45: The Lost Heartbeat

45: The Lost Heartbeat

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles and More

The Lost Heartbeat

I believe that prayer is our powerful contact with the greatest force in the universe.

~Loretta Young

“I don’t know of anything to do except prepare you for a stillbirth.” Our pediatrician spoke softly with genuine compassion. “We haven’t found a heartbeat for a month. We have to assume now that your baby will be stillborn.” We left his office in shock.

A month earlier, my wife Sandi had been returning from lunch to her job at Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas when a pickup truck ran a red light and broadsided her car. The impact crushed the driver’s door into the seat. It knocked her across the console of our brand-new Toyota Celica and smashed her head through the passenger-door window, embedding hundreds of pieces of glass in her face and skull.

She kept telling the ambulance drivers that she was pregnant. “Yes, ma’am, we know,” they kept reassuring her. They were much more anxious about what they could see. They had carefully put her in a neck brace, and had removed only the pieces of glass and debris that threatened her eyes as they sped to the hospital.

“But I’m pregnant!” she continued to wail. Perhaps she knew. Perhaps in that motherly, instinctive way, she knew that something was wrong with the baby.

It was our first. For almost five months, we had planned, dreamed, painted and bought furniture. We argued and laughed over boy and girl names. We put our hands on her tummy and rejoiced at every kick and turn. Everything was so new and wonderful. We were going to have a baby!

Then, in the blink of an eye, everything came to a screeching halt. The hospital phoned me at my job, and by the time I got to the hospital, they had realized that something might be wrong with the baby.

They continued to dig glass out of Sandi’s head for a few hours, and by the time I got to see her, the pediatrician had already arrived and was one of the first to sit down with us.

“It’s natural,” he said, matter-of-factly, “for us to lose a baby’s heartbeat after a traumatic injury like you’ve sustained. It should just be a matter of a day or two, and the baby should be kicking up a storm.”

Oh, thank God! We were relieved. But Sandi was not to return to work. “A few weeks of bed rest,” the doctor ordered. “Come see me every Monday, and…” he paused, “if anything should happen, any hour of the day or night, call me.”

We expected on our first Monday visit to hear that everything was fine. But it wasn’t. Still no heartbeat. The next Monday, same news.

We spent four weeks carefully doing everything right. No straining. No bending. Just resting. Sandi ignored her own pains, and quite often I caught a glimpse of her laying her hand on her tummy and whispering a prayer. I had quit laying my own hand on her tummy, quit hoping to feel the kicks that had once been so much fun.

Finally, after a month, the pediatrician delivered the bad news.

“What do you do with a stillborn baby?” I asked a co-worker. “Do you have a funeral?” He didn’t feel comfortable talking about it.

“Should I buy a burial plot?” I asked my boss. He didn’t know. I couldn’t have those conversations with my wife. I simply didn’t know what to do when my baby was stillborn.

We did nothing but wait. “Keep a suitcase ready,” he had suggested, “so you can leave the house instantly. Call an ambulance if you have any excessive bleeding or pain.”

A week after his final word, I was weary with our despair. I came in from work and told my wife we had to do something. We had to get up and go outside, go to the mall, go anywhere, but just go! We had spent over a month in anguish. The depression was too much. But she didn’t want to go out. She couldn’t fix her hair well because of the head injuries. She still had tiny scars all over one side of her head from the glass pieces.

I saw that a group of churches was having a rally on the following Saturday at a hotel conference center. “We could slip in and sit at the back. No one would pay attention to us,” I assured her. “And we need the spiritual uplift. Let’s go.”

She agreed, and on Saturday we deliberately arrived a little late, found a place to sit without being seen, and enjoyed some good singing and a warm, spiritual environment. When the final prayer was over, we slipped out quickly.

Hurrying through the hotel foyer, a voice called out, “Danny boy!” I turned to see my childhood pastor, Paul Hosch, walking toward me. My wife didn’t really know him, and I knew she was anxious to get out, so I tried to rush our meeting.

Paul was always a gentle and thoughtful soul, and I’m sure he could sense the tension in us. So he just hugged me and said the usual stuff about being glad to see us after so long a time.

Then he turned to Sandi. His smile was disarming. “Baby girl,” he whispered. “I always like to pray for the girls in my church who are pregnant. Do you mind if I pray for you right here? I might not get to see you again before this baby is born.”

Sandi started to cry. The pastor didn’t know that our baby was going to be stillborn and we didn’t tell him. We just let him pray.

He put her hand on her tummy, then put his hand on top of hers and quietly offered a sweet prayer. “Let this baby be born in perfect health,” he whispered while we cried.

We thanked him and left. The drive home was quiet. We undressed and lay down, almost without a word. Our sadness was overwhelming.

In the middle of the night, Sandi woke up screaming. I lunged out of bed, grabbing the trousers I kept on the chair, aware of the suitcase waiting on the floor. I fumbled for buttons on my shirt while she kept crying, “No! No! No!”

Finally, she called, “Stop!” I flipped on the lamp. She was sitting up in bed, bawling, with one hand on her tummy. “Come!” she called. “Come here!”

I went. She took my hand and placed it on her tummy. The baby was kicking up a storm. Allison would be her name, and she was born in perfect health!

~Danny Carpenter

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