Finding No Heartbeat: Loss, Healing & Hope Following Miscarriage

I have known Nikki since grade school, we met in kindergarten and have remained friends ever since. I saw Nikki at our good friends’ wedding over four years ago, shortly after her miscarriage. News travelled and I heard of her miscarriage through the grapevine late that summer. By Thanksgiving I had experienced our first miscarriage and was regretful that I hadn’t acknowledged Nikki’s miscarriage after hearing of it. I struggled with how to manage having such personal information that she hadn’t shared with me directly. After our first miscarriage I felt isolated and was looking for women that had been through a similar experience, so I reached out to Nikki around the new year. I expressed my condolences and filled her in on my situation and apologized for not reaching out sooner. Luckily, by then, Nikki had good news and told me she was expecting a child later that year. I found hope and joy in Nikki’s story and checked in with her regularly throughout her pregnancy.

“It was just an experience I never thought would happen - the shock of it, it wasn’t in my plan, this happens to other people, not to me.”

Meet Nikki, a 30-something, who is energetic, honest, rooted in her faith, and part of a quintessential all American family (think Parenthood). Nikki and her husband Kevin’s first pregnancy ended in miscarriage over 4 years ago. Their story is one many women who are trying to start, or grow their family, can relate to.

On Father’s Day Nikki waited in the bathroom for a few minutes and found she had a positive pregnancy test. She was so excited to tell her husband Kevin and decided to make him his very first Father’s Day card to reveal the exciting news.  Nikki recalls the moment she showed Kevin the card as being perfect and so special.  In the weeks thereafter they shared their news with their immediate families – parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews- on Kevin’s 32nd birthday. Everything was happening as Nikki and Kevin hoped.  Nikki, a teacher, had completed her Masters in Education the previous year and Kevin had just finished his MBA. Their careers were established, higher education was obtained, and they were ready for this baby to join their lives.

As excited as Nikki was though, she couldn’t help but feel like something was wrong – she was a nervous nelly about being pregnant and wanted to be sure she was doing everything right. In retrospect, she wonders if it was just because it was her first time being pregnant or if God was preparing her in some way for what was to come.  At around six weeks, Nikki started lightly spotting and they went in to see their OB. They had an ultrasound, saw the baby’s heartbeat, and felt reassured that the pregnancy was progressing normally.

About a month later, Nikki and Kevin went in for their 10 week appointment.  They were so excited to hear their baby’s heartbeat for the first time.  Having friends and older siblings with children of their own, Nikki was always told about the moment when she would hear that sweet sound of her baby’s heartbeat.  She and Kevin couldn’t wait to experience this moment themselves.  During their appointment, their OB couldn’t find the heartbeat on the Doppler, but explained that sometimes it’s hard to find, so she ordered an ultrasound. Nikki recalled the ultrasound tech looking at the screen and with tears filling her eyes finally saying to them, “I’m so sorry, this baby doesn’t have a heartbeat.”  She remembers shaking at this news, bursting into tears, and Kevin holding her as they cried together in the ultrasound room.  It is a moment she will never forget.  Nikki wondered if she had done something wrong – her OB assured her that sometimes this happens and we don’t know why but it’s not a result of anything Nikki did or didn’t do. The OB walked them through their options – wait to miscarry naturally at home in the next few days to few weeks or schedule a D&C.

“I remember going into that appointment being so excited, thinking about our future with this little one, thinking it was all just wonderful. I didn’t expect this outcome.”

Both their families knew they were going in for their appointment and were waiting for a call to hear about it.  Kevin called each of them on the way home on speaker phone to tell them about the miscarriage.  They were as shocked and saddened by the news as Kevin and Nikki were and Nikki remembers each call feeling like they were reliving it over and over again. Within an hour of them returning home they were surrounded by family – everyone came to their house and were sitting silently.  Nikki explained that as much as she appreciated them coming over to support her and Kevin, eventually she told them that they just needed to be alone to try to process the information together and decide what they wanted to do next.  Once everyone left, she recalls Kevin finding her in the bathroom, sobbing.

“It just was such a shock. My sister was having her third child. I knew my brother and sister-in-law were trying for a third. I thought, this wasn’t supposed to happen this way, I’m just supposed to get pregnant and stay pregnant.  I just never thought that this would happen to us.”

Ultimately, Nikki and Kevin decided to have a D&C. A few days later, they arrived at the hospital for the surgery.  Nikki recalls, “I remember that morning being such a sad morning. I was going in to have this little life we thought we were going to have and had already planned for removed, and I can’t fully explain the sadness and emptiness that filled my heart.”  The nurse on duty happened to be a past neighbor of Nikki’s.  While Nikki knew her, but not that well, she felt a sense of peace having someone there she was familiar with.

Nikki explained that she is the type of person that double checks to be sure her hair straightener is off about 10 times before she leaves the house, and said preparing for her D&C was no different.  She requested they do another ultrasound right before to double check and confirm that the baby had no heartbeat, and as expected one was not found.  Nikki remembers them staring at the screen looking at their baby for the last time.  It is a moment and an image she will never forget.  Before being wheeled away for the D&C, Nikki recalls Kevin tearing up and resting his hand on her stomach saying goodbye to their little one.  She knew this experience was as hard on him as it was on her.  After the D&C, Nikki was surrounded by Kevin, her mom, older siblings, and Kevin’s mom in the hospital room.  It was then that Kevin’s mother, who gave birth to a stillborn over 30 years prior, told Nikki and Kevin that before the D&C started she asked their OB to bless the baby during the surgery, which she did. Nikki’s OB, who had shared with them that she too had experienced a miscarriage years before, told Kevin’s mom that she blesses all babies when she does D&C’s.  Nikki explained how much this very special act meant to her and it will forever.

Following the surgery, they left the hospital and went over to Nikki’s parents’ house where their families had some of their favorite comfort foods-Chinese food, sub sandwiches, and homemade cookies- waiting for them to help them eat away their sorrows.  She explained how their families are always there for them in good times and in bad, and being together was exactly what they needed on that sad day.  When it was time to head home, Nikki said, “I remember that night, I didn’t want to go home. Going home just made everything so final.”

Over the next few weeks Nikki and Kevin filled their social calendar to stay out of their empty-feeling house, and supported and cared for each other as best they could. Nikki said, “An even deeper bond came between Kevin and I having gone through this experience together.  From losing our first and seeing how much this affected him, I was able to see Kevin in his role as a dad. Through his emotions and support, he confirmed to me the wonderful dad he was going to be. We call our baby Special K because he or she really is special.”   

During this time, Nikki also went into her OB’s office for weekly blood tests to watch her hCG levels drop. After a month or so her levels returned to normal and they went in to see their OB who told them they were free to try to get pregnant again any time they felt ready. Their OB explained that their chances of getting pregnant and having a normal pregnancy were very strong. In retrospect Nikki said it was hard to know if they were really ready to try again, but they decided to, and low and behold they got pregnant shortly thereafter. Nikki’s OB told them that if the pregnancy is meant to be, it’s just going to happen. Nikki had a different feeling about this pregnancy, unlike the first.  Through much prayer, she was more at peace and knew this time was different.  Anytime she felt worried or nervous, especially before her appointments to hear their baby’s heartbeat, she would pray holding a relic of Mother Teresa that her mother passed on to her after their miscarriage and her worries would be quickly calmed.  This baby was meant to be.  

Nikki and Kevin now have two healthy children, Etta and Carter.  In fact, the nurse who was involved with their D&C helped deliver Etta.  Nikki explained that their miscarriage with Special K is a part of their journey to becoming a family. As she reflects on where they were four years ago and where they are now, the phrase she has always believed, “Everything happens for a reason,” holds true.  If it weren’t for losing Special K, their oldest daughter Etta wouldn’t be here.  She is their rainbow baby.  I asked Nikki if she still thinks about the miscarriage and if it impacts her on a regular basis and she told me, “While my two babies keep me super busy, I still think about my miscarriage.  We have a bonsai tree in our house that was given to us after we miscarried and it’s a symbol of our Special K.  Whenever I water it, I am reminded of him or her.  Our miscarriage gave me perspective to cherish each moment with Etta and Carter because it’s not always guaranteed. While being a mom has its challenges, I am reminded that I’m so blessed - I think Special K does that. I know our first baby is in heaven being rocked by our loved ones who have gone before us. Until we meet again, I will continue to cherish being a mom to Etta and Carter and hold Special K in my heart, never forgetting our short, yet special, time together.”  

“Someday we’ll meet again, there’s these babies in Heaven, and I think they’re all together.”