In late 2020, we decided we were ready to try for a baby. Shortly after trying, we became “pregnant.” For about 10 weeks, we thought we were, though I had very mild symptoms. At our first prenatal appointment, we learned there was no baby, only an empty yolk sac. We were terribly sad and disappointed. After letting my body get through a couple cycles, we started trying again. Almost a year went by and we were not getting pregnant. We did some fertility testing with all normal results.
We finally got pregnant in February 2022. We were ecstatic. I had morning sickness and the first trimester was miserable. But still—we were pregnant and so happy. Once we got towards the end of our first trimester, my doctor said our risk of miscarriage was very low. We never discussed miscarriage again and never discussed the possibility of stillbirth. My pregnancy was generally typical with some minor health issues that no one was concerned about affecting our baby. All ultrasounds and appointments were normal. Our baby girl was very active, moving to music, reacting to our touches, and we wondered what kind of active daughter we were bringing into the world.
We were completely ready well in advance of our due date—clothes were washed, nursery and house were prepared, car seat bases in the cars, classes done, bags packed, take-home outfits selected, meals prepared, work (almost) ready for my leave. We planned and imagined holidays, holiday cards, family and friends coming to visit, first doctor’s appointments, nursing, rocking, and simply holding our baby. Our first child, our daughter. We were ecstatic, ready as we could be.
On Monday, October 31, 2022 (week 37), I had a prenatal appointment, which didn’t result in any issues. Little did I know, this would be the last time I heard our baby girl’s heartbeat.
On Saturday, November 5, 2022 (week 38 to the day), our baby stopped moving. I remember feeling her move that afternoon. Then we were active rest of the day, and it was typical for her to not move when I did. The first time we talked about her lack of movement was late that night. We weren’t overly concerned because she would not always move much after a busy day.
The next day (Sunday), she still was not moving and we started getting concerned. That afternoon, we decided I should go into the hospital. I went in alone, thinking everything would be fine and they would find her heartbeat and send me home. I laid down on the bed and the nurse couldn’t find her heartbeat with the monitor. While she blamed that on my anterior placenta, that had not been a problem in the past and I knew something was wrong. The resident came in with an ultrasound machine and couldn’t find a heartbeat. She said she was new and didn’t want to give a prognosis; but when I asked if I should have my husband come, she said yes. The terror started setting in. Then the doctor came in, did an ultrasound, and looked at me. I said, “there’s no heartbeat, is there.” She quietly said no. I fell apart as my nightmare started. My husband texted me asking if they found a heartbeat and I responded asking him how close he was. He knew something was wrong, and when he arrived, I had to tell him that our baby girl had died. His devastation and nightmare joined mine. A second ultrasound confirmed. While my hope had already died, my husband’s continued. I knew the doctor was right because our baby had not moved for so long and I had already endured more steps of terror. My husband wondered if they were wrong and hoped she may come out crying. I knew it wouldn’t be so, and I couldn’t let myself hope.
The doctor gave us the option to go home and return for labor and delivery or just to start right away. I didn’t want to go home, so we started the induction. Along the way, we did many tests—many, many blood tests, an amniocentesis with an ultrasound, and we later agreed to an autopsy. They also sent in my placenta for testing. Throughout our stay, many people came to talk to us and ask us questions—how far did we want to go in testing, did we want to hold our baby right away or have her wrapped up first, did we want to have a funeral or service, did we want to cremate, did we want family to come and see her before the autopsy. Questions we never imagined we’d have to answer. We cried harder than we’d ever cried before.
About 26 hours after being induced, we delivered our sweet baby girl on Monday, November 7, 2022 at 7 pounds 15 ounces and 19.75 inches. Delivering our stillborn daughter was the worst thing we had ever done. We never imagined we would have to go through labor and delivery but not hear our baby’s cry. After she silently came into the world, we held her, cried, and talked to her. What happened to you, baby girl? We wanted you so much. We are so sorry. We love you. As we held her, we named her Astra, meaning “of the stars.” We gave her my middle name and both of our last names. We spent time with our daughter that night and the next morning before we left the hospital. We chose to not have anyone else come to the hospital and to just spend time the three of us. We left the hospital with our tears and devastation; we were supposed to be leaving with smiles and our baby.
We decided to cremate Astra. But we wanted to see her and hold her one last time. We were able to do so on the Sunday after she died—one week after our nightmare started. We invited our family to come, and they did. We knew that we were not the only one experiencing a loss; our parents had lost their granddaughter, our sisters had lost their niece. While it was so hard to see our Astra, it provided some comfort to all of us to hold her and talk to her one more time. We brought her ashes home in an urn the following Friday.
Questions chase themselves around our minds. What happened? How did we get so far with no problems only to have her die? She was a full-size, full-term real baby, how did she not come out breathing and crying? She looked perfect with 10 fingers and 10 toes. We were supposed to be home with our baby girl, not arranging for cremation. She was supposed to be in our arms, not in an urn. How was this possible? Time and talking to family and friends and a lot of crying have dulled the pain ever so slightly. Every day comes with reminders of what we have lost, and some days are better than others. My husband and I support each other, we are sad together, we wish together, we question together, and we hope together.
We have since learned that Astra had a heart condition, which most likely caused a heart arrhythmia resulting in lack of oxygen to her brain and then lack of blood. Having an answer has been both a relief and a renewal of pain.
We remain with our sadness and tears and love for our daughter we never brought home in the way we expected.
Rest peacefully among the stars, sweet baby girl. We love you more than we ever thought possible.
Astra Rose Duel-Skorseth
Became still November 5, 2022
Born silent November 7, 2022