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The Shifts Where My Heart Breaks

Updated: Nov 5, 2019

I'm sure you've read the posts from other labor nurses before...what I'm writing about is nothing that hasn't been said by others. But this is my take on what I consider to be one of the most jarring on the job experiences that I and the other labor nurse staff encounter on a more regular basis than one might expect.

It was any other normal, fairly swamped day on the labor unit. We were bustling, with each nurse diligently moving through the morning chaos of scheduled and walk-in laboring moms, scheduled cesareans, and labor evaluations. During shift change report, our charge nurse asked if anyone would like to volunteer to work the operating room for the morning, and looking at our assignment board, I raised my hand quickly, hoping to be one to one with a patient and her little one after her scheduled c-section in the recovery room. It's something I always enjoy...helping moms to nurse, checking mom and baby vital signs frequently, teaching moms all about their post-op care, what to expect in the next few days, and making sure that they are both stable before transferring to the mother/baby unit. On this day in particular, it felt like a respite from the hustle of what was going down outside those recovery room doors.

Around 1130, I arrived back to our unit, my fresh post-op patient and her precious new baby boy carefully tucked into their mother/baby room and off the uncomfortable recovery room stretcher. Stripping the stretcher of its linen, and wiping down recovery room equipment, I took a brief moment of pause to sigh, collect myself and walk back to the front desk of the unit to find out who my next expecting mama would be.

My charge nurse looked me right in eye as soon as I stepped up to the desk. Kind and experienced, she simply lowered her head slightly and softly said, "I'm sorry to do this to you..." Her voice trailed off. I looked at the assignment board. 38 weeks, Intauterine Fetal Demise (IUFD). With a pit in my stomach, I swallowed the lump in my throat, looked at her, and said, "It's okay, we all get a turn."

What could I say? Please, don't make me go into that room. Please, don't make me witness the horror, the anguish, the fear on this poor mother's face? I took a moment, my eyes welling with sorrow for her, her family, her beautiful full-term baby, the baby that would be born sleeping that she will ache for...always.

Grabbing her prenatal record, I went in to introduce myself to both mom and her husband. "I'm Lauren." I said quietly, slowly walking over to greet mom with open arms. "I'm so incredibly sorry for your loss." She thanked me, but then her face turned back to blank, her husband, sitting on the couch about 3 feet away, also looked back at me blankly. They looked gutted, understandably so. My heart ached along with them. Biting my lip was not doing me any favors, but it was all I could do to keep my composure.

They wanted confirmation that their baby was "really gone". Though confirmed during their office visit, their disbelief stirred, and so their OB joined us in the room to confirm what we all already knew. Again, I had to fight back my own tears as her OB showed them, once more..."There, that area right there...We should see color changing if there was blood flow...We should see the little flicker of a valve closing if baby's heart was beating...I'm sorry, your baby has passed."

Numbly, both mom and her husband sat as the OB explained the process of inducing labor. I stepped out with the doctor for a few minutes to allow them to take a few minutes for themselves...To give them some semblance of privacy while absorbing this unthinkable situation. When I returned, I once again apologized for the sterility of what I needed to do to help get the process going. "I need to help you through some consent forms and obtain your health history." I paused. Putting my papers to the side, I leaned over her bedside table, and said, "I'm a mom too... I also have two children. I can't imagine what you're feeling right now. We're going to get through this together."

The thoughts raced through my head. What am I even saying? Is this making things worse for them? I simply wanted to make her feel like I wasn't just a nurse today. I was a mom, standing in front of another mom, trying to make her feel supported in some small way during arguably the worst day of her entire life.

After getting an epidural, the induction process rolled along, and both mom and husband kept asking me, "What's our time frame?" I kept politely explaining that as this was still early labor, I didn't have any good estimate for them at all. I knew what they were really asking. "When is this baby coming?" "When can we finally get this little one out and truly grieve?" "When will this pain be over?" It's just beginning, I thought.

Hours passed. We had bonded during this shift...Solidarity through brief talks on grief, loss, our other living children, family concerns, and what would come next. "You can hold your son right away" I said. "Or you don't have to. You don't have to make this decision can decide in the moment. We will give you as much time as you desire with your baby." A few minutes later, a single tear stung down my cheek as I documented at their bedside computer. I was witnessing dad carefully thumbing through the pages of a story book offered to them by our Chaplain to read to their sleeping baby when he arrived.

Shortly after 6 pm I realized that I would not be the nurse attending this delivery. Internally, I was torn. I would be honored to take care of this mom, this couple. To support them, to make them feel some sense of stability on this day of utter hell. On the flip side, selfishly, I wanted to run off the unit as soon as I could. To shield my own heart from any more pain then I had seen that day.

Shift change came at 7 pm. I apologized once more that I had to go. I knew my oncoming relief would be a great assett to their care, and hopefully with fresh eyes and reserves would be emotionally ready to get them through the rest of this labor journey. With a huge hug for both mom and dad, I said my goodbyes and left.

This haunts me. It's only been a few days, and this will continue to haunt me, like every other stillborn labor and birth imprints my heart and soul. She wasn't my first, she won't be my last, and it truly is an honor and privilege to help any mom going through any gestational age. My heart truly does break for every mom, every family that has to endure this horror. But I also see strength. I see courage. I see love. I see pain. I see faith.

Most of all, I see you, mamas. I will always see you. For any mom with an angel baby or babies up above, I will always be praying for you and your babies. Every single day.

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