During any busy shift at work, midwife Shelly Lopez Gray gets to experience the joy of helping bring new life into the world with the families she works with – but occasionally things don’t go well for mother and baby and there is great sorrow instead. Here she shares such a day …
Recently, I left work so late my kids were already asleep by the time I got home …
Part of me wanted to wake my daughter up, ask her about her day, and stay up late talking about all the things she had done throughout the day. I wanted to scoop up my sleeping son, smell his baby-ness and cover him with kisses. The other half of me was so exhausted, I was glad that my husband had put them to bed before I had gotten home.
I fell into bed, asleep before my head even hit the pillow. I woke up the next morning before anyone else was awake, put on a clean pair of scrubs, and went back to work, rested and renewed, but determined to finish charting in time to be home at a normal hour.
“I wish I could have told her”
It was busy that day. A few hours before shift-change, a young mother came in to be triaged because she hadn’t felt her baby move for almost twelve hours. All of our triage beds were full, so we had to put her in a labor room.
When I couldn’t find her baby’s heartbeat, there were so many things I wanted to say to her, but couldn’t. It wasn’t the right time and I was only her nurse. But this is what I wish I could have told her:
- It didn’t take me long to stop looking for your baby’s heartbeat. I knew then the next chain of events that were about to occur. I couldn’t tell you anything, even though I wanted to, because I have to wait for your doctor to break the news. I hope they’re not too far away, and that they’ll be able to get here quickly.
- The moment I stopped trying to find the heartbeat, I know all of your suspicions were confirmed, even though neither of us said a word. Your husband did not know to be concerned yet, because he wasn’t the one that had stopped feeling the movement. I know you needed him, so I chose my words carefully: Because I could not find your baby’s heartbeat with the monitor, I’m going to get someone to do an ultrasound. I will also call your doctor. Do you understand what I’m saying? Your eyes were glossed over with tears, but you did not cry. Your husband put down his phone.
- When I walked out of your room to call your doctor, I prayed the entire way to the nurse’s station that maybe I was wrong. When I got to the nurse’s station, every single nurse, unit secretary, and tech asked me if I had been able to find the heartbeat. When I told them no, the tone changed on the entire unit.
- When I called your doctor to tell them, I heard their voice catch in their throat. They didn’t have to tell me…I knew they were going to drop everything and come straight to the hospital.
- When I walked back into your room, your husband was holding you and crying. I told you that your doctor was on their way to see you. I was so thankful that your husband finally understood and was next to you, comforting you.
- When the ultrasound confirmed everything we already knew, you cried silently and your family cried hysterically. It’s usually like that. You won’t cry hysterically until you deliver your baby and see her with your own eyes.
- As a labor nurse, when we are going to deliver someone whose baby has died, we hope with everything we have that the baby hasn’t been dead for long. We want you to remember her as she was: perfect, only sleeping, silent, and still.
- You will want to know a reason, but you probably won’t get one. If you do, it won’t make anything easier, but, like you, we still hope you get one.
- Even if you came to the hospital the moment you stopped feeling her move, it would have been too late. So don’t blame yourself for anything you did or could have done.
“I didn’t feel there were any words”
I did not cry in front of the patient. I hugged her and kissed her head, got her towels and helped her into the bath. Afterwards, I put extra pillows in her bed as I tried to prepare her for her induction. I didn’t feel there were any words I could say at that time.
She probably won’t remember that I stroked her arm when her physician verbalized her fears. She probably won’t remember me telling her husband to call her mother.
She probably didn’t know that I went home and cried for her, while I was in my bath. And she probably doesn’t know that I’m still thinking about her and writing about this, months and months later.
The first, the last, the hoped-for
As nurses, we make every situation the worst one: Oh, this was their first boy. Oh, they were finally having a girl. This was their first baby. This was supposed to be their last baby. Their daughter was finally going to be a big sister. Their son really wanted a brother …
As a patient, you experience the delivery as a stillbirth. As a nurse, we experience the delivery as an IUFD, or intrauterine fetal demise. I have never personally had a stillbirth, but I’ve experienced an IUFD at practically every stage of pregnancy. It’s never easy when there’s nothing to celebrate, and your situation is always the worst one for us.
I stayed at work late that day, not wanting to leave the patient until her mother had gotten to the hospital. I knew the young couple would need their parents, I knew that woman would need her mom. When I got home, my house was quiet with sleeping kids.
“Our hearts broke for you”
That night though, I scooped up my son and crawled into bed with my daughter and asked her to tell me all about her day. She talked endlessly about everything, until I finally fell asleep with her hair in my face and her knees in my back, thankful to be next to their two little warm bodies.
I hope that every mother out there who has ever been shattered by the silence of her baby’s unbeating heart knows that our hearts broke for you the day you came in to have the baby that you would not leave the hospital with.
And every single time I watch someone leave the hospital empty-armed, I close my eyes and wish that if we meet again, we will all have something to celebrate.
This article first appeared on Adventures of a Labor Nurse and is republished here with permission.