Every day I work, I take care of pregnant women. Some of these women wanted to get pregnant, while others got pregnant unexpectedly. As a labor nurse, sometimes I see patients who try so hard to have a healthy pregnancy. They limit their caffeine, they don’t smoke, and they stay away from prohibited foods. Some exercise, and some minimize stressors in their life. Some can’t seem to stop smoking, others don’t even try to stop smoking, and some don’t stop doing drugs. Labor and delivery nurses see it all. Seeing pregnant patient after pregnant patient, it’s easy for forget about all of the people who struggle to get pregnant in the first place.
I have known many women who have faced infertility. Emotionally devastating does not even begin to describe it. “Trying to get pregnant” is initially said with a smile on your face and a mischievous twinkle in your eye. Then your period becomes a monthly reminder of everything that escapes you. Finding an answer, and then exhausting your options is emotionally, physically, and financially draining. And time becomes water slipping through your fingers. Even the strongest of marriages can fracture from the weight of it all.
I once labored a woman who was a complete and total mess. She was disheveled, pieced together with pajama bottoms and uncombed hair. I don’t know if she couldn’t answer simple questions because of her significant lack of a basic education, or because of the drugs she couldn’t manage to stop smoking while she was pregnant. She had multiple children from multiple partners, all of which she had lost custody of. The father of this baby had left her months into her pregnancy, and she had decided early on that she would give this child up for adoption. Even with her pile of bad decisions and her lack of good judgment, she was a sweet patient. I supported her decisions: she did not want to hold the baby after delivery and she did not want the baby to stay in her room. I set up the couple adopting the baby in an empty room on the unit, so that they could bond with their baby. I knew they needed this as much as their baby did.
The adoptive parents arrived at the hospital carrying gifts for my patient, and a diaper bag embroidered with the name they had chosen for their baby. They were bursting with excitement over the birth of the child they had been waiting for. I talked to the adoptive parents about skin-to-skin contact, and I showed them how to bathe the baby, change her diaper, and how to swaddle her. On the day the baby was discharged home, I grabbed an extra package of diapers to give to the parents. When I walked into their room, I was struck by how beautiful the family looked. They had not heard me enter the room. The parents were standing in front of a window with the baby bundled up in her car seat, which was situated between them. Their hands were clasped together and their heads were bent in prayer. The sun was setting behind them. Rays of light came through the window, making a golden halo around the three of them. In that moment, I felt the love they had between them, and I felt the love they had for this baby that had not come from their bodies, but had been born to them out of wishes, and prayers, and a desperate ache in their hearts. I left work that day, thankful that I had been a part of a different type of delivery, that I had been witness to the making of a different type of mother. I was thankful that that baby would get the very best start in life.
I would find out days later that my patient had changed her mind about the adoption the next day, when her boyfriend decided to come back into her life. I was crushed by how unfair it all was. I cried for that baby, and I cried for those adoptive parents, who had to give their child back. Even now, years later, I wonder how long she kept that diaper bag stitched with her baby’s name across the front. My heart broke for a woman who was only given the chance to be a mother for a moment, and to this day I hold hope that that little baby knew how much she was loved in that instant that the sun set slowly around the three of them.
This New Year, I hope everyone gets the gift they’ve been longing for. If you’re the woman struggling with infertility, I hope this month is different. I hope this is the month that doesn’t weight you down with disappointment. I hope every single one of your wishes come true, and that you find peace with the wishes that evade you. When I saw that family bathed in light, I really understood that families are made in many different ways. If you are a nurse, know that we must celebrate and fight for the families that are made in front of us. And if you are a patient, know that we must fight for what you long for together.
Infertility is a serious disease affecting 1 in 8 couples in the U.S. While there are a range of treatment options to help patients overcome infertility, many are costly and not covered by insurance. This legislation would create a tax credit for the costs associated with IVF and fertility preservation.
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Until my next delivery ❤