Content warning: discussion of pregnancy loss.
Friday morning, virtual planning day at work.
It took me about 20 minutes to get out of bed and I was already late for the Zoom meeting. I was the first presenter and only had time for the old I-certainly-have-not-just-gotten-out-of-bed look—dark lipstick and my thick-framed-glasses. I logged in to the meeting. Bless remote working!
After my presentation, a snapshot of my work strategy for H2 of FY21 and beyond, I had a homemade latte. The morning was almost gone. At my 25th week of gestation, I felt good, energetic, even beautiful.
My first pregnancy. My son was yet to be named, but Scott, my husband, and I lovingly called him Paçoca after my favourite bite-sized dessert, rich in nostalgia, peanuts and calories.
Paçoca had been quiet. After dinner, on the car ride home from my sogros’ place in West Lakes, I commented to Scott I hadn’t noticed our baby’s movements for the past few days.
‘We should google it’, we said to each other.
Some hours, websites, and phone calls later, I picked Scott up from his work’s Christmas party.
‘I’m sure it’s nothing,’ I told him. ‘But the nurses advised me to come in. It should be quick; I’ll drop you back here after.’
I wasn’t really worried. I even made time to put on a dress, green with white polka dots, and try on a few choices of shoes.
Soon we were at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital’s Pennington Entrance, walking into a small, poorly ventilated waiting room. COVID-19 restrictions saw us all masked and shuffling chairs around. We didn’t wait long; I barely started a new chapter from the book I had in my handbag.
It was a tiny examination room. If this were a Wes Anderson movie it’d be portrayed in light browns and dark lifeless orange, all contrasting with my green polka dot dress and a pleasantly contorted body pose. The young blonde nurse propped me into the examination bed.
‘Pfftt…’ the cold gel bottled onto my exposed belly and on she went with her audio equipment. She made a question mark face as she looked for a heartbeat. She tried for a bit and left the room, explaining, as she opened the door, that sometimes the position of the placenta can hide the heartbeat.
Scott and I looked at each other. He mumbled ‘Mmm, scary’ and came in for a cuddle.
A tanned doctor, her hair tied into a low, loose ponytail behind her mask, came in, followed by the young nurse. The doctor was slightly disheveled, probably rushing from room to room. She plopped more gel on my belly and went on searching for gold.
The world paused.
‘I’m so sorry, Lúcia,’ she said.
‘I can’t find a heartbeat.’
The gasp Scott made when he heard the words would come to visit me every so often from that day on. It was the sound of someone who never considered the possibility of losing a son he was yet to meet.
We were left alone in the examination room for what felt like hours. An older nurse took charge at that point. She was probably an experienced midwife, or at least familiar with what comes next in this cruel chapter of some pregnancies. We were taken to the ultrasound room. The TV was connected and I was asked if I wanted to leave it on. I didn’t know.
‘You don’t know,’ I heard them repeat after me and the TV stayed on (clearly someone made an executive decision).
Ave Maria, cheia de graça, o Senhor é convosco. Bendita sois vós entre as mulheres… I prayed in silence, furiously repeating what I could of the Ave Maria and Pai Nosso in the short minutes the examination took. ‘If they find a heartbeat, I won’t have any chocolate until Paçoca is born,’ I told God. My last-minute Catholic attempt to sweeten the deal, a bribe to keep my unborn son alive. ‘Por favor meu Deus, please…’
But there was no heartbeat that day. It was official: my baby was dead.
The tanned doctor with the low ponytail came back to the room.
‘I’m so sorry,’ she repeated.
‘What now?’ I asked.
She said I could go home and have a couple of days to process the news. ‘Absolutely not!’ I immediately decided. I wanted this over and done with, no time to grieve, or for my brain to realise what was happening. The idea of going back home with a dead baby inside me, spending hours crying and anticipating the birth was more than I could handle.
I instantly went into practical mode: ‘Ok, I need to call my sister, Verônica. I’ll need her shoulder to cry on, and some clean undies. The cats will need to be fed.’
Crying, I called Verô.
‘I lost Paçoca,’ I said, sobbing, as soon as she picked up.
I asked her to break the news to Mum. The nurses were going to transfer me to the birthing ward, but I told her to go past our house to pack some essentials and feed our cats, Broccoli and Banana. I’d call back with a list of things to bring.
Mum wasn’t ready for that phone call. Her grandson dead before being born. All the dreams she had for him, for us.
An older nurse came into the tiny brown room to usher us into a birthing suite. I assumed it must be hospital protocol for more experienced nurses to take such cases. ‘I’m so sorry for your loss’, she said, holding my trembling hand. ‘The bed upstairs is ready for you, whenever you are.’
I got up and followed her out of the room and into the hospital’s corridors. I felt so weak, deflated of all life, and was sure I looked like it. I asked myself how often that scene took place in that environment. How often did people who had lost their everything walk those steps?
As we passed the nurses’ station, I was angry at their smiles. Christmas cheer on every wall, in the air, employees enjoying extra camaraderie, courtesy of staff parties. I thought them unprofessional, demonstrating cheer while I was en route to getting a cadaver out of my body.
The room was the last on a dark corridor, just after a utility room. I kept waiting for cries and birthing sounds but could not hear any. I took off my 90s navy platforms, my feet drenched on that hot day, and removed my mask, wet from tears, snot, and sweat. I looked at the book in my handbag, Honeybee by Craig Silvey, aware I may never want to finish it. The transition from ‘reading while mother of an alive child’ and ‘reading while mother of a dead child’ made the words in the book too heavy for my eyes. My phone vibrated next to the paperback, illuminating Honeybee’s face on the cover with a clinical blue. I held the phone to answer when a new experienced nurse came in. She wore thick burgundy frames with bling on the corners, advertising the brand on the side (I hate having to advertise brands on products I pay for. They should pay me to do so!). She said she was so sorry for meeting us in these circumstances and was there anything we needed.
When I called Verô back, she had arrived at our house. I had asked her to tell our next-door neighbours, if she saw them. I wanted everyone to know our world had collapsed. I wanted everyone to know what we were going through: a disclaimer of our trauma. But I didn’t want to be the one to have to say it. Like I was the protagonist of a cruel Truman Show. Under my instructions she would bring my laptop, toiletries (‘Don’t forget the face wash. Last thing I need now are pimples’), a nightgown (‘the green one with Bambi on it’), and my summer robe. She wasn’t sure what that meant. ‘The beige linen one with pale pink flowers’, I explained. Scott had given it to me for my birthday. He chose it for me to wear in my pregnant summer. I had planned on bringing both the nightie and the robe when I was giving birth, in three months.
The hospital guard downstairs would not allow my sister and mum to come in, due to COVID rules. I went down with Scott to meet them. I held my bulging belly, thinking I would not get to do so for much longer. I walked past the nurses’ station, Scott’s body shielding me from their smiles. I was too weak to carry my whole body’s weight. I looked at them, chirpy on a warm Friday evening at beer o’clock. ‘How dare they be happy. Haven’t they heard the world is ending?’
Downstairs, two security men were talking on their walkies. I could see them masked, past the second set of automatic doors. I felt my body rain upon my mum. She held me up, looking up at me with her tears and her love and despair. She patted my pregnant belly, saying her goodbyes to Paçoca, looking me in the face, trying to absorb as much tears and sadness from me as she could. She was so afraid of COVID; she hadn’t left the house in several weeks. Last time she went out was to buy cigarettes. Mum has always hated how much control over her life nicotine has. With my platforms on, her head was near my neck, palms touching my middle, never leaving my stomach. Smoothing my dress over and over around the white green polka dot globe.
With COVID about to jump into South Australian borders and restrictions as strict as ever, the staff was able to make an exception under the circumstances for Scott to stay the night.
I was too early in the pregnancy to have discussed birth with any health professional and had very little idea of the steps involved in childbirth. The night shift nurse explained full term birth takes care of thinning the cervix with hormones, but in my case, it had to be done medically. And handed me a couple of pills to swallow. The next morning I’d be given medication to induce labour. Before leaving for the night, the nurse with burgundy glasses kindly opened the guest bed for Scott. He was exhausted. The day fell into his shoulders as he fell into the futon. Not even the ill placed metal bar poking into his ribs was enough to stop him from falling asleep.
I opened my laptop for some light entertainment. I watched the very first episode of Downton Abbey, hoping Lady Mary and Mr Carson familiarity would help me fall asleep.
Lúcia Allamandi Schwenker is an Italo-Brazilian writer living in Kaurna Country. She won the 2022 mindshare Creative Writing Unpublished Writing award for ‘The Face Of Stillbirth’. She is currently working on her first book. Connect with Lúcia on Instagram @lu_allamandi or Facebook @lucia.schwenker.
By Lúcia Allamandi Schwenker
Issue 3 | Autumn 2023
Perdiendo el rastro | Liliana E. Correa
Divergence | De las Rosas