When There’s Nothing to Celebrate

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.

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.

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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.

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. 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.

 

 Every Kick Counts

More Than Birth and Babies

 

Until my next delivery ❤


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259 Comments on "When There’s Nothing to Celebrate"

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Kristine
Guest

You captured what we all think in these situations. So hard to cope with loss. Thanks for sharing this..

troinau
Guest
Kelly Jacobson
Guest

I have been both this mother and this nurse. Thank you for so eloquently putting this into words.

Carol Jean Hertkorn
Guest

That is the other side of working in the “happiest” department. Every one of us that has labored the patient that “has nothing to celebrate” remembers her and her baby even more than any other patient. Thank you for putting into words what we can’t.

Donna Dyrek Burman
Guest

And somehow we know even before we search for the fetal heartbeat whether we will be successful or not. If our ‘gut’ senses bad news, we wish and pray to be wrong. Over 30 years in labor and delivery, and these are indeed the families that remain in my heart.

Kersha
Guest

This was beautiful. I will never forget my first IUFD delivery. I was still training as a brand new graduate nurse. I cared for this sweet couple for 12 hours, and stayed late after shift because I couldn’t leave her right before she delivered. The dad hugged me as I left, and I remember feeling numb. A little over a year later the nurse I had been training with and I were there when they came back and had a healthy baby girl.

Jenn
Guest

When I tell my friends that I want my nursing career to end up in L&D they always tell me that I will hate it because of situations like this. I disagree with them every time. Sure, I would hate that situation for the family. But I would be grateful to be there to comfort them in their darkest hours, when words fail. The joyful times will always out weigh the sad. I can’t wait to be in your shoes!

txRNC-OB
Guest

I’m sitting in my car at the end of my shift having just cared for 2 different families who have nothing to celebrate today. I always feel like these families reward me more than I do them. I am always humbled, grounded and in awe as I watch each and every time a family tries grasp at something to celebrate during this time. It reminds me how rich my life is with a healthy child. We are honored and lucky to be part of their angels life stories, no matter how brief.

rglw
Guest

I so enjoy reading your words after finding your blog a few weeks ago. I have two healthy little girls but I also have two friends who delivered stillborn babies. I cannot imagine how painful it must be for everyone involved especially the nurses. My sister is a nurse and your words help me understand a little about what her job is like in the Pediatric ER. Thanks for this one….

Jennifer H.
Guest
I taught childbirth classes at my hospital when I was an L&D nurse (midwife now). One couple often stayed after class to chat with me, and I really liked them. We joked that maybe we’d get lucky and I’d be her nurse (she desired a pain-med-free birth and I was one of few nurses who enjoyed that). When she came in at 6am the morning after our last class, I just knew. I knew from her nervous laugh about being a silly first-time mom as she signed in, I knew as the triage nurse turned up the volume on the… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest

wonderfully written – thank you for putting into words what we feel, what seems like too often…

Reba88
Guest

I’m deeply touched by what you’ve written. I’ve been on the patient side of this exchange, and it was a nightmare. The amazing nurses that cared for me were my saving grace. Thank you so much for caring.

Ericka
Guest
I have tears as I’m writing this. I have been a LD nurse for years and I still remember my IUFD as a new RN. No FHTS in triage. I remember crying on my way home and coming back the next night to do her delivery. There was nothing worse or so I thought until I had my third baby four months ago and my best friend who was two months behind me had an unexpected stillborn. My heart broke to pieces and I was suddenly on the other side of it. It has been the most heart wrenching time.… Read more »
coffeemugsandsippycups
Guest

I am 40 weeks 3 days right now, and this is literally my biggest fear right now. I take comfort in knowing that should something like this happen, I will have a team of angels helping me through. <3

coffeemugsandsippycups
Guest

I am 40 weeks 3 days right now, and this is literally my biggest fear right now. I take comfort in knowing that should something like this happen, I will have a team of angels helping me through. <3

Lindsay
Guest

I lost a second trimester pregnancy to T13 in March. Going back to work was beyond painful, especially when something involving pregnancy was everywhere I turned. As I continue to heal, I have a new found passion for perinatal loss. Thank you for sharing this beautifully written post. I so enjoy reading your blog.

J Michelle
Guest
Thank you for this! I’ve been an OB nurse for 2 & 1/2 years, my entire nursing career, in a hospital that averages 1 delivery per day, and just within the past week I experienced my first time of being the one not finding the heartbeat. I’ve stepped in at all the other parts of an IUFD but this was my first time feeling my own heart in my throat after 2 minutes of no heartbeat on a 36 weaker though I continued trying for another 3 minutes. With just 3-hours left of my 12-hour night shift, I stayed with… Read more »
meghanoc
Guest
Like Kelly above, I have been on both sides here- a L&B nurse (now midwife) and a patient who had a loss (a few hours after birth, but we were given a likely fatal diagnosis prenatally) and I can say this is well done. And for all the nurses and providers out there, go ahead an cry in front of your patients for them. It will not take away from them- only help them feel validated that what they are experiencing is truly the saddest thing. I remember and cherish each time a nurse or midwife cried for me or… Read more »
Mindy
Guest
I gave birth to my baby boy just over two months ago when at my 20 week appointment no heartbeat was found. My heart was crushed. But I can’t tell you how touched I was when my doctor sat and cried with me, she was truly heartbroken as well. And I don’t know how I would have gotten through 31 hours of labor waiting to meet my little boy I would never take home if it weren’t for the nurses. Seriously, they were so good at helping me through the entire process. I truly consider the nurses angels sent from… Read more »
eliza
Guest
I wish I’d had a kind or caring nurse (or doctor or anyone, though the cleaning lady the next morning was very nice to me. She was the only one who hugged me and said she was sorry.) when my son was born at 21w gestation. While I know now the chain of events that led to pre-term labor and that it was unlikely anything could have been done, the unit was stretched thin that afternoon and I was left alone, unmonitored, unexamined for hours, contracting the whole time. I won’t go into details except to say the doctor confirmed… Read more »
LovingRN
Guest

Your story made me cry even more than the original post. I am an RN, but not L&D. I hope you have found peace and can feel my ((HUG)).

saraht1517
Guest

Thank you. Thank you for crying, thank you for caring, and thank you for staying. I remember the tech that cried in the hallway for my son. I remember feeling so grateful that someone was able to do what I was unable to do at that moment. I knew that someone outside of my family would remember him. 4 years later the memory of her tears still bring me comfort.

Mumorable Moments
Guest

Beautifully captured and respectfully articulated. I still remember many of the mothers that I have helped deliver their stillborn babies. Willing their babies to breathe as they enter the world, just in case we got it wrong. We never got it wrong, sadly.

Anonymous
Guest

You are amazing,

Theresa
Guest

Oh my heart breaks for her. As a couple who dealt with infertility and a twin pregnancy, this was something I feared daily. I can only imagine that parts of that experience are just as difficult for the nurses. (((Hugs)))

Vicki
Guest

My name is Vicki I am a Regional Coordinator with NILMDTS (Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep) and I would love to be able to share this blog post on our NILMDTS facebook page. Would that be something that would be ok for you? We have 250,000 followers that have experienced loss and grief and there could be some healing in this message from you>
Thank you,
Vicki Zoller
vzoller@nilmdts.org

David Thompson
Guest

luv your heart. you’re a good story-teller. keep it up.

Shauna
Guest

Thank you so very much for this post and more importantly thank you for the work you do. Grieving families know when their nurse “gets it” and it is clear that you are one that does. It’s also important for those same grieving families to know how difficult it is for nurses to do their jobs when the worst happens. We salute you and all that you do because we know nurses grieve too.

Shauna Libsack
Star Legacy Foundation (www.starlegacyfoundation.org)
Stillbirth Matters (www.stillbirthmatters.wordpress.com)
ASAP Coalition (www.stopstillbirthasap.com)

Laura
Guest
I would like to tell every nurse that you may think we don’t remember the little things you do for a parent of a still born child but we do! Sometimes the silliest things, are most remembered. I remember the nurse that came and offered to sit with me. That meant the world to me. So even if you are only bringing a washcloth to wash our face or a little hug to comfort us. We do remember and appreciate all you do and go through for us. So, I would like to say, THANK YOU for all that you… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest

Thank you for sharing this. I will never forget the nurse who stayed by my side as my son’s heart stopped beating. She carefully layed a blanket over him when they finally made me leave the room. A month later, she brought that blanket to my house. I can’t even begin to explain how much that simple gesture still means to me. She was a amazing nurse.

Jane Harris
Guest
Thank you so much for this post. Two and a half years ago I had a stillborn baby boy at full-term. I felt him move on the way to the hospital to have him, and when they hooked me up to the monitors, he was gone. It was the hardest thing I have ever been through. I think you are wrong though, about your patients not remembering the kindness that you showed to them. I remember in vivid detail the nurses who helped me face the shock of losing our sweet baby boy. I remember the nurse who held me… Read more »
Kim
Guest

Thank you for this. I had twins pass away shortly after birth a year ago. I will forever remember of all the nurses who helped me the 3 days I was in the hospital…the one nurse who came in and the first thing she did was give me a hug. That hug has never left me. I am forever grateful for her hug. It meant the world to me as so many other nurses didn’t know what to say or how to act. It strengthened me those days in the hospital. Thank you for caring.

Jen w
Guest
I found my first demise only 4 months into my career as a new grad L&D nurse. It was the worst night if my career and one of the worst nights of my life. Eleven years later, I will still cry as I talk about it. I have never had a patient quietly cry at the discovery. There is a wail that only a mother who has lost a child can make. I heard that wail in my head for 2 days, every time I tried to sleep. That night I remember telling myself, it’s not my turn to cry,… Read more »
Dana
Guest
“There is a wail that only a mother who has lost a child can make.” I’ve never heard anyone talk about this part. I delivered my son at 22 weeks not knowing whether he would live or not, the belief was he would not. I hadn’t cried up to this point, even after listening to the Dr insist that someone come and speak to me about the reality of the situation. I was in intensive care and we were trying to keep it from happening however I got very sick so the baby had to come. I went into labour… Read more »
emmyz75
Guest

Five years ago I lost a much-awaited daughter to abruption at 19w5d. Seriously, if not for those nurses seeking me out, connecting on Facebook, shoving their way into the sacred spaced of an introvert’s grief, I likely wouldn’t be typing this today. If God calls you to, reach out to them. You could be saving a life.

Thank you for writing this, for being there for this family, and for allowing your heart to open for people beginning this journey. <3

Lori Mullins Ennis
Guest

Thank you. I know and love many of my nurses who, like you, are an amazing blessing in the most tragic of our days. Thank you thank you. I am the editor for Still Standing Magazine and would love to share this as well, if ok with you?
Again, thank you.
xoxoxo
http://www.stillstandingmag.com

samantha
Guest
I lost my baby girl almost 8 years ago. My nurse Karen was my rock through the hardest day of my life. I was alone in my room when the DR came is to tell me they would have to induce me and that my daughter would not make it due to IUGR and severe pre-e. I fell apart. Alone surrounded my DR’s, she rushed over as the Dr’s walked out and hugged me, she quickly got my husband and mom who ad walked down stairs. I will never forget the love and compassion this nurse showed me. I wish… Read more »
Vicky Dunsmore Paschke
Guest
Beautifully written. I have worked in many areas of nursing during my career (Med/Surg, ER, Tele) but when I was in nursing school I always wanted to either work in L&D or Hospice. I have been working in Hospice for the past 4 years and I really love what I am doing (though I know that I would love working in L&D as well). One of my daughters lost a child, and I was with her when they were unable to find the FHT. I saw the look on the staff member’s face and I knew what was going on.… Read more »
Introverted Mama
Guest

Wow. I could never be a nurse. Beautifully written.

Anonymous
Guest
Thank you for your beautiful post. I was this patient at 38.4 weeks. It has been a year, yet I have not forgotten nor will I ever forget every single moment of those 36 hours. Our nurses were absolutely amazing- I felt that God had placed them there to show us love and light in the darkest valley of our lives. The nurse that placed the doppler was so compassionate- she cried with me as I got into the wheelchair to be pushed to a delivery room. She said, “I love you, and I will never forget you.” The nurse… Read more »
jessica
Guest
Ive never experienced a stillborn but my 17 year old son was killed in a car accident so I know that heartbreak all those mothers are feeling. My oldest daughter decided while her dad was in ICU under sedation that she wanted to be a nurse. She is about to start nursing school after getting her prerequisites done. She wants to work in a NICU. I am proud of her for her decision and for how well she is doing while working full time with a toddler to take care of but at the same time worried about how she… Read more »
Gayle Lewis
Guest
I retired nearly two years ago from a 46 year career, nearly all of in Obstetrics. I could have written every post I have read on your blog and sometimes feel like I am reading what I must have written. Thank you for doing this. I am not sure that reading is therapeutic. I continue to have nightmares that take place in the green tile rooms where I started. I did not want to quit working, but I was still uninjured and I was becoming increasingly anxious going to work. I felt I had seen everything and the anticipation of… Read more »
Susie
Guest
My L&D nurse was fabulous. Gina was with me during early labor when I sent everyone away because I needed to be alone, to figure out how I was going to get through it, to try to reimagine life without the precious baby girl that was already lost to us. She answered all of my questions, was my advocate, kept me entertained, helped me with my husband and older daughter, and nearly had to deliver my baby. She was also there to hold my hand a year later when my son came (healthy) into the world. It takes a really… Read more »
LDR MSW
Guest

I am a social worker in L&D. I absolutely love your posts. This post hits a soft spot for me. IUFD’s are the most challenging cases but very dear to my heart. It is a privilege to be able to comfort, guide, and support someone during the hardest day of their lives. And an absolute honor to be part of the team that takes care of these patients. Hats off to you and my amazing RN’s.

Nancy
Guest
Having delivered a beautiful stillborn son at 36 weeks in 1991, I think that this could have been written by my LD nurse. It describes my experience exactly. My sadness was beyond anything that I could imagine, and the nurses and doctor were professional, but so compassionate, and I knew that their hearts were breaking too. As my nurse was going off shift, she came in and hugged me, brushing her cheek against mine. I will remember that gesture until the day I die. It meant so much and let me know that she cared. When I woke up later… Read more »
Theresa
Guest

Man I just read all these comments and tears started falling.

caroline
Guest

Written so beautifully, its such a hard situation for all involved. X with nurses like you it can make it that little less difficult x

Jana
Guest
This was a hard blog to read. You see, I am not a nurse. I am a patient with an experience you spoke about. I am the one who has left the hospital with empty arms not once, but three times and at all different stages of pregnancy. But I do want to say one thing. I DO remember the caring strokes as we received the devastating news. I DO remember the soft smiles and looks of compassion and concern. I DO remember the nurse directing us down a different hallway so we would not have to pass the brightly… Read more »
Brooke Frame
Guest
This is so beautiful, thank you so much for sharing your stories, I started crying at the beginning and haven’t stopped. I delivered my beautiful perfect boy, Ayden at 40 weeks December 30, 2007 born sleeping, after my ignorant doctor ignored my pleas that something was wrong with my baby, but since it was Christmas he just told me to go home…my labor and delivery nurses were amazing and I will never forget what one wonderful lady said…nothing hurts more when you lose a child than to hear your perfect baby referred to as only a fetus and not a… Read more »
Amanda
Guest

i do remember the kind nurse that told me how everything was going to happen, who I know cared so deeply, who was more kind than any of my doctors.

Roxanne Arismendez
Guest
This was beautifully written. I was choking back tears when I first read it. I felt like it was written about me. I lost my Layla on November 22,2013 at 32 weeks due to placental abruption and what was chalked up to preeclampsia. My husband was that man who was clueless. He was texting his mom and thinking we were just going to be having our baby that night. I knew from the moment the FIRST nurse put the monitor on my belly that Layla was gone. One more nurse, the doctor, and an ultrasound later my worst fears were… Read more »
Lisa
Guest
Thank you so much for what you do and the care you give. I lost my first child last August, he was diagnosed with annencephaly and we decided to go ahead and induce early at 21 weeks. I entered the labor and delivery department for the first time in my life having no idea what to expect. As I walked up to the nurses desk and said I was there to be induced I knew immediately by the somber tone that they all knew who I was and why I was there. My fear was that through my stay I… Read more »
Cara
Guest
thank you, I will never forget my first midwife. I had her for my first 2 boys. I had completely forgotten about her role with my first son until I read this. Although she was amazing with my second son and there were tears once I was finally discharged from her care with my premature baby whom she had done everything she could to help me bring him into the world. she also went against a lot of my wishes and wasn’t allways there when I needed her most so I found a new midwife for my 3rd son who… Read more »
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