Labor of Love and Loss
I was thrilled when I found out I was expecting my second child. I wanted nothing more than to give my daughter a sibling.
The moment I saw the positive sign I instantly bonded with the growing life inside of me. I perused big sister books; I imagined how life would be with two children and joked about the trials and tribulations that awaited us. I was full of hope, excitement, and anticipation.
That hope and joy was shattered when I lost my pregnancy.
The world suddenly felt heavy, blurry, and uncertain. I wanted to run and hide and bury myself but I couldn’t. Every day I had to go to work and put on whatever semblance of a brave face I could muster. I would smile through my pain to be the cheerleader, coach, care giver and support system as I helped other women and families bring their babies into the world. I am a labor and delivery nurse.
It was difficult to have that happy, joyful excitement with my patients when a part of me was falling apart. My heart was broken; my uterus was this empty aching void. I was cramping and bleeding and losing the tiny life inside of me. I was experiencing my own loss while simultaneously helping others experiencing new life. However hard it seemed, it wasn’t nearly as hard as what was to come.
It was a rainy fall day. It had been a couple of months since my own loss and I was on a path of healing. I was excited and ready to head in for my shift and spend my day celebrating birth in all its glory. It’s an honor to be a part of a women’s intimate experience of childbirth and caring for the partners and their families.
She was my first patient of the day. It was a routine scheduled repeat C-section. We made small talk about the anticipated new arrival of her second baby, she mentioned feeling nervous and excited and ready. Big sister was full of wonder and anticipation.
I placed her on the monitors to see how her baby was doing, she was 39 weeks and the heart beat shouldn’t have been hard to find. I searched and searched and it wasn’t long before my worst fear was being realized… It was quiet… it was still.
She looked at me, as our eyes met I knew she knew something wasn’t right. She asked me if everything was okay. That moment came so quickly my heart sank. I felt like I was choking on the right words to say to her. I told her we would get and ultrasound and find out.
I stepped out to call the Dr. and by the tone of my voice, she knew what was happening. When we re-entered the room with the ultrasound her eyes were glossy and her husband’s hands were clenched in hers, his head down as if in prayer.
Looking at the images on the ultrasound and seeing the stillness I placed one hand over theirs and a second on the fathers back. The worst was confirmed; there was no longer a heartbeat.
Time stood still. The air felt thick and oppressive like a room filling with water and everything sinking and drowning with every word the doctor was saying.
The shock and disbelief, the instant grief was so tangible. It was palpable and inseparable. Suddenly my own grief thrust itself on me and catapulted me into this moment with them in a way I had never experienced before. This wasn’t my first time caring for a mother experiencing loss, but it was the first time seeing it with the eyes of someone who has lost.
My manager immediately asked me if I wanted a different assignment, I said no. I wouldn’t leave this woman, this family. We’re in this now and I was determined to give every bit of my heart and soul into caring for her.
He was chubby and beautiful and utterly perfect with a head full of hair and skin so smooth and soft. As a labor and delivery nurse some of our care includes clipping a lock of hair, taking footprints, pictures, giving the infant a bath, and preparing a box of memento’s to name a few.
I bathed him gently as if he were my own; I spoke softly to him and told him how beautiful he was. I took his pictures with complete presence in that moment. Folding his clothes and blanket for the parents, ensuring his footprints was perfect and taking the time to find just the right locks of hair pausing only to wipe my own tears. That day I held them all; sat in silence with them, cried with them, mourned with them.
The next day I requested to continue caring for them. By this time we had developed a rapport. She was alone so I sat with her and told her of my own loss. I told her she wasn’t alone in her grief, she wasn’t alone in her loss.
Later that day her husband and daughter came back to hold their precious boy one last time. The father came up to me and whispered, “Thank you for sharing your story and grieving with us. It meant more than you know”. At the time I shared I didn’t know if it was the right thing to say or do, I just wanted them to know they weren’t alone. He collapsed into my shoulder and cried.
As the warmth of his tears soaked into my scrubs I knew I had done the right thing. We all embraced each other, cried together, and grieved together. I took their daughter for a little while, changed her diaper, let her play and color pictures at the nurse’s station so the parents could spend some time with their son they never took home.
They went home that evening as did I. They may never know how much thought went into the way I put together their mementos, or that I spoke sweetly to their son while I bathed him and cared for him, that I held him so gently and made sure his blankets were warm so that he felt warm when they held him.
They may not know that I remember him, I remember them. I remember every loss; I mourn every loss.
**Some details have been altered to protect privacy and identity.