Yesterday on the SGM Facebook page, we shared a blog post from Adventures of a Labor Nurse called, When There’s Nothing to Celebrate. Her words were real and raw and so true in describing what it is like for the caregivers when a baby dies.
Most nurses don’t choose to work in OB to deal with the devastation of death and loss. They were attracted to OB to experience the miracle of life, the sweetness of a newborn baby’s cry, the victory and peace that settles over a mother after a long labor, when her arms are finally full and the pain is forgotten. Death doesn’t belong in the birthing room. Silence so thick you can barely breathe, and pain with no answers…pain that will not be eased with arms filled with new life. That kind of pain, only begins with the labor…the labor is the least of it.
I used to wonder when I was training through Stillbirthday to become an SGM/SBD birth and bereavement doula (a support person for a mother facing the loss of her baby, as well as a support person for birth in any trimester) and when we were building our SGM Perinatal Hospice Birth and Bereavement Services program, how the nurses who had endured and guided families through the agony of grief would respond to us…entering their territory. I wondered if a hospital did embrace our program how they would feel about an outsider in their world. Would they feel as if we are taking away from the work they do….or insinuating we can give something they cannot? Would they resent our presence? Would we get in the way? Would it be difficult to earn their trust?
It hasn’t been that way at all, as far as I’ve seen. Most of the time, we are welcomed with tired and grateful eyes. I’ve walked into hospitals in the wee hours of the night, and held an exhausted nurse, relieved to no longer be in this alone, to finally release the carefully held back tears as I wrapped my arms around her. I’ve answered questions in the hall about what babies typically look like at 15 weeks, and how I can support a mother in grief who has made poor choices in her care and if I wrestle with those situations later. I’ve talked through it with them, listened while their own experiences bubbled to the surface as we walked with the family. I’ve asked for their help in some cases, when my gloves didn’t fit, my ink pad wasn’t working, or when a baby was too fragile to move on my own. God bless the nurse who taught me the tuck and roll maneuver. (I’m sure there’s a much more technical term for it!) We’ve taken turns keeping each other up in the hallway after a 15 hour labor that resulted in miscarriage. I watched several shifts of caring nurses go through that day/night. We measure and weigh babies together, marveling at the intricacies and miracle of life and creation, seen even in the tiniest little ones. In many of the small hospitals we serve, this may be the first time a nurse has encountered loss. It is a rare occurrence in smaller hospitals without NICU and maternal fetal medicine facilities.
Often, we hear from grieving parents about the things done wrong by medical staff and caregivers, the wrong words spoken, a lack of compassion given. Because, in reality, the painful things stand out more in our memories. But, this post is about the nurse in the hallway, searching for anything to ease the pain of a mother who must say goodbye to her precious baby. The nurse with all the questions and sometimes even accusations hurled at her as friends and family try to make sense of the tragedy. The nurse, who sometimes has made every effort alongside the doctor to save a baby who no longer breathes and never will again. The nurse who is glad we are there with clothing to fit a little one, and a fresh set of hands, and the eyes of a mother who has walked through this wilderness more than once, the nurse who walks by while we’re taking pictures to offer a gentle suggestion of another shot we could try…the nurse who will be there to offer her loving, gentle care long after I leave the hospital. She does it all, even while wiping up the blood and recording all the statistics, holding a bed pan as a worn out mother vomits.
The nurses in hospitals we’ve trained, who’ve sighed with relief, saying again and again, “We aren’t alone in this anymore. We don’t have to struggle with a camera to get pictures while also caring for our patients.” The thing is…they had done it, before we came…they had struggled through…because they want to give their patients everything…the best they have to offer. The nurses without bereavement support programs like those offered through Sufficient Grace Ministries, who continue to make time to hold a mother’s hand, to offer reassurance to grandmothers and fathers in the hallway and in the delivery room, even while juggling the demands of other patients. I’ve watched them walk from a celebratory birthing room to a silent one. The wipers of tears, the ones who hold the hair back while a mother vomits, the ones ready with a cool cloth, a cup of water, the steady anchor in the storm. The nurse who snapped a picture during the only moment when my son Thomas opened his eyes, sixteen years ago.
It takes courage to enter into the wilderness with another human being…to not look away…to allow yourself to feel compassion, even when it hurts. Those who can do that, who can offer exceptional care…and find the courage to show the compassion that doesn’t look away, those are the heroes.
We just want you to know…we see. We see you giving beyond what you have left to give…giving even in your own exhausted, broken state. We see you, and we are honored to walk alongside you in the wilderness. We are so grateful for each of you. And, the mothers you serve…even if they never say so…they are grateful as well. Thank you, amazing caregivers.
For more information about brining SGM Perinatal Hospice Birth and Bereavement Services to your hospital, visit this link:
SGM Perinatal Hospice Birth and Bereavement Services Training
For more information about our programs:
SGM Perinatal Hospice Birth and Bereavement Services
To order materials for your bereavement program:
Password for birth professionals ONLY is SGM/SBD (hospital staff, nurses, physicians, doulas, midwives, funeral home directors, etc)
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