I’m Sorry, There Is No Heartbeat

What it was like to hear "I'm sorry there is no heartbeat."

On February 22, 2016 our daughter, Dorothy Grace Helena Whalen was stillborn.  This is her story.

They were ready to send me home. 

So, they were going to send me home and have me visit the hospital daily for monitoring.  I was on board.  I felt fine. Dorothy was doing well, and I imagined it would be best for us if we could be at home where I was most comfortable.  Dorothy and I would go home together and come back when she was ready to enter the world.

I had been in the hospital for a week after being diagnosed with severe preeclampsia and after an initial scare, it had been a rather uneventful stay. 

Dorothy and I never made it home together.

It was 1:34 AM when the nurse came in to check my vitals.  I woke up groggy and irritable.  I had a headache and I just wanted to sleep it off.  Before she took my vitals, I asked to go to the bathroom because my stomach was hurting.  When I returned to my bed, she took my blood pressure and it was elevated.  The nurse attributed that to getting up to go to the bathroom, she said she’d check again in a few minutes.  I remember just wanting her to stop talking.

She rolled over the doppler to check Dorothy’s heart rate.  I closed my eyes hoping to relieve the pressure in my head.  As she pushed and prodded at my belly, I noticed she had actually stopped talking.

“Where does she usually hide?” she asked after a minute or two.

I pointed at the lower left corner of my uterus; her usual spot.  She rolled the wand over the area and I waited to hear that familiar lub dub that had been so strong just hours before.  Nothing.

“I’m going to get the NST machine.” she said hurriedly as she left the room.

Mike rolled over in the hospital bed next to me, where he had been sleeping for the past week.

“Everything okay?” he murmured sleepily.

“Yeah,” I said “The nurse isn’t very good with the doppler.”

I tried to keep my voice light, but my chest was heavy with worry.

The nurse strapped me to the fetal monitor and no matter how she positioned it, there was nothing to monitor.

“I’m getting the doctor.  Try to relax hon.” She patted my hand and rushed out of the room.

Mike quickly dressed and came to sit on the edge of my bed.

“It’ll be okay.” he told me, but the tone of his voice matched the fear in his eyes.

I couldn’t speak because I didn’t know the truth.  I didn’t know if it was going to be okay and I didn’t want to be a liar.

Minutes later the nurse returned with one of the residents who had been supervising me that week.  (For this story, I’ll call her Dr. Vick.)  As Dr. Vick rolled in the portable ultrasound machine, I noticed that her mouth was not in its usual smile. Her lips were thin and pressed tightly together.

There was silence in the room as the wand glided over my stomach.  With every silent second, I tightened my grip on Mike’s hand.  My eyes were glued to Dr. Vick’s face.  Before she said the words, I knew what had happened.  Her eyes were filling with tears and her breath was heavy.

“I’m so sorry” she whispered.  “There is no heartbeat.”


I don’t know how long I was screaming before I heard myself.  It was a sound of pure agony.  I sounded primal, like a wounded animal. I did not know I was capable of a noise like that. 

Then again, I didn’t know it was possible to feel agony like this and still be alive.

I jumped off the bed and pushed past the doctor.  Frantically, I paced the room and begged her to be wrong.  I felt crazed, like I would keep screaming until someone told me that it was all a nightmare.

Maybe, it was a nightmare.  I pulled at my hair, willing myself to wake up.  This was not real life, it couldn’t be.  I felt myself slipping further and further from sanity.

It was Mike that brought me back.  He grabbed me and pulled me close.  I stopped screaming and began whispering apologies to him over and over.  Our baby died inside of me.  I thought he must hate me. I started to pull away, but he only held me tighter.  Every one of my apologies was matched with his own.

There, in a hospital room, we held each other and wept.

At some point, we broke apart and turned to Dr. Vick.  “What now?” Mike asked.  She told us that the attending doctor would have to confirm and then we would talk about our options.  I remember wondering what options were left but my mind was refusing to consider what they may be. 

So, with my head still pounding, I just stared at the door waiting for the attending to return with the worst news of my life all over again.

The attending doctor said very little.  I think he understood that words were unnecessary.  He simply said he was sorry and left us with Dr. Vick to discuss the next steps.  I didn’t care what the plan was. 

What could possibly come next when you had just found out the ending?

Our story continued…

Photo by Bich Ngoc Le on Unsplash

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