My Baby's Heart Stopped Beating. What It's Really Like To Suffer A Stillbirth

Written by Jackie Armstrong

In our new Realtalk series, we're sharing personal stories about fertility and family planning. We hope they offer support and inspire honest conversation about an incredibly tough topic.

From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I was completely in awe of my body and its ability to create, nurture, and house another human. I remember feeling a deep sense of gratitude for the beautiful gift we’d been given. I felt privileged to be given the opportunity to experience pregnancy.

I was 26. My husband and I had just started trying for a baby, and I was surprised at how quickly I became pregnant.

The first trimester was physically and emotionally challenging. I had daily morning sickness, which, mind you, wasn’t just in the morning! I was extremely emotional and cried about almost anything. I once cried my eyes out because my husband had eaten the leftover container of butter chicken I had been looking forward to. Seriously.

Despite the sickness and roller coaster of emotions, the first trimester was pretty uneventful. Our 13-week ultrasound scan is a wonderful memory. Our baby was happy and healthy, and we were free to share the news with the masses. And we did.

The second trimester began, and I felt so much more relaxed. The worry and anxiety had vanished and I felt a sense of calm. The sickness ceased. I enjoyed “normal” food again. I felt amazingly well.

The time came for our 20-week checkup. I was so surprised at how much the baby had grown since the 13-week ultrasound. There was lots of checking and measuring. But toward the end of the scan, the assistant told us she saw something in the placenta that concerned her.

She wanted a second opinion, and her supervisor soon came into the room. They were standing together at the machine, seemingly talking in their own secret language. I struggled to remain calm. They tried to explain to us what they were seeing, but we didn’t understand. I told them we were seeing our obstetrician right after, and maybe he could help us to understand.

At the obstetrician’s office, I explained what had just happened. He looked over the ultrasounds. “Ahhh” he said, “You see those there? They are called lakes. They are common in pregnancy and lots of women go on to have healthy babies. You don’t need to be concerned at all."

Relief. Our baby was going to be OK.

We saw his cute little face on the ultrasound. And then it struck me. There was no flicker, nothing ticking.

But from that moment on, things felt different. A couple of weeks later, I was spending the day at the beach with my parents. Despite the beautiful weather, I remember feeling a little off. I hadn’t felt the baby move much throughout the day. Intuitively something didn’t feel right.

That evening, I told our obstetrician how I hadn’t felt the baby move much throughout the day. He immediately asked me to come see him.

I took a friend with me, as my husband was out of town. When we arrived, the obstetrician took us straight into the room and put the scanner on my belly. The heartbeat was strong. The baby was bouncing around and kicking away. Everything was OK.

I remember the doctor saying to me, “Welcome to parenthood, a place where you constantly worry about the health and well-being of your children — no matter how old they are." We had a giggle.

I was due to see the doctor again in five days for my monthly checkup. I couldn’t wait for my husband to see how much the baby had grown since our 20-week scan. The appointment was Friday, February 21, 2014, a day forever etched in my memory. I lay down on the bed, rolled up my shirt, and turned my head toward the screen.

The first thing we saw was the cute little face. I remember the doctor saying, “Oh look at that, he’s looking at you." He then rolled the scanner around some more until it was over the heart. I could see all four chambers of the heart. And then it struck me.

A wave of emotion began to swell inside of me as I noticed something was missing. There was no flicker, nothing ticking. There was no heartbeat. I looked up at the doctor whose facial expression was one of concern. He was silent.

He turned the scanner off and remained silent. I asked him what was happening and he shook his head. “There’s no heartbeat, is there?” I remember asking. He bowed his head. I sat up and cupped my head in my hands. I wept and wailed. My husband paced around the room, shocked and devastated by what he’d just experienced.

A few moments passed before anyone spoke. Finally the obstetrician said, “I want you to walk right out of here this afternoon and do nothing but be together. Come to terms with what you’ve heard this afternoon. I’ll see you on Monday morning to begin the ‘process.’”

It’s been almost two years, and I’m still learning what it means to grieve.

My husband and I had many conversations over the next two days. We spoke at length about what we were about to experience: labor, birth, death, grief, joy, sadness. We had so many questions: What name would we choose? Would we hold the baby?

I struggled most with the thought of having to give birth to a baby that was no longer alive. I would look down at my belly and sob with a heavy heart, trying to comprehend the incomprehensible.

Over that weekend, I chose only to wear loose-fitting clothes — the thought of someone asking me when I was due was far too overwhelming. It seemed a whole lot easier to hide it all from the world.

On Sunday, we decided to tell our extended family and friends that our baby had died. We knew their love and support would help us in the coming days. They responded with an outpouring of love and kindness. We kept every single text message and I read them over and over as I lay in the hospital bed preparing to give birth.

On Monday at 6 a.m. we started the process of birthing the baby. Two tablets were inserted into my vagina every two hours, which would dissolve and cause my cervix to open and my body to go into labor.

At 4:35 p.m. on Tuesday February 24, 2014, I gave birth at 23 weeks, 6 days, to a beautiful baby boy named Jack Tiran Armstrong. His eyes were closed and he looked as though he were in a deep and peaceful sleep.

In the moments after giving birth, I felt unconditional love and deep gratitude for those around me, and for the beautiful baby we’d created.

It’s been almost two years, and I’m still learning what it means to grieve. I've struggled at times on my journey through grief. I’ve pushed people away and shut them out because I was afraid to be vulnerable. I am learning to let go. I am learning to forgive. I understand that forgiveness is essential on the path to inner peace.

It’s time to heal.

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