‘My 7-year-old said plainly, ‘Momma, there’s no heartbeat.’: Mom describes loss of child, ‘He made me aware of my strength’

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Trigger Warning: This story contains details of miscarriage and stillbirth which may be triggering to some.

“My first pregnancy, and miscarriage, came the month after we got married in 2008. I missed my period for the first time in my memory, and immediately began taking tests. My husband was active-duty military, and you could not get a referral from the base clinic for OB care until you got two positive home tests. I took a couple tests the first week, but they were negative.

Courtesy of Nicole Burch

One week later, still late and starting to have lots of symptoms associated with pregnancy, we were out on our date night at a friend’s house, and I began to cramp and spot. The following morning, after an entire night of some of the most intense cramping in my pelvis and lower back I had ever experienced, I passed tissue and clots in the shower where I was trying to ease some of my cramping with heat. I had never seen this type of material come out of me before. I was quite sure I had just miscarried our first child. The cramping subsided some, and then it was just what I would consider ‘period bleeding’ for many days, again I had only ever had my period for a few days at a time in my life.

Still spotting, I got the first appointment with my base provider I could, and my husband got time off to go with me. We both wanted to be sure that I had passed everything and did not have any complications from the miscarriage.

I was extremely disappointed by the entire appointment. When I explained to the lieutenant that saw us first why I was there, he insisted there was no way I could possibly have gotten pregnant that quickly after our wedding. I am not sure what biology book he read in medical school, but it had been 6 weeks since my last period.

Courtesy of Nicole Burch

Another doctor came in, after I could not be convinced by the lieutenant that I had not been pregnant, and he was not any more help or comfort than the first I had seen. Not only would he not do any blood work to ‘prove’ what I knew to be true, but he said, ‘Well, it was just a clump of cells anyway,’ citing that it would be a waste of clinic resources to do the bloodwork now, when it would not change the outcome.

I have not been speechless many times in my life, but I am thankful I was too shocked to say anything that could have affected my husband’s career, to this officer. I had started to cry, and all he said was, ‘Do you need a mental health referral?’ I got out of that room as quickly as I could, and just sat in the car and cried, vowing that I would never come back to my assigned provider at the clinic for any sort of OB care ever again. That baby was not just a ‘ball of cells’ to me! I could be upset; I knew I had miscarried our child.

We went on to have two more children, and then came our 4th pregnancy. Same story as my first miscarriage, but with a twist. This time I had gotten a positive test, and then started to bleed within 24 hours. There were clots and tissue, but not the intense back pain like the first. I continued to bleed, and I took another test a week later when my symptoms continued to increase and, BOOM! Positive. Instead of going to my base doctor, who I refused to see after our first miscarriage, I called the OB I had used for my other children. They could get me in without a referral because it had been less than a year since my last appointment.

All she could see on the ultrasound was a yolk sac and my blood work showed I was still pregnant! She had me come in a day later for more blood work. My numbers were climbing, though she still could not see our baby it showed I was at least 4 weeks pregnant but had gotten the previous positive test over a week before, right after all the bleeding and tissue came out! After discussing things with her she believed I had miscarried a twin baby, but all things were looking great for the baby who was still there! Eight months later we had our first daughter!

Courtesy of Strothers Shutter Shots Photography
Courtesy of Nicole Burch

It was hard to wrap my mind around our losses. They felt so surreal, like dreams really. I knew I had 2 other children, and I was sad when I thought about not getting to meet them, hold them, name them, but I was not afraid every time I got pregnant that our children may not live. My husband got out of the military and become disabled due to PTSD. We would go on to have two more daughters in the next 3 years, with no complications, and no preterm labor. I believed that our losses may be behind us.

Courtesy of Nicole Burch

In my 7th pregnancy things began very normally in the fall of 2016. Our, would-be 6th baby was active, growing well, and I was having all my typical symptoms. My husband was set to go to K9’s for Warriors after the New Year to train a registered service dog. He had been on the waiting list for 2 years. I reached the second trimester, and everything appeared normal, we had a green light for his trip. He would be gone for three weeks and left our home in Montana to go to Florida the first week in January 2017.

The weekend after my husband left, I had to call off on my third night of work, because I just did not feel good. I thought it might be the flu or something. I would see my OB that week, and I was just going to lay low at home and talk to her if I were still feeling icky. I walked into that appointment with my 5 older children.

I had been feeling kicks and movements, I have always been able to feel my babies early. I was not worried when she had a hard time getting a heartbeat on the doppler. My kids were excited, and it was a small room. She suggested moving to the ultrasound room, and we did.

Courtesy of Nicole Burch

Twelve pairs of eyes locked onto that ultrasound screen, my 1-year-old was playing with her brother’s toy, and my doctor was scanning my belly and squinting at the screen for any flicker of a heartbeat she could find. She told me weeks later that this exact moment had been a nightmare of hers, and in all 30+ years of her practice it had never happened before this moment. My oldest child who was 7, and my seasoned appointment companion, said very plainly, ‘Momma, there’s no heartbeat.’

After he said that statement she reached down with her free hand, grabbed mine and mouthed, ‘I’m so sorry!’ My eyes welled up, and in my head, I remember thinking, ‘Nicole, don’t freak out!’ as I looked at my son, who was very intently staring at the screen, and told him that the doctor was looking for it. He asked me if the baby had died, and in the calmest voice possible, that I still do not know how I mustered, I said, ‘Probably,’ while tears streamed down my face. It was then that his eyes welled up, and the next two oldest realized that something was not right. My doctor took a few measurements, and then told me that she would be getting me the next available appointment at the main hospital to get confirmation and left the room.

My internal pep talking got me through dressing myself, herding my 5 children through the waiting room, and back to my van. I put on all the kids in their seats, folded up the stroller, started the car, and turned on the music loud enough that the kids could not hear me outside. I turned around so they could not see my face, as I was still letting the tears fall, as I called my mom, who answered the first ring. ‘Mom, my baby died! There was no heartbeat today.’ She bawled with me while we discussed what was coming. She would come and be with me for whatever it was. I also called a friend, after I got off the phone with my mom and had spoken to my doctor about my ultrasound time and arranged for him to sit in the car with my kids while I got it done. I went home to feed the kids lunch, and kill the time, but I could not call my husband in Florida until I got the final information. I was afraid of his reaction, with his PTSD, without being there with me to tell him face-to-face.

Courtesy of Nicole Burch

It is a very odd position to be in, having to be a mom while freshly grieving. So different than my other losses. I had no other children to tend to or they were too young to know what was going on then. I wanted my children’s abrupt introduction to death and loss to not scare them or make them angry with God, as we are believers, for taking this baby to heaven before we even got to meet them. I also knew that I could not keep the tears inside, they needed to see how much their sibling mattered to me.

During the ultrasound I could literally hear the second hand on the clock, it was so quiet in that room. This hospital is especially strict about the sonographers not giving any information to the patient, and as I saw her take pictures, I was calm until she took a recording of the heart rate, and all that she recorded was a flat line. I cried as silently as possible while she finished the scan.

She never looked at me after she brought me to the room, until I sat up after it was through and said, ‘I am a mother of 5, I know you can’t tell me anything, but I know already that my child died.’ She looked me in the eyes, finally, and said, ‘I’m so sorry, nobody deserves this.’ I said to her then, what would become my mantra through the next year of grieving, ‘It’s not about what I deserve.’ She hugged me for a minute while I sobbed. I got up and walked to the front of the hospital, sat on the waiting room bench, and called my husband in Florida.

Courtesy of New Day Photography

When I told him, leadership at Kamp K9 had been notified that I needed them present to tell my husband some news, he cried and asked me many times if I needed him to fly home right away. But I had already thought this through, and I asked him to stay and finish training his dog. He would need that dog when he came home and the reality of our child dying truly hit home, and he could not wait another 2 years for a service dog. They were so good to him there!

I walked to the car to talk to my children, waiting in my van with our friend. The 10 pairs of hopeful eyes were glued to me through the windows as I walked up, and watched as I got stopped in my tracks by a phone call from my OB. She told me that they did confirm our child had died, and she talked about my options. Knowing me from my 5th child’s pregnancy and birth, it did not surprise her that I chose to get induced 3 days later if my body did not go into labor on its own. I could not choose something that meant our child would not be whole after it left my womb. I got off the phone and went to the car and confirmed to my children that their sibling had been born to heaven, explaining that the doctor would help me deliver the body in a few days.

My oldest, the one who had told us all in the office his observations, looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, ‘Momma, I have an idea! What if after Dr. Braak helps you have this baby and Jesus gives us a new sixth baby.’ I agreed that was a great idea! I cannot believe how lucky I am to have raised this young man, that he would be such an encourager to me, when he was hurting too.

Courtesy of Nicole Burch

We went home, ate dinner, and after all my children went to bed I gave in and sobbed again. I had cried so often that afternoon and evening that my cheeks were literally rubbed raw, my eyes were swollen, and I was tired! I could not sleep for a long time, so I prayed, pleaded, and begged God to start my labor so that I did not walk into that room feeling like I was having an abortion. I needed Him to make my body recognize that the baby had died so I could live with what I had to do in a few days.

Two nights later, shortly after my Mom arrived at my house, we were eating at a restaurant with the kids and I felt a ‘pop’ like a balloon breaking. I went to the bathroom, and my water had broken, just a tiny bit, but a wave of hope rolled over me as I realized that God had answered my prayers and my body was ready to have this baby. We finished the meal, and went to the store, all the while my contractions were beginning to become more frequent and stronger. I had them through the night, but I did not deliver my child’s body. I got to the hospital in the morning, and yes, my water had indeed broken.

I went into labor mode, mentally. I walked the halls, I bounced on the ball, I took the medicine to induce my labor, I breathed through the contractions, I tried to will my heart-broken and tired body to relax and dilate. I knew my body, from three previous vaginal births, and had already talked to my OB about an epidural. She assured me that they would administer one as soon as I let them know I was ready, I needed something not to hurt so much and that was the only thing I could control.

Courtesy of Nicole Burch

After about 6 hours of medication, I was not able to walk around anymore and the contractions were hard and frequent. I had finally started to bleed a bit, and asked them to check me for any dilation, I was still at one centimeter, but I had cervical change. The nurse would not call for my epidural, she thought it was too early, but she ordered me some other medication. Multiple doses of pain medicine, more contractions, another medication change but not the epidural, and 4 hours later, I felt my body push my child’s body onto the bed.

I was instantly alert, as I had fallen asleep after the new medication, and told my mom that I needed the nurse because the baby was out. She ran and got her, and my mom stood by my head while they cleaned me up and wrapped my child’s body. She handed me my son, and I cried for the last time out of heart wrenching pain. They had confirmed in my ultrasound that he had died the very day of my appointment, at 16 weeks gestation, he fit in one of my hands from wrist to fingertip.

Courtesy of Nicole Burch

My mom cried with me as we looked at him for a few minutes, and then she went to the bathroom. When she came back, she said it made her catch her breath, there I sat holding my son with a look of absolute peace on my tear-streaked face. I told her later that I had reached my goal in that moment, and he was my reward. The nurses would also remark that it was the most peaceful bereavement birth they had ever seen.

Courtesy of Nicole Burch

I could not be bitter and angry. I got to see him, touch him, name him, and take pictures of him. He was, and always will be worth every single contraction that brought the only parts of him left on earth into my hands. McLeod’s short life, and birth changed me. He made me more aware of my own strength. Surer of my identity and what I believe about life, and death. He made me appreciate my other children so much more; I am the mom I always hoped I would be.

In my next two pregnancies, I would experience a fear I had never felt in the ones after my early miscarriages. God met me in my grief, and He gave me a supernatural hope. I am not a victim; I am a survivor!”

Courtesy of Nicole Burch
Courtesy of Nicole Burch

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Nicole Burch from Western Montana. You can follow her journey on Instagram and on Facebook. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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