PARENTS

Outnumbered And Over The Hill: The Midwife Can't Find A Heartbeat

14/08/2014 16:51 | Updated 22 May 2015

Outnumbered and Over the Hill: The midwife can't find a heartbeat

Turning up to a scan or an antenatal appointment and discovering that there's no heartbeat must be every pregnant mum's worst nightmare. It's the sort of worry that wakes you up in a cold sweat in the dead of night. And no matter how many times people tell you it's not going to happen to you, you just can't help but feel as if it might.

I've written previously about how I feel like I'm playing Russian roulette with my reproductive system by having a third baby. Partly that's because I'm over 35, which all the baby books delight in telling you is officially considered over the hill for an expectant mum, but with two easy pregnancies and healthy children I can't shake the sense I've already had more than my fair share of good things in life as a mother.

Which is why it came as no surprise to me today when then midwife couldn't find my baby's heartbeat during a routine antenatal appointment.

As her expression froze I almost felt the inevitable was happening. Eventually I looked away, having seen enough of a hint of panic in her eyes to know that scrutinising her facial features for an indication of what was going on really wasn't going to help.

We could hear a heartbeat, but she'd already ascertained that it was mine, and the unmistakable sound of a train or a galloping horse couldn't be made out alongside it. Those were some of the longest seconds of my life.

Silently, she lifted my wrist and took my pulse not once but twice, before declaring that we were indeed hearing baby's heartbeat after all. (At which point what's left of my pelvic floor nearly gave way altogether.) It seems the baby's heartbeat is just a little on the slow end of the spectrum of what's considered a 'normal' heart rate at 18 weeks gestation, which is why we'd both initially mistaken it for my own.

As I wiped the gel off my stomach - which still looks less like a baby bump and more like incontrovertible proof that I ate too many of the kids' stash of chocolate this Easter - I couldn't stop shaking.

The midwife seemed unconcerned, though I reckon she must have needed a strong cup of sweet tea after that appointment. She offered to do a quick scan too, so that we could have a peek at baby's heart. "Just to put your mind at rest," she said, and I laughed out loud at the notion that my mind might be so easy to assuage. But there, beating away on screen, was a tiny little heart. I could have cried, except I was too busy holding my breath, so I almost choked instead.

The scan also revealed that I have an anterior placenta, meaning that it's attached to the front of the uterus, closest to my abdomen, which also explains why I've not been feeling the baby kicking either.

All of which goes to show that it doesn't pay to be paranoid during pregnancy - there really might be a perfectly reasonable explanation as to why you're not feeling your baby move, or why the baby's heartbeat isn't instantly identifiable.

So instead of continuing to fear the worst throughout this pregnancy, I am going to expect the best. That's not false optimism or denial - it's just the recognition that pregnancy can be both a scary and exciting time, but choosing to adopt a positive outlook has got to be beneficial - for both mum and baby.

And besides, I should have known today's appointment was going to be 'eventful' when my effort to pee into the ridiculously-shaped urine sample pot went badly wrong - let's just say I contemplated washing my hands in bleach afterwards. But it struck me that the moment painted a vivid picture of pregnancy and impending motherhood.

It's rarely glamorous or dignified, and often fraught with challenges that will stretch everything from your emotions and your coping mechanisms to your stomach muscles and your patience.

The secret to sailing through it all without losing your mind is simple really: count your blessings, do your Kegel exercises and above all, try to relax. Your baby's bound to thank you for it.

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