I’ve seen women go through the beginning of some of the darkest hours of their lives. They are bringing forth a baby who will be born in eternal sleep, or who will live only long enough to say goodbye. While very emotional and taxing to be a part of, it is a privilege to be there for that mother and her family who are so in shock, so deeply sad, and so broken.
Life dreams that have been woven over the previous months are unraveling in front of me as I listen to what is said through the tears, and what is said through the silent looks across the room. My heart breaks to watch this happen and my eyes begin to swell with tears. Sometimes those tears can be blinked back, but often they come unrestrainable. I tell myself it’s okay for them to see how their grief is shared, but sometimes I feel weak in not being able to hold it back.
l wish with all my heart that these scenes would never play out again. My impulse to withdraw and remove myself from this pain is quelled by a thought; this family did not choose to be here, and would give ANYTHING not to be here. They need someone who can lend support and help them find a little spark of joy in meeting this new one who will be held for just a short while. Someone needs to help them celebrate a life that has made an impact to be felt forever. Someone needs to help them know that this experience will shape them, and refine them into something new, someone they never thought they would be; a grieving parent who has come through the loss of a child.
The medical team is there to give physical care, but the emotional needs are the most demanding. We prepare to document and give dignity and honor to this baby and obtain as many keepsakes as possible. We know they will be clung to when arms feel so heavy with loss. We set up all the services this family will need and we wait and watch with them as the hours tick by.
When the bitter/sweet moment of birth arrives I wish there were words to suppress the pain; some magic pain-destroying words. After over fifteen years of helping in these scenarios, I’ve learned there are no such words. Often there are sobs, tears, hugs, but few words.
Feeling something so immense kind of kicks the words right out of you. I’ve learned that what feels like uncomfortable silence is necessary silence, so I’ve learned to say nothing for long stretches. I might point out the sweet little fingers and toes, or the beautiful hair or lack thereof. My job is to help them find something beautiful to remember. Pictures are taken, footprints collected, and anything else that seems appropriate to this situation. This little life mattered. This little life was here and made deep imprints on the heart.
When I say goodbye as I go off shift, there are often hugs, grasped hands, and deep feelings expressed as we look into each other’s eyes. I got to be there on the first leg of a journey, one that will continue long after I depart from that hospital room. I leave with a prayer in my heart that this family will be able to pass through this darkness and go on to feel the bright light of joy that now seems impossible. Perhaps I’ll see them again, under happier circumstances: that’s what I like to tell myself. My steps feel slow and heavy as I go. I’ve done what I can, and I hope it’s been enough.
After shifts like this I go home to my husband and he can usually see in my face that today was not a typical shift at work. I don’t need to say much; he understands and folds me into his arms and sometimes I vent all the emotion I’ve been holding inside. Let’s face it, patients want to see you care, but they also want to feel you have it together, so you hold it together until you find a safe place to let it all fall apart. I thank God I have that safe place in my husband. I’ve also found that safe place in the break room, embracing a fellow nurse who’s been there before and understands.
I’ve heard it said that pain is the price we pay for loving. When we love deeply, we open ourselves up to the deepest of grief. Despite how exquisite it is, the pain seems a privilege to pay because that means love was there in abundance. While I'm with you I can feel that love and grief, and it changes and shapes me. Even as just a nurse and observer, I cannot help but be forever changed by you and your angels.
To all of the special families I’ve been honored to care for these past years, I pray you’ve been supported as you encountered the really tough days. I hope you know you are not alone. If you are suffering, please seek out help through support groups for parents dealing with this kind of grief. 'Share' and 'Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep' are two such groups I can suggest. I pray peace and happiness find you sooner rather than later. I hope you remember it's okay not to be okay, for how ever long it takes. I hope you know I can never forget you.........