Nurses are Human

Not every labor nurse can care for a mother who will have a stillbirth. Some nurses just can’t do it, some just don’t want to do it, and some just aren’t good at it. Frequently, the same nurses are chosen over and over again to care for a mother who will not get to take their baby home. I knew early on that I would be one of the nurses chosen to care for these families. The first time I ever triaged a woman whose baby did not have a heartbeat, so many things happened at once. My hands trembled a bit. It wasn’t that I was afraid, they trembled because I wanted that bad to find her baby’s heartbeat. Disappointment, injustice, and heartbreak were immediate feelings that bubbled up from my stomach and washed over me. It took me a few moments to say anything. It wasn’t because I didn’t know what to say, but because I didn’t know what I was allowed to say. Over the years I’ve realized that waiting those few moments to speak confirms what the mother already knows, and somehow that is also part of the process. But then I felt this overwhelming motherly surge come over me. It strengthened my hands and gave me back my voice. I knew I had to be strong for the woman in front of me. I knew I had to guide her through the process, because I knew what was coming and I knew what would happen next and no matter how much support she had around her, I knew she would need me. The privilege to care for her felt like my responsibility. So I always knew I would be one the nurses that would frequently be called on to care for these families. And I have always been okay with that.

But I will never forget the last woman I took care of that had a stillbirth. It was while I was pregnant with my son that I took care of this woman, and although I did take good care of her, I suddenly found myself as one of those “other” nurses. When I was pregnant, I was blindsided at a routine ultrasound appointment when I was told my baby had a brain bleed while inside of me. I spent every day after that wondering if it would happen again, or if he would succumb to complications from the bleed. Every moment of every single day I wondered if I would become one of those mothers…if I would go to the hospital and be told that my baby no longer had a heartbeat.

When I put her on the monitor, my hands shook so violently my knuckles turned white from holding the monitors so hard. Panic and fear and embarrassment bubbled up inside of me, so fast and sudden and unexpected that I was afraid I would break down right there in front of her. I bit my lip and focused on her belly, moving the monitors around, pleading to God in my head to provide us a heartbeat. I brought an ultrasound to the bedside, and a physician on the unit offered to do the ultrasound so she wouldn’t have to wait for her own provider to get there. None of us wanted to delay her unknowing. And as we all visualized the still and stagnant heartbeat, the patient let out a cry that I can still hear if I close my eyes and think back to that day. Staffing didn’t allow me the option to say “I don’t want to do it this time.” Unable to hide my own pregnancy, every time I walked into her room I felt as if my swollen belly tortured her, taunting her of everything she was losing with each centimeter of progression. Staffing didn’t allow me the option to say “this time, I can’t handle this.” Anxiety weakened the support I normally provided. I guarded my emotions that day, crippled by the fear that I would be in her place the next day.

My patient and her family did not seem to notice that I was handicapped that day by my insecurities. They didn’t seem to notice how uncomfortable I was in my pregnant body as I cared for someone that was losing theirs. When I left at the end of my shift, I was so thankful she had still not delivered. For the first time ever, I did not stay past my shift to be with my patient that was so close to delivering. I hugged her goodbye, kissed her head, and told her I would pray for her family. I remember her looking at my scrubs, tight over my belly, as I shamefully tried to pull them down. And when she asked me when I was due, I pretended that I didn’t hear her, because I couldn’t answer her. I couldn’t tell her that we were due on the same day.

Driving home, I thought my scrubs were strangling me. I couldn’t catch my breath. My heart thumped so loud and my head pounded so hard that I thought I might pass out. That night, I climbed into the bathtub and cried enough tears to fill the entire tub. I kept hearing her cries over and over in my head, giving voice to my own inner struggles. Now, almost two years later, I still think of her and wonder about her delivery. I wish I would have been strong enough to stay and help deliver her baby. And although I delivered five week early, I still think about that family when my son’s given due date approaches. I’m so thankful my baby survived, and my heart still hurts that hers didn’t.

For any family out there that has suffered, for any family out there who did not get to take their child home, know that nurses and physicians and midwives and all of us hurt for you. Every single one of us wants to hear the strong beat of a baby’s heart every time monitors are placed on your belly. But sometimes everyone forgets, sometimes we forget that we’re not invincible to what’s before us.  The truth is, nurses are human. Some days we’re better at dealing with things than others.  Not all of us know what words to say when “sorry” doesn’t even begin to describe how bad we feel for you. Please forgive us. And to the mother who I took care of almost two years ago who did not get to take her baby home, I still think of you. And I’m sorry that my hands shook, and that my voice wavered, and that I acted like I didn’t hear you when I was trying to hide my own pregnancy because I was so sad that yours was ending so suddenly . If I could go back, if things had been different—I would hug you, and kiss your head, and I would tell you: October 10th. I think of you all the time.

My Family

Until my next delivery ❤


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51 Comments on "Nurses are Human"

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Tara
Guest
The anguished cry of a mother is one you will never forget. We remember all these patients and we carry them with us as we care for others. One patient I cared for particularly stays with me… I think of them on that baby’s birthday, several days later on the day of his death and every holiday that I celebrate with my young son. I’ve cried tears of sadness with them and I cried tears of you joy upon learning she had delivered a beautiful healthy baby girl and I’m sure I will cry again this summer when she delivers… Read more »
Diane
Guest

I am so sorry you had to deal with that while pregnant. You are right, there are always some nurses who are more able to help grieving families. Every where I have worked there is an unwritten rule that pregnant nurses are exempt from that duty.

Hilary
Guest
The way you write is so powerful, emotional and moving. I am a new RN to my dream area of L&D, and even through the agony I’ve felt in caring for women who experience this loss, I wouldn’t want to be working anywhere else. I too understand and feel that is a privilege to be the best support I can be in this situation where nothing makes the pain go away. Thank you for writing this, as I know it will never get easier to see this happen, but it helps in knowing I am not alone and the difficulty… Read more »
Suzie
Guest

I am shocked your workplace didn’t allow you to bow out of that assignment while you were pregnant. I’ve been a OB nurse for 11 years, and not once was a pregnant nurse expected to care for patient who lost or was losing their baby. Seems cruel for both parties.

Anonymous
Guest

Totally agree, I can’t believe that you had to take care of this patient. While it is very hard on the pregnant nurse being nervous for her own pregnancy, I think it is cruel to the patient and her family. We all know and understand staffing issues for sure. Our unit switches nurse assignments on these instances and no one complains because we know and agree it is in the best interests for all involved. Bravo to you though for being a compassionate nurse who is willing to care for these patients!

ChristineH
Guest
I couldn’t be one of those nurses- and that is why I never wished to have a career in healthcare. I know that I am not emotionally strong enough to handle those situations. Heck- I can’t even stop myself from crying when reading these blogs. I feel like I can close my eyes and hear that mother’s cry. It makes me feel guilty- like survivor’s guilt-guilty that I have carried and delivered 2 healthy screaming pink babies, while other mothers had just the crushing sound of nothing when they deliver their stillborn babies. I just cannot bear the thought. I… Read more »
Leah
Guest
When I was still on L&D orientation, my pregnant preceptor almost had a break down during the shift that she and her orientee were assigned the patient with a 27-week demise. My preceptor was also 27 weeks, but I was oblivious to all this and so many other things, as a nervous, mentally overloaded new nurse. All I could think was, “Well, I guess she’s super empathetic or something…” but I just didn’t understand. Finally, when I was holding that red baby with translucent skin and examining its perfect fingernails and fluid-filled torso, it clicked why my preceptor was in… Read more »
Donna Stiles, CNM
Guest
So many of your posts aare about sad outcomes. I was going to post this awhile back, but thought I would give the benefit of waiting for more posts. Now another one. Why not some stories about sharing the joy of being part of a birth, the beautiful birth that is satisfying and gratifying and joy filled and tears of happiness filled for the parents and for the staff. As a nurse-midwife of 35 years, I still tear up many times the moment the babe is placed in the mother’s arms. I tell fathers “it’s ok to cry” (those that… Read more »
Gayle Lewis
Guest
I, too, notice the sad posts but there are just as many hilarious ones. The sad ones stand out for me because after over 40 years as a labor and delivery nurse, I realize that I and my colleagues failed to acknowledge the emotional and physical stress of our profession. There was never time to debrief or decompress from the chaos and drama of the job. I am sad to realize that I remember most the tragedy of my work when I am sure all of the happy births and outcomes far outweigh the sad. The best career ever. Thank… Read more »
lyra211
Guest

I love that she writes so beautifully about the sad ones. I’ve been a sad one (fetal demise at 18 weeks), and it’s so comforting to know that she cares. She writes about it from so many facets and so thoughtfully. It’s one of the reasons I follow this blog. She’s doing a great job!

tlcat625
Guest

It is evident to me in the short time I’ve been a reader that she loves her job, loves her patients, and enjoys many of the mostly very happy outcomes. I think it’s rather brave of her to take on such a vulnerable and sad story. Too frequently these late-term loss moms do not have helpful, understanding people to walk them through such a tragedy. To know how empathetic and caring these labor and delivery nurses are validates their pain and brings comfort. So, I’m totally fine with these stories.

Teri
Guest
I have had my very own experience of losing my firstborn! I was 32 weeks and my water broke, that was 34 years ago and to this day on his birthday I still mourn that baby boy. He was born premature and lived 18 hours, it was the longest 18 hours of mine and my husbands life. The Dr.s and nurses were so awesome. My OB-GYN Dr, not so much! He told us that there was nothing wrong with that baby and he was “going to be fine”. I am a nurse and I knew my baby was not going… Read more »
Lindsay
Guest

Much love to you, Teri. It’s mind blowing how many people have stories of loss. I have been there myself. And I, like you, will always celebrate my baby girl until the day we meet again.

Mandy
Guest

As a woman who made it to the hospital as I was losing my unborn son, who had the nurse quick to see something was wrong, then unable to find the heartbeat to finally find it but knowing it was so very bad; know you too are remembered and loved. My son and I got lucky, we are both still here and healthy 5 years later, thanks to lucky timing, an amazing nurse and the entire team but the love, kindness and empathy I felt that night will never leave me. Love to every one of you.

Tammy
Guest
I am what we call a “Triple Threat”, meaning I work in L&D, postpartum,and the NICU. One night I was working in the NICU when I was called to an emergency delivery. There was too much artifact on the strip to tell if there was a heartbeat or not, but we pulled the crash cart and got everything ready for a code. Where I work the code team, especially on the night shift, would have been me and the neonatologist. There simply just wasn’t anyone else. I was 9 months pregnant with my second child, and actually having Braxton Hicks… Read more »
cnovo
Guest
I am almost certain this is her blog and she chooses what she writes about. The joy of childbirth is a given. Joy is expected – the norm. She is giving insight into the tragic part of the job – the part where humans are expected to put their emotions aside – and it can be agonizing. Ultra agonizing when the situation hits so close to home. This story just reminds me of the sacrifices nurses make for their patients every day. Some days, no matter how much it hurts, you do whatever you need to do to care for… Read more »
Patricia
Guest
This is so beautifully said. Many people forget that labor and delivery is not always about happy times and easy deliveries. We get all sorts of issues and stillbirth being the biggest one. Many people do not realize in a unit full of life, there may be a mom at the end of the hallway saying goodbye to a life she had so little time to know. There are so many nurses out there that struggle with the loss of a newborn at any gestational age, and /or can not handle such a traumatic experience when helping a mom to… Read more »
Lea
Guest

I also have been in this situation. Caring for a mom with 22 week stillborn twins while I myself was 36 weeks pregnant. I remember asking Mary if she wanted me to get her another nurse. I will never forget her throwing her arms around my neck and begging me to continue to care for her. It was that day that I knew God had asked me to be a labor and delivery nurse.

Leigh-Anne
Guest
Hugs from someone who has walked in your shows. I also knew early on that this would be a role I would take as a nurse, it was something that was came naturally to me. However nothing prepared me for the patient that entered triage when I was around 30 weeks pg with no fetal movement. It too was one of those hellish nights where there were not enough hands and I already had a full pp assignment. There was simply no one else to take care of this patient. Her sobs will forever live in my mind. I admitted,… Read more »
lotsofbirthdays64
Guest
I, too, was one of those nurses who took care of women in these tragic situations. It was both the hardest and most fulfilling work I did. I have recently heard of an organization I want to recommend to my colleagues that I would have loved to use when I was practicing. It’s called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep https://www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org/. Volunteer photographers come to the hospital to make photographs of the baby and family when there is a fetal demise. I have seen many of the photographs which are so beautiful and immeasurably valuable for the family. Check… Read more »
Lynn
Guest
I love reading your stories of life in L&D, much of which I see personally but not always…I am a NICU nurse and have been through many of the same issues. 38 years ago when I started at my hospital, things were quite different in terms of fetal demise and newborn death. The L&D team would not do much of anything because they honestly felt it was in the mom’s best interest not to see, touch or rock their infant. There were no family footprints, locks of hair, family pictures etc. Thank goodness for ‘enlightenment’! Now we have a great… Read more »
createdfamily
Guest

Thank you for what you do. <3 I am honored to work along side NICU RNs.

Beth
Guest

So beautifully written. We never forget these families.

Recurrent Misery -- tw: @recurrentmis
Guest
This made me cry. I’ve had one terrible nurse in amongst a whole host of just wonderful, wonderful nurses. The one that was awful told me not to worry, it was very common, when there was no heartbeat, and that we could always try again. I’m glad she was the exception. The others I KNOW have cared for me like a person, a grieving woman, and I will be forever thankful to then. I have a terrifying scan on Tuesday to see if this baby is ok – if not, it will be my fourth loss. I want it to… Read more »
thenaturalbud
Guest

I’m so sorry for all you have gone through :( praying for you

Recurrent Misery -- tw: @recurrentmis
Guest

Thank you so much xx That means a lot :)

Janet S. LPN
Guest
I’ve also had experiences with these kinds of births, from miscarriages all the way through full term stillbirths, I have encountered them in the Emergency room, Resident’s office antepartum, Postpartum unit in the hospital, and 6week checkups in the Resident’s office settings at various times during my 33 years of nursing. They all are memorable! Some of these Mommies are so young I wanted to cry in two ways, one for loss of innocence as well as for the baby that they were so happy….and scared to carry. The miscarriages are especially hard because I think they get the cruelest… Read more »
thenaturalbud
Guest

This is beautiful and heartbreaking. Appreciate your compassion and genuineness.

Missy Sansone
Guest

I am one of those nurses. Others know I do not mind helping a family grieve and trying to make a memory they will never forget as “bearable as possible” I appreciate your post. I appreciate you caring for her while pregnant yourself. That takes alot of
courage.

Emily
Guest
Bless you for your kindness with that patient, I too can be one of those nurses that often get that kind of assignment. I love all that you have written and it’s obvious you love what you do and your passion and commitment for your work shows in all your posts. However, I’ve never worked anywhere where a pregnant nurse wasn’t removed from an assignment of a demise. It’s not just that it’s hard on the nurse, its really hard on the patient too. To see your pregnant belly full of life and know hers is empty is a heartbreak… Read more »
Karen
Guest
Thank you for everything you do! I lost my first child 5 days before his scheduled induction due to a cord accident. I had the best group of nurses I could have hoped for! Postpartum was busy and L&D had nobody but me so the L&D nurses defied my Dr and let me stay in L&D after my c section. My Dr is amazing and he thought he was doing what was best for me by asking to move me but my nurses knew I wouldn’t be able to escape the newborns if they moved me. I was in such… Read more »
calburn
Guest

It’s been some 48 years since First Wife and I lost our “little people” (her terminology) between our two sons. She and I were divorced 34 years ago, so I don’t know what she remembers. But I still remember the compassion of Dr. Carr and the now nameless nurses at USAF Hospital Warren AFB in Cheyenne. You who God has chosen for this difficult work, be assured that although those you serve may not remember your names, they will never forget you and what you do. Thank you.

Elisabeth
Guest

I was one of those moms five weeks ago, and although the fog of grief is too thick for me to remember very much about the three nurses who helped me through my 24 hours in the hospital, I do remember how gentle and comforting they were, and how grateful I am to them. It has to be so exhausting for you all but thank you so much for all you do. Thank you for caring, and thank you for remembering.

Lindsay
Guest

Big hugs to you, Elisabeth. We pray for you and think of our patients often. Be gentle with yourself and take care.

Alana
Guest
Thank you for this beautiful post and for your care of your patients. As a parent of a stillborn baby boy, I am most grateful for nurses like you and the care you provide. In my experience, the nurses on labor and delivery were wonderfully compassionate in the care they provided to both me and my husband. Unfortunately, not all medical professionals treated us with the same care. Ironically, the same day that you made this post, a piece I wrote, called “Pregnancy Loss and the Medical Profession – A Parents Perspective” was picked up on Huffington Post. It explores… Read more »
annabanana210
Guest

WOW. All I can say is that you have a really good way with words. You have a narrative that enables each one of us that reads your posts to feel like we’re there. I’m so glad that you are a practicing nurse and that you choose to talk about all of the aspects of nursing; especially the difficult ones that render us unable to organize our thoughts.

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Carrie
Guest
A former coworker lost her baby at 19 weeks. She did not have one nurse that night, she had all of us. It was a terrible situation, she hemorrhaged and had to go to the OR. While there, she coded twice. She ended up staying for about a week with HELLP. She came back to work for a bit, but could never take care of a pt in that room. I feel so frustrated when I hear people say, “it was just a pregnancy, it’s not like she ever held the baby.” I lost my first pregnancy early and I… Read more »
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