“What?” There’s a ringing in my ears.
I watch Lucy’s face. Her lips move but I can’t understand what she’s saying.
An ultrasound machine is quickly wheeled into the room.
I look over to Meg and then to my sister who quickly reaches forward to grip my hand.
I continue to watch Lucy’s face as she studies the small screen. The silence increases as a wave of panic builds up inside of me.
Why is she taking so long?
Oh my god.
Why isn’t she saying anything?
I’m unable to say anything.
Surely she can spot the heartbeat instantly.
“I’m really sorry…” her lips tighten. “I’m so sorry Ruqaiyya, but we are unable to find Baby’s heartbeat.”
The silence that falls is deafening.
Tears fall from my eyes that I didn’t even realize were there. Lucy holds my hand and gives it a squeeze.
“No, can you please check again?” This comes from my sister. “There must be a mistake.” There is an urgency in her voice and as I turn to look at her, she is desperately holding back the tears glistening in her eyes.
I feel like I can’t breathe.
The next hour or so passes in a state of disbelief and tears. The nurses call my husband to break the news – I can’t quite find the words in me to explain. When my mum calls and the phone is passed to me I struggle to form a sentence. I had literally spoken to her like 30 minutes before but everything was different then.
What was I going to say?
I feel like I am unable to bring the words to my lips, unable to repeat what the midwife told me.
I’m taken into the birth suite and asked to change into a hospital dressing gown. A doctor comes in.
“I’m really sorry about your baby but now our priority is you. Your blood pressure is very high. We need to get that down and then we can move onto the delivery process,” she told me. I was going to deliver my baby.
My dead baby.
“There are a few things I want to talk to you about,” Sophie’s eyes are very gentle, she reminds me of my grandmother. She sits on a chair beside the hospital bed and looks at me carefully.
The light in the room is dimmed. I’m surrounded by wires and machines. I try to zone out the bleeping of the blood pressure machine.
“Please know that none of this is your fault. What has happened to you is not your fault, okay?”
Her words take me by surprise. I was not expecting her to say that.
“I know right now is a very painful time for you, but please tell us if you need anything, we are all here for you. If anything comes into your mind, any questions, please ask. Tell us how you’re feeling,”
A painful lump forms in my throat.
I just want my baby.
I just want to hear my baby’s heartbeat.
I just nod.
“I want to talk to you a bit about the delivery. Would you like to see your baby?” She asked.
I stared at her.
Her question hung in the air between us.
Of course, I wanted to see my baby, right? So why was I frightened? Where had this fear come from?
“Yes,” I said.
“I know it will be different from how you imagined things. But my advice would be to look. Look at your baby. Spend time with her. It’s not easy but you will regret missing out on these moments. I’ve seen it in my line of work.”
“We don’t exactly know when your baby passed away in the womb, so when you meet her for the first time, her skin might be different. We don’t know. But have a think about what you would like to do. Okay?”
But nothing prepared me for the moment when my baby girl arrived and I saw her for the first time.
She was absolutely perfect.
I was in awe of how perfect she was, from her tiny little features to her tiny fingernails. Her long legs, thanks to her father, are something the nurses and midwives keep commenting on, how she would have been a tall baby.
The midwives dressed her up in a silk frock that fit her perfectly. They kept asking me if I wanted them to dress her up, to take pictures of her, to take her hand and feet prints and I didn’t know what to say. I would look at my husband for assistance, searching his face for some kind of reassurance that I was doing the right thing, but the expression on his face was filled with heartbreak and pain. He looked so lost. And he had lost something precious.
What could possibly have prepared me for welcoming my stillborn baby? Nothing. What is usually supposed to be a wonderful and welcoming occasion is turned on its head, masked with heartbreak and hopelessness.
We were asked how long we would like to spend time with our baby. Did we want the hospital to organize her burial or would we be doing that independently?
Who answers these questions and makes these decisions?
I realize as the hours sweep by, that I have to make decisions. There is a lot of information to process and a part of me wants the decisions to be taken out of my hands. I feel an enormous burden to try and work out what to do in the midst of feeling so utterly devastated and crushed.
Normally you pack up your baby and excitedly make the journey home ready (or maybe not so ready) to start a brand new chapter.
What was this chapter of mine called?
She was placed on a cooling pad in a cot beside my bed and I look over at her, half of me wishing her to open her eyes and half of me wondering, what was the wisdom behind this?
It’s funny because as Muslims we are always taught that whatever befalls the believer is good for him. Allah never performs an injustice with His person. And yet when it’s hurting so much you can’t help but try and figure out the reasons.
I would look at my tiny and perfectly still baby and wonder – what are the reasons Allah decided this for us?
When signing the death certificate I was asked what name I was going to give my baby. We had picked Sarah, and yet I didn’t know if I wanted to give her that name. I wanted to be calling out that name on a daily basis, to hear it around the house, to hear it whispered at night. But now it wouldn’t be heard.
The funeral director arrived later that evening, carrying a Moses basket. He waited quietly by the hospital bed as the nurse picked up my baby and put her in my arms.
“It’s time to say goodbye, pet,” she whispered.
What do I say?
What do I do?
How do I say goodbye?
Her face was so tiny and she almost felt weightless in my arms. For a second I think I see her chest rise and fall.
“Don’t worry, she’ll be fine,” the funeral director said. I look up at him, confused. His eyes watch me calmly from behind his glasses and he shifts the Moses basket a little.
“I lost two babies like this. Both full-term. Everything was fine. At the time of delivery, the umbilical cord detached.”
“Oh my god,” I’m so taken aback that I don’t even realize I spoke out loud.
“It’s hard right now, but you will be okay. She will be playing with my babies so you don’t have to worry. They will take care of her,” he smiles gently.
I feel warm tears slide down my cheeks.
“We will meet them soon, inshallah. This isn’t a forever goodbye, right?” He nods at me and I realize these were the small drops of courage and strength I needed.
This definitely wasn’t a forever goodbye.
More like a see you later.
And with those lingering thoughts, a crumbled heart, and wet eyes I watched as the nurse wrapped baby Sarah in a blanket and placed her in the Moses basket. The funeral director steadily walked out of the room and left, taking a part of me with him.