similar to mine. It was reassuring and helpful. Unlike miscarriage and stillbirth stories, there are not as many TFMR stories out there. Apparently, people feel embarrassed to share their experiences and fear they’ll be judged for terminating their pregnancy. I don’t understand this yet, as sometimes there is no better option. We were told our baby wouldn’t make it earth-side and we didn’t want them to slowly suffer. TFMR is an act of the deepest love, not something to be embarrassed about.
Hopefully, our story can help others who experience this know that they’re not alone, just as other’s stories have helped me.