Perinatal nursing is sweet and magical and everything you think it would be. But everyone only thinks of the birth and the babies. No one ever thinks or talks about the pain of pregnancy, the heartbreak of infertility, or the difficulty of death.
I remember once I was working triage, and I seemed to be seeing patient after patient. It was just one of those days…of course, I didn’t think the charge nurse was helping me like she could have. I felt swamped. By lunchtime, I had finally cleared all the beds in triage and was finally going to eat breakfast when a patient walked through the door with a slew of family members. As she filled out her paperwork, I gave the unit secretary a look and she smiled at me. I was thinking that I was about to see my 7th patient in 6 hours for a “I’m bleeding when I wipe” issue.
The patient was very tiny. As I walked behind her I could not even tell she was pregnant. As I put her in the triage bed, she told me that she hadn’t felt her baby move since the night before. Tomorrow was her due date. I put the monitor on her belly and heard nothing. Even though I knew at that moment that her baby was dead (she was so tiny, I should have been able to put that monitor anywhere on her and picked up her baby’s heartbeat), I moved the monitor around and around hoping to hear something. When I began tracing her heart rate at 120 beats per minute, for a moment I grasped on to the hope that maybe THIS was the tiny patient that had the baby I just couldn’t find to trace. But the patient already knew. I knew. She began crying and her husband sat in the chair next to her with his head in his hands, not knowing what to say or do. She asked between sobs for her mother, who was in the waiting room.
I went to get her mother, and when she saw me she immediately said “he’s gone, isn’t he?” Of course, as a nurse, I’m unable to say anything. I held her arm as I led her into the triage room, and only told her that the physician was on his way to speak to them. My heart ached for a mother who lost her first child, a dad who lost his first son, and a grandmother who lost her first grandchild. When her physician arrived, he pulled an ultrasound machine to the bedside to visualize the still and silent heart of her baby. Everyone cried again, because this time they could see his heart not beating. And the only thing I could be thankful for at that moment was that she had the support of her partner, that she had the support of her mother, and that the rest of my triage beds were empty and that no other woman had to hear the cries of a patient who had just been told her baby was dead.
Not every nurse can labor a patient with a full-term IUFD. We have all shared this same story in one way or another, and after this kind of work day, we will leave physically and emotionally drained. You have to watch your patient and her family crumble in front of you, with no words to ease their pain or to provide any type of comfort or closure. On top of that, they have to experience every pain and emotion that comes with labor. As nurses, we walk a fine line of wanting to medicate them until they are semi out of their misery, and encouraging them to be present for a time in their life that they will eventually want to remember. There is no other patient that we want to see have a vaginal delivery more than her. As we labor her, we pray that she doesn’t leave the hospital with a scar across her belly, a permanent physical daily reminder of what she went through. They may not remember everything we said, or everything we did. They probably did not know that we cried for them, alone in an empty room where no one else would be able to see us. And even though we all see all too many of these, I can honestly say that I still remember every single one.
So for any mother out there who never got to carry her baby to her due date, or to any mother who never got to bring her baby home, know that your nurse remembers you. And even though everyone else moves on, your nurse will always know that a part of you was left behind in that labor room.
Until my next delivery ❤