'I Am a Walking Graveyard'

A pregnant woman whom doctors forced to carry a fetus after its death tells her story

An illustrative photo of a hospital room.
Rami Shllush

Hello to Hadas [a woman in her 40s, not her real name], who has been carrying a dead fetus in her uterus for one week, after the physicians declined to induce birth immediately, because “There’s no medical urgency involved, and there are no slots available for the requisite C-section.” Nir Gontarz here, from Haaretz. How are you?

Alright, you could say.

Formally, what week of pregnancy are you in now?

Twenty-two and one day.

How was it discovered that the fetus is dead?

I had pains and I went – this was Friday [April 27] at midday. I started having pains like you get in muscle cramps. Discomfort in the uterus. And I went to the hospital. I waited six hours. I saw the doctor and there was a pulse. And then he saw low amniotic fluid. I didn’t know what ‘low amniotic fluid’ meant. He sent me home with the instruction to move to the “high-risk” category in the hospital, and told me which tests to take: fetal echocardiogram and a bunch of other things. I went into a women’s support group on Facebook and I wrote something about low amniotic fluid. They told me to rest a lot, to drink a lot of water, and everyone gave her own advice. I started to drink a lot of water. To drink, drink, drink.

On April 30, I went for a routine ultrasound. And then, a quarter of an hour later, the technician didn’t want to give me the results. She tried every possible way [to avoid it]. I asked, “What happened?” And she said, “I don’t see a pulse. I’m sorry. I’m going to call the doctor to confirm it.” She called the doctor, he didn’t see a pulse, either, and didn’t see amniotic fluid. He said that, “the fetus is not among the living, not from today.” Probably since Friday already. Until May 8, I’m supposed to be with a fetus that is not among the living. It’s like dragging a cemetery around with me. I am a walking graveyard.

What did the doctor explain?

He sent me to a hospital.

And there?

I had blood tests. Again they put me on the ultrasound. They called the head of the department and asked, “What do we do with her?” And then he said, “Pills.” I told him no. I explained that I had already had three C-sections. I am forbidden from having natural birth. It’s a large fetus, after all. The womb will tear. The baby must not come out of me like that. And then he said, “Good that you’re telling us this.” He said a C-section. He checked the schedule and saw that there were no available slots in the near future. I asked, “And if it was an emergency? If I were bleeding? A woman giving birth, you don’t tell her there are no slots. You just take her in.” He said, “True, but with you it’s not called emergency surgery. You can drag ‘it’ around for as long as a month.”

He actually said those words to you?

Exactly like that. Exactly like that. Later I checked, and it’s true: There are women that go even a month like that.

I, as a man, am very far from understanding the experience of pregnancy and giving birth, and certainly of a stillbirth. But what I especially can’t imagine is what it’s like to walk around with a dead fetus in the body for one week. It’s incomprehensible. I accept, for the sake of the discussion, that there is no health risk in it – let’s say. But they seem not to understand what they are doing to you from the mental-psychological viewpoint.

Mentally it wipes me out. I am in mourning. I mourn for everything. I am in mourning for a baby girl that I never knew, yes, but that I still connected with. I looked forward, and there were already dreams. It’s hard. I fall apart when I’m alone at home.

What’s it actually like to walk around with a dead baby girl in the stomach, in the body?

I am pregnant with a fetus that is not alive. I look pregnant. People I know and who know I am pregnant say to me, “Wow. How beautiful. Your tummy really got big. When are you due?” And then it all bursts out of me. I can’t hold the tears back. I can put on an act, but as soon as I’m asked – that’s it. I am torn to pieces in front of them, and then they don’t understand, and I tell them what happened. And everyone is stunned that the fetus is in the abdomen. Everyone. Anyone who hears.

And when you’re alone – just you and the dead fetus?

I ask why it’s happening. That day, April 30, always comes back to me. That day of the pulse. The words echo all the time, and then I start to cry. Alone. That picture comes back to me. At night I wake up from nightmares of a sheet covered with blood and the body of a baby girl on the bed. I am afraid that I will give birth at home. It gets into my sleep.

This is the first time I’ve cried during an interview.

It’s a very hard experience. How do you just send a person off like that? Other women must not be allowed to go through this experience.

If it had been a woman doctor, one who has gone through pregnancy and given birth, would it be different?

It would be different! You won’t believe – the female technician from the ultrasound cried together with me.

Naturally.

The [male] doctors – there were three – were all so cold. They weren’t even moved. I thought the one from the ultrasound would say, ‘I’m sorry.” I waited for consolation, and nothing. They spoke technically between them, “Enter from here, do it from here.”

It’s emotional abuse, what they’re doing to you.

I asked again, “Is there a pulse?” They said, “No, there’s no pulse.” I expected a miracle. They were three men. They spoke so coldly. I spoke with women who went through it. That’s how it is.

I still don’t believe they sent you home with a dead fetus inside you.

Yes. They sent me, and the instruction was that – if I had fever or bleeding, or an exceptional situation – to come to the hospital without a referral. The body wants to eject her. My body knows that something is not right. No one is promising me that it won’t happen to me today. In another hour or two.

Did you have time to imagine the life the baby could have had?

Plenty of dreams. I dreamt that I was dressing her and my [other] daughter in pink, and doing ponytails for her. Everything’s shattered.

My heart is torn apart. Literally.

Thank you. I am doing this so that other women will not go through what I am going through. It’s hell.

Were you offered psychological treatment?

They dumped me. No one asked me anything. Not even who I was going home with, who is giving me support and who is helping me.

Who’s with you in this?

Family. But strong as I am, and with family, I am torn up. Imagine women in their first pregnancy and without support. Women who went through it two years ago are talking to me about it and crying.

It’s an unimaginable nightmare. I’m sorry, and I hope that no other women will have to go through this.

If only. I didn’t succeed in my pregnancy this time, but maybe my fetus came to correct something for other women.

Thank you for talking to me.

Thank you.

This interview took place on May 7, and the following day, as planned, Hadas underwent a C-section.