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 thoughts on “A Nurse’s Wish

  • December 5, 2014 at 5:14 pm
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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.

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  • December 5, 2014 at 5:38 pm
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    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.

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      • December 7, 2014 at 8:15 am
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        I feel like I could have written this. 13 years and 6 months later there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of my patient.

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  • December 5, 2014 at 5:47 pm
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    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 at delivery or a prediagnosed expected outcome) are forever in my brain. Your blog is so awesome because it’s so real. Not many people not many nurses understand what a labor & delivery nurse goes through every day. Thank you.

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  • December 5, 2014 at 6:08 pm
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    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 healthy baby. Our Sophia was embraced by each, as they spoke lovingly of her beauty and her strength. As Sophia deeply touched each nurses’ heart, they touched ours.

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  • December 5, 2014 at 6:26 pm
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    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 baby die, I thought I was going to have to quit. A full-term, “healthy” baby boy was delivered, and only lived about an hour during a code. I was such a new nurse, I was so task oriented, I was unaware of the true situation at hand until it was all over. I kept telling myself, “But he was full term” or “I heard him cry. He can’t be dead.” But…you cry with the patient and family, so some long hard soul searching and praying, and get back to work so you can be a help to all those folks who need you during their best and worst times. Thank you for your blog. Even though I’m not in L&D anymore, I still feel like I am one of the girls and feel all labor nurses share a common bond of helping every woman through the most intense times of her life – whether the outcome is good or bad.

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  • December 5, 2014 at 6:57 pm
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    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.

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  • December 5, 2014 at 7:15 pm
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    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.

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    • December 5, 2014 at 8:43 pm
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      <3 thank you so much! You are so right…when it's happy, it's happy. But when it's sad, it's devestating. xx

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  • December 5, 2014 at 9:11 pm
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    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.

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  • December 5, 2014 at 9:39 pm
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    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.

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  • December 6, 2014 at 12:40 am
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    i tell people most of my days at work are good days. But a bad day for a midwife is a very bad day.

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  • December 6, 2014 at 3:19 am
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    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 charting and go home. And when I did finally leave I cried for DAYS!! I did the same thing you did, hid from the pt and family because I could not face them. There were no words i could say that were good enough, nothing would bring their baby back. And to make matters worse I was 7 months pregnant with my first baby. I felt so guilty that they lost their precious baby girl and I was about to deliver my sweet girl. That precious baby’s name was Bailey Nicole. We had picked the name Hailey for our daughter, and I decided that day her middle name would be Nicole. My only comfort in the whole ordeal was that this couple was good friends with one of my coworkers with many years of experience. She had come in on her day off just to be with them as a friend, not a nurse. She was with us all day and she assured me I had done nothing wrong. Sometimes bad things just happen without any explanation. The family even sent us thank you cards for taking such good care of them. It took me a very long time to get over the loss of this precious baby. But you never really get over it, you just learn how to deal with it. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. They are the echo of all of our experiences just in different hospitals in different towns all over the country. It’s nice to know we aren’t alone!! I no longer work in L&D, but I will never go get this first loss or the many that came during my 13 years!

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  • December 6, 2014 at 5:04 am
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    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, unfortunately don’t. Thank you for sharing your stories and your support with all of us.And yes, we remember every bad outcome, no matter how much time passes.

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  • December 6, 2014 at 7:27 am
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    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 for us. Nurses, doctors, physicians, techs all have a different role in caring for each mother. I knew my entire labor that my baby boy did not have a heart beat. I can still remember everyone saying how hard it was to care for me but they all did it beautifully! Thank you to all the amazing L & D staff out there! Especially those who loved and cared for us. I now have 2 beautiful baby boys and when they were born the nurses remembered us, and helped me through the anxiety I had going into each delivery due to my first angel. L&D staff are blessed with some of the best and worst of times! Thank God it is mostly good but either way it is a blessing that changes you! I am a blessed mother to 3 baby boys! One God cares for and 2 I have the honor of caring for! One sweet day! ??

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  • December 6, 2014 at 10:19 pm
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    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.

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  • December 7, 2014 at 1:26 am
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    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.

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  • December 7, 2014 at 3:14 am
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    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 I work in a small city where news travels fast and the day I found my husband dead on the floor of my home, the first person on my porch (after the paramedics, police and funeral home people left) were 2 moms I had cared for when their babies died. 2 of my husbands pall bearers were fathers whose babies I cared for.

    As humans, we have opportunities to care for each other and it is a sacred thing.

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  • December 7, 2014 at 5:34 am
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    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 the patients family just waiting, hoping and praying for some good news. It takes a truly special person to be a L&D nurse, I work with some of the most amazing people ever!

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  • December 7, 2014 at 1:02 pm
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    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.

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  • December 7, 2014 at 6:36 pm
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    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

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  • December 7, 2014 at 7:08 pm
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    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. I love my job – but yes, it takes so much out of me everyday. All I know is baby was eventually stabilized in NICU and then started having seizures. I don’t know what happened since, as baby was transferred to a specialty Children’s hospital. I still wonder.

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  • December 7, 2014 at 7:18 pm
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    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 holding and talking to their deceased angel that was dressed up in the beautiful outfit that they were planning to wear home was nearly more than I could stand at first. Comforting them was all I could do and at times I felt helpless.
    Labor and delivery was all I ever wanted to do and was the best time of my life and i would’nt change it for anything. The beautiful times and the painful times happened, but the bonding with ALL of these people was worth it all. I remember so many of them because it was an honor and priviledge to be there for them in such an important time of their lives.

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  • December 7, 2014 at 8:28 pm
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    Thank you for all that you do. I cried reading this story. You have one of the toughest jobs. You’re an angel.

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  • December 7, 2014 at 10:39 pm
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    I cried reading this.

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  • December 7, 2014 at 10:50 pm
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    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. ❤️

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  • December 8, 2014 at 2:06 am
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    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 what they did that day was a sacrifice. When I was transferred to the hospital where my daughter was, they thought of everything. They were conscientious of not placing me near the nursery and let me walk out a different way than all the other mothers. They later told me that we had close to 300 visitors in the 2 days we were there. I know that that in itself made things very crazy for them. I’m so grateful for everyone. We were treated with such respect and dignity. I’ll never forget those nurses. I’ll add one more thing, one if the nurses shared with me that I was her 2nd family that week that had lost their baby. I think of that other family often and pray for them.

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  • December 9, 2014 at 3:05 am
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    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 experience was the patient that I walked with was my very own stepdaughter who had sudden onset of preeclampsia. I rushed her to the hospital with a rock hard belly that only means one thing. I went through the motions of putting the FHM on her belly, knowing full well that deafening silence was going to be there. The rest of the team was frantically hanging MgSO4 and getting all the admission necessities. I had to tell my sweet girl and her husband that their first baby “had no heartbeat”. But even as terrible as that all was, I had the experience to guide them, and the rest of the family, through hell. By the time that my grandson was born, each of them was able to welcome him into our family and begin their journey that continues today, some 19 years later.

    So you see, never, ever underestimate the impact you have as a nurse. Learn from each experience, pass that experience on and continue to make a difference. God only chose special people to be Labor and Delivery nurses. Bless you all!

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  • December 9, 2014 at 1:09 pm
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    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.

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  • December 9, 2014 at 9:15 pm
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    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.

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  • December 26, 2014 at 4:42 pm
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    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 in blood crying when they called the official time of death. The doctor that debriefed us said that it was not the last time we were going to have to see bad things like this, working in high risk L&D. And as sad and horrible as it was at the time and how badly scarred we are now, I know that I learned from that experience and it brought me closer to my team. I’m traveling now but I will never forget any of the people that I hugged and cried with that day. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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  • January 2, 2015 at 4:52 am
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    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 you would be interested in learning more about.

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  • January 8, 2015 at 11:51 am
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    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 little oxygen and nutrients she was getting, but by golly she still had a strong heartbeat but we could see she wasn’t moving too much- at 24 weeks. We all watched the monitor knowing she would be delivered in a matter of hours. My condition was stable but worsening. My protein levels were quadruple what they should have been, my reflexes were hyperextended. Yet, all before I was admitted straight from the doctors office just a few hours prior, I had no headaches, vision changes, no swelling. Nothing.

    Anyway, this nurse was there for my induction and told me she would take care of everything and gave me my epidural as soon as I was able to get one so I could have a painless and comfortable labor. She was there when I pushed, when I almost passed out from tiredness and magnesium, and when I asked to take a break at shift change. I dozed off and I went back to pushing two hours later. I missed my nurse and now had another who I hadn’t seen before. She was not too much older than me, but she seemed emotionless and less warmth radiated from her.
    But she gave me all the Popsicles I could get- which I think was my way of coping with the loss.

    Anyway, I don’t know when I’ll go back to see my nurse who took great care of me when I was there. I live literally two miles from the hospital and do not even know what to say/give/write to her when I see her. I wish she could have discharged me without my baby in my arms- but instead I held my big bag of nursing pads, bra pads, sanitary napkins, booties.

    Thank you for writing this. You always hit the nail on the head!

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  • March 19, 2015 at 7:48 pm
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    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.

    Reply

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