I Expected to Hear the Baby’s Heartbeat

By Catherine McKinley |
Catherine McKinley

Catherine McKinley / Photo: Fadil Berisha

It took me eight months to conceive. Then suddenly I was having my encounter with the magical: a routine eight-week sonogram where I expected to hear the baby’s heartbeat for the first time.

My ob‑gyn tried to mask his concern as he moved the wand across my quiet belly. He was strangely nonchalant as he told me that the office equipment was not always able to get sensitive readings early in pregnancy. He wrote out a referral for a hospital sonogram, and I tried to brush off my anxiety.

The radiologist performing the sonogram was very pregnant. I laughed at her crankiness because she was so stunning, with a stomach so large her belly button was pointing toward the floor.

But then her body almost seemed to be mocking me as she told me that she was unable to find a heartbeat.

“You’ve miscarried,” she said emotionlessly.

It was difficult to process what she was saying. There had been no sign of blood; my body had not pushed out anything.

For weeks I’d felt this blooming feeling. But the night before, I had noticed that my skin had a funny new smell and I was suddenly feeling achy all over. Now I felt my body turning in on itself, betraying itself.

I was admitted to the hospital for a D&C the next afternoon. That wait and the days after were some of the hardest moments of my journey to motherhood.

The loss roused old griefs: the eight months of wild fear that conception was impossible; the legacy of an illegal abortion, registered as a D&C while I was a college exchange student in Jamaica; birth family lost through adoption; and later the family I recovered whose inabilities rendered them as good as lost to me.

An older friend who had had five children and twice as many pregnancies told me to embrace the heartache; I was being seasoned for motherhood.

“You won’t always get it easy,” she said, “But the difficulty is what gives you the desire and the heart to mother better.”

I got pregnant two months later and held my breath until the end of my first trimester. I was healthy and enjoying my pregnancy, but there was that lingering grief.

I have come to like the idea of being seasoned. All of the trials have inscribed a kind of passion and will in my mothering.