A Nurse’s Wish

Being an obstetrical nurse, I am surrounded by beauty every single day I come to work. What people who don’t work in obstetrics don’t know is that labor and delivery can also be incredibly sad. As maternal-child nurses, we’re not just holding babies and taking pictures of new parents. Some days we leave work so emotionally shattered, we feel crippled by the weight. I cannot count how many bad or unfortunate things I have seen in my short career as a nurse. But without hesitation, the absolute worst thing I have ever experienced is the unexpected death of a baby.

When I admit someone for labor, I can’t help but get so excited. Even if I’m tired, even if we’re short-staffed, even if the mother is screaming in a lot of pain, I love it. Part of the magic of labor and delivery is that the same process unfolds at each delivery. Sometimes something unexpected comes up, but nurses are trained to deal with these things. We know how to handle a shoulder dystocia. We know how to handle a seizure. But when a baby is delivered and dies right before our eyes without any notice or warning, it can shock us to our core and leave us questioning if labor and delivery is where we should really be.

I once admitted a young mother in labor. She was pregnant with her first baby and she kept telling me how excited she was to finally meet her baby girl. Both sets of grandparents were with the young couple. They were all eagerly awaiting the birth of their very first grandchild. The mother was the most perfect patient any nurse could have asked for. A petal-pink lace dress delicately hung on a baby hanger inside the patient’s room. Throughout the entire day, we laughed and took bets on when her baby would be delivered. I offered my best guess—the baby would be born right at shift change. They wrote my name on a piece of paper next to 7:08, and I jokingly told them I had an unfair advantage, as her labor nurse. When she finally felt the urge to push, she delivered the most beautiful, perfect baby with a sweet button nose and the longest lashes I had ever seen. But we could immediately see what was wrong. And I still remember it all, as if in slow motion. With the absence of a baby cry, and the frantic moves of every nurse in the room, I still remember that mother hysterically asking what was happening. I still remember her husband crying with his head in his hands. Nurses and physicians flooded into the room, crowding around the baby in the warmer. I remember watching the chest compressions, watching the intubation, watching the placement of the umbilical lines. But the absolute best physicians and the greatest nurses I have ever worked with, all working quickly and steadily together, were unable to save that baby. I still remember that mother trying to climb out of her bed, clawing at the rails, her legs still numb from her epidural. And when the room, full of physicians and nurses and a code team went silent, she fell back into her bed paralyzed in disbelief and in shock. The time of death was called at 7:08.

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Thinking about that day, tears still blind my vision and it’s still a little hard to breathe. Thinking about that day, I still choke on all the sadness. That day, in that delivery, I felt suffocated by every event in the room. I didn’t know what to do or what to say. I didn’t know how I was supposed to help her. Long after everyone had left, I didn’t want to leave her alone in a room empty of a warmer or a crib. The room felt so burstingly bare and missing. When I finally left her hours after my shift, it all hit me. My heart pounded out of my ears and the realization of what had just happened made me sink in so much sadness. I walked into the break room, full of nurses with red faces and tear-stained cheeks, and we hugged each other and I sobbed into their shoulders. And then I got my things and went home, because I had to work the next day and because that’s what we do as nurses.

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I couldn’t talk about what had happened that day at work with my family. That night, tears flowed effortlessly down my face and into my bath water. I texted my patient’s nurse to check on her before I went to bed. And when I finally fell asleep, I dreamt of that perfect baby, her incredibly sweet parents, and the little lace dress hanging on the closet door in her room.

When I went back to work the next day, my heart started racing as I approached L&D. I ducked into the nurse’s lounge as quickly as I could. I was so afraid that I would see her family. I didn’t know what I would say to them, what I could possibly say to people who came to the hospital thinking they were going to leave with a healthy baby. I couldn’t tell them that I had no sign, that there was no warning, and that I too was blindsided, just as they were. I was so frightened that they would hate me for not being able to just know. I sat in the break room, waiting for my shift to start with my head down. I bit my lip so hard to keep from crying I noticed the metallic taste of blood in my mouth. I only raised my head when I felt someone’s hand on my shoulder. I looked up to see the charge nurse standing over me. With a soft voice and sympathetic eyes, she asked me if I would be willing to take care of the patient.  She told me that the family had requested that I take care of them again. And beneath her comforting hand and her reassuring fingers, I crumbled right there in my chair. I took care of that patient for the next three days until she went home, coming in even on my days off.

As I sit here typing this, I have to blink away tears. Thinking about everything that could go wrong in labor and delivery, thinking about everything that does go wrong in labor and delivery, I have to close my eyes and wish with everything I have for only one thing. This holiday season, my one wish is that every nurse knows their worth and that every patient knows theirs. If you are a nurse or if you are a patient, do not ever be afraid to voice your concerns. Do not ever be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes no amount of planning can alter a bad outcome. Sometimes nothing we do can prepare us for what we’ll be presented with. But we all have to work together to prevent the negative outcomes we can. And it’s not just about bad outcomes, it’s about the best outcomes. We can no longer solely focus on improving communication between the physician and the nurse. We have to engage our patients, because they know more than we think they do and they know more than they’re telling us.

If you have ever been the patient in a situation where you were devastated by the unexpected, if you’ve ever been the family that didn’t take your baby home, please know—please really know— that there’s still a nurse out there thinking of you. I hope that one day we will all meet again and that we’ll all have something to celebrate. But until then, know that your nurse remembers you and the life of your baby, however short their little life may have been. Somewhere out there, there is a nurse with a heavy heart in their chest and eyes blinded by tears. Your story is not forgotten. We remember.

Until my next delivery ❤

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45 Comments on "A Nurse’s Wish"

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staceytangerineowlproject
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Reblogged this on The Tangerine Owl Project and commented:
Such kind words. This is a beautiful heart wrenching but still vital story. I remember all the care and compassion our nurses had, and am thankful that you are all out there fighting along with us for our health and our babies. Thank you for sharing.

ChristineH
Guest

I cried the entire time reading this. I cried for that mother who left without her baby. For the father who grieves with her. For the baby who never got a chance. For the nurses who couldn’t change the outcome. And, I cry for myself. For being blessed to have delivered two perfectly healthy babies, and not having to experience something so horrific.

R
Guest
Im not sure how you do it but so many of your posts have a way of coinciding with what’s happening in my life as a nurse each week. Your happy posts end up on my happy weeks, your posts about maternal death or poor outcomes happen on my weeks where moms had it rough, and again this post about unexpected horrible outcomes-parents leaving the hospital without their baby, comes on a week I’ve experience the same. I’ve forgotten so many names & faces of happy moms & babies but the faceevery single mother who’s had a poor outcome (unexpected… Read more »
lkgaddis
Guest
Reblogged this on Sophia's Story and commented: The following post is a beautiful reflection of a nurse’s account when a baby’s fate becomes a parent’s worst nightmare. Even though we knew we would lose Sophia, the grace, generosity, kindness, and compassion we received from each and every nurse was noted and appreciated beyond what words can express. To this day, I remember the names of each and every nurse that cared for Sophia, Jason, and me during those three horrifying days. Along with their wisdom and guidance, they supplied never-ending reminders that our Sophia was just as important as any… Read more »
Jennifer Harrison
Guest
I worked in Labor & Delivery for nearly 13 years, and loved most every minute of it. I felt it was my calling from an early age. I was always drawn to pregnant women and babies and wanted to be able to help them one day. This post was so very real and made me just stop and think of all the mommies and babies who had bad outcomes I experienced first hand. You are so right – your labor nurse never forgets about you or your baby when there is a bad outcome. The first time I saw a… Read more »
KK
Guest

I understand completely after 15 years of labor and delivery. Most days it is absolute joy. The worst is the situation you described which we L and D nurses have encountered at least once. I think this is all the worse because almost every time the pathologists can”t find a reason. The other situation the breaks my heart is the term mother who denies her decreased fetal movement then finally comes in for the NST and there is no heartbeat. And no reason explains it and no pathology report reveals the reason.

JC
Guest

Many people make the comment to me that I must work in the happiest of places. I reply that it is the happiest 99% of the time, but when it is sad, it is really sad. Even after 25 years, I too remember every patient who suffered a loss on my watch. Thank you for your blog- so many times you have put my feelings and thoughts into words. Also, thanks for the love you have for this beautiful profession we are honored to work in.

mrsbrooks09
Guest

Wow. Thank you for sharing this. Amazing.

Bethany
Guest

wow! Cried the whole time reading this. Can’t help but to think about all of the families on our l/d unit that have had similar situations. It’s like all of their faces flashed through my mind. So well written…
Thank you for sharing! Labor and delivery can be so joyous, and sometimes it can be so sad.

Linda Taylor
Guest

After 25 years in L &D I can still recall every detail of “the worst outcome ” delivery. I too hid in the break room and cried for the loss of a beautiful child, for the wonderful couple that were devastated, for the grandparents in shock. Thank you for sharing, we never are alone if we support each other.

Courtney
Guest

i tell people most of my days at work are good days. But a bad day for a midwife is a very bad day.

Melissa
Guest
As an L&D nurse for 13 years every word of this story sounds like it could have come out of my mouth!! As a brand new nurse with only 6 months of L&D experience I had my nightmare delivery! Perfect labor, no signs of any trouble and all of a sudden lost FHT’s. Went straight to OR for Stat c-section, and that beautiful baby girl was dead. I will never forget that moment as long as I live. I have never felt so much guilt in my life. It took me hours to regain myself just so I could finish… Read more »
Lynn
Guest
I cried as I read every word you wrote. My tears brought back the memories of tears cried for poor outcomes over an 18 year career in L&D. No one who works L&D for any length of time escapes this dreaded result.No two cases are the same but the tragedy has the same effect on the poor unsuspecting parents and grandparents. It has the same effect on nurses too. On top of our grief is the added anxiety of second guessing ourselves. Your blog offers a fantastic source of peer support. Some nurses work in very supportive environments and others,… Read more »
Angel mommy
Guest
I still remember every nurse, anesthesiologist, and physician involved. I had a baby boy at 38weeks. I had decreased movement and called but did not go in until it was too late. After 3 days of labor my sweet angel was born. It was horrible, unexplainable in words how hard it was. He was my first child. It has been 7 years and I can still remember the nurses who cared for us and the tears they had with us and even when we were not around. I worked in surgery so I knew a lot of the people caring… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest

After weeks of no sleep experiencing a similar situation, it is quite something that we are able to finally get ourselves back into the job. We never forget but we learn to deal with these sad situations. It’s a good thing that most of the time we are a part of of a wonderful time of life l&d nurses are an awesome team to be part of.

Anonymous
Guest

Wow thank you for sharing this. I’ve been a labor nurse since 1999 and too we’ll know the feeling of loss and devastation . Feeling my heart in my throat after a loss and coming back to work wondering will it happen again? And unfortunately it has and it will. We just need to give the best care we can because that’s what we do regardless of what may come in our doors.

Nurse Tammy
Guest
As a Perinatal Bereavement Nurse I work exclusively with pregnancy loss/ infant death situations of all sorts. It has been my work for about to years. I came from a NICU background and I thank God for L&D nurses like you. These cases as SO sad and SO tragic but I work with people long after the day of the loss and I am regularly buoyed by the human capacity to heal. The person you meet on those fateful days is not who they are trapped into being – and that gives me such hope. And let me share that… Read more »
Nurse Tammy
Guest

I meant to say this has been my work for 10 years…sorry for typo !

Anonymous
Guest
I am not a nurse on L&D but a secretary on the unit. I catch myself holding my breath every time a patient comes into our triage area saying they haven’t felt the baby move for awhile, saying a little prayer in my head until I hear that little heartbeat. It’s horrible when you see all the doctors rushing into a little triage room trying to do everything they possibly can, rushing back for that STAT c-section only to get the call from the nurse saying that the baby didn’t make it and looking out in the waiting area seeing… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest

My first experience made me rethink my choice to be an L&D nurse but I went back to work the next week. I still remember the look on her face when I was convincing her to push. I often wonder how she is and if they were ever able to have another. My heart still breaks for her and for every mom.

Judy
Guest

Thank you so very much for sharing. I lost my son when he was 17 years old. I honestly can’t image losing a newborn. This is by far the worst experience I have ever had and it changed my life and the lives of my family forever.
All of you nurses deserve our greatest appreciation and respect, it truly takes a special person to do the work you do…. The kindness and compassion you show your pts is amazing. Thank you

Anonymous
Guest
Thanks so much for this post! Every word rings so true to me. Recently had a totally healthy, normal pregnancy…Category I strip throughout labor…only a few variables during pushing, nothing crazy or out of the ordinary…baby comes out…doesn’t cry, breath…move…turns complete blue within seconds…my heart sank so fast. Started neopuff and compressions….scariest moments especially because I didn’t even have NICU in the room for delivery since everything was sooo normal…longest 2 minutes ever as NICU team rushed in to take over. I still remember mom trying to pull herself up out of bed to see…and dad pacing right behind me.… Read more »
Angela Leigh Sweatt
Guest
I was an L&D nurse for several years and after I started feeling comfortable with my skills, I KNEW I had been born to do this. It was second nature for me. Working under intense stress and the nearly constant excitement was my cup of tea. There was not a single day that I didn’t look forward to going to work! My patients, their families, and I became almost as close as family while I cared for them. Whenever there was a bad outcome, I would feel as though my heart would break for them. Watching the mother and father… Read more »
Introverted Mama
Guest

Thank you for all that you do. I cried reading this story. You have one of the toughest jobs. You’re an angel.

Anonymous
Guest

I cried reading this.

katydids
Guest

Reblogged this on liveandletgo and commented:
As a NICU nurse, this blog post hurts my heart and reminds me that what I do is special. This was beautifully written and I can so easily relate to the pain that radiates through the treatment team and families when one of my patients pass away. Those babies are never and will never be forgotten by me as their nurse. And I hope the families are able to have some peace. They make an impact on everyone…but especially the nurses who care for them. ❤️

Amanda
Guest
Wow. I can’t tell you just how much this means to me. As a mother who lost their child unexpectedly after delivery, thank you. My daughter had to be transferred to a neighboring hospital with a level 3 NICU, and everyone had left to go be with her. I was by myself in the room, and then out of nowhere 2 nurses walked in and sat with me for about 30 mins. Then I got the call from my husband that our precious, full term, 8lb, 211/4 inch Katie Beth had passed away. They were amazing, and I knew that… Read more »
Beth Barrett
Guest
As an “old” L&D nurse who has long since retired, I have always felt that the most impact I have ever made as a nurse was those patients with either an IUFD or one that died shortly after birth. While no one cherishes this privilege, it is one that can make or break a couple’s ability to grieve. To help each couple and their family walk through this unbearable tragedy is one that not just anyone can do well. I am proud to say that I was able to do that each and every time. The most painful and horrific… Read more »
Roberta
Guest
Thank you for all that you do and have done for your patients. I unfortunately was a mother that didn’t get to bring her baby home. As awful as that was, the great nurses that took care of us, meant the world to us. The nurses are invested. One that we had never even met delivered us molds of our little girls feet and hands to our home. They went above and beyond to help us through the sad time. Thank you to all that help in the sad times and the happy ones too.
Anna
Guest

I was lucky enough to bring my baby home but know a girl who would love to read these words and know that not only her and her family but the nurses that were with her, she told me that one of the nurses cried with her, hold the memory of her and her baby boy. Bless yall for helping bring life into this world and consoling those when the unimaginable happens.

Lyla
Guest

Reblogged this on Ajourneythroughlife's Blog.

nursesuzi
Guest
I just experienced something like this a few weeks ago. Unexpected loss due to a uterine rupture. We saved mom but we couldn’t save the baby. I have nightmares about it and have flashbacks often of each moment, second guessing everything we did. I’ll never forget glancing into the neonatal resuscitation room and being able to catch glimpses of the team working on baby, that tiny blue chest being compressed over and over again. The NNP making eye contact and shaking her head, that this baby was not going to make it. We all sat on the OR floor, covered… Read more »
Katie
Guest
A good friend of my started a ministry called Hope Mommies after she delivered her beautiful baby girl and then left the hospital with empty arms. HM offers lots of resources for moms who have lost babies, especially after they have gone home. Their website is hope mommies (dot) org. They have Hope Boxes that can be kept in Labor and Delivery and given to moms who have lost their baby. I’ve linked the website to my name so that you can click over easily. I would be happy to give you any more information if this is something that… Read more »
lovedandfavored996
Guest
I am in tears!! I’ve often wanted to go back to the hospital to talk with the nurses who took care of me. One in particular had me and she was amazing. Although I was under mag, I was pretty alert and I remember everything. She held my hand the entire time. She covered me in warm blankets and witnessed my husband singing to me and helping me to get through the shaking. She was there when the doctor showed us the real time ultrasound and told us she was heading into cardiac arrest and when she showed me how… Read more »
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anonymous
Guest

Thank you for writing this. When bad outcomes happen, no amount of years of experience can keep you from reliving every moment of that labor and delivery- from second guessing every detail of the shift. My heart knows that I did everything that my training has taught me to help bring a healthy baby into the world. But it doesn’t ever make that small sliver of.. guilt, I suppose, go away. I pray for the families of bad outcomes. I pray for the babies of bad outcomes. I pray for the nurses of bad outcomes. We feel it too.

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