She Needed Me…(my submission piece for LTYM)

 

It happens.

Life.

Death.

I just happen to work where I may see both at the exact same time. I’m trained to be the personnel who tends to a baby’s first breath. As a nurse, rarely my services are needed to sustain a life, but in the event it happens, I’m there, along with a team.

This particular day I was needed. But not in the way I thought.

She was born many weeks too early to survive. Her little body pushed from her mother’s warm, loving interior, into the cold world. Her heart beating, trying it’s best to give it a shot, though her lungs were far too underdeveloped to oxygenate her vital organs. She lay still. Her nurse wrapped her in a warm blanket and handed her to her devastated parents to hold.

But after nearly an hour her parents were done. They asked the nurse to take her, do what you have to do, weights and measures. The nurse gently set her in the crib and started to walk toward the nursery.

I saw the look on the labor nurse’s face. Sad. Confused. Unsure. I asked if the baby had passed yet, she looked at me and said no. No? I asked confused. Why on earth didn’t parents want to hold their dying baby? I can’t imagine.

Oh wait. Yes, I can.

The overwhelm, the horror, the grace, and fortitude that came to reside in my soul after the 26 hours of labor I had to deliver my own stillborn son came flooding back in an instant. I held my breath and swallowed hard.

I told the nurse I’d take her. I pulled the blanket to the side that covered her tiny body. Still warm, I could feel there was some life in her. I carefully wrapped extra blankets around her so that the crib didn’t look empty as I walked in the hallway to take her to the nursery.

When I arrived, I made my way to the back where there was privacy and a curtain. I took out my stethoscope and listened. Nothing. And then a very brief series of heartbeats, irregularly fluttering in her little chest. She was still hanging on.

I walked quickly to the blanket warmer where I grabbed a nice warm blanket and I gently wrapped this precious baby girl in it. Her little head peering out from the swaddle I sat down in the rocker and began to rock.

But something told me she didn’t want to be rocked. She wanted to be held, but not rocked. So I stood up, walked around and held her close to my chest. I talked to her. I told her she was not alone. I told her I would hold her until the end.

After about a half an hour of walking with her in the crook of my arm, I assessed for signs of life. Again, the fluttering of a little heartbeat still present. I told her that I was going to weigh and measure her. I assured her that I was not going to do this because I was assuming she was gone, but that I do this for every baby. I took two sets of footprints, two sets of handprints.

For I know all too well that there will not be any first day of preschool pictures, a first lock of hair, or a first visit from the tooth fairy. Then quickly I wrapped her back up in the warm blanket.

I looked around the nursery and miraculously it was empty now. The hustle and bustle of the day had settled and it was just this baby girl and I. I took a seat behind our desk with one of our swizzle chairs and gently back and forth we swayed. I began to sing one of the lullabies that I sing for my boys.

We swayed and sang for nearly 20 minutes. I had to stop myself from reaching down and kissing her tiny head that peeked out from the blankets. I listened with my heart, melting with gratitude that this precious girl needed me. To just hold her. To just be in my arms.

The time that we swayed seemed like hours. I imagined her body feeling comforted, warm, and loved. I reminded her that her mommy and daddy loved her very much. I told her they did the very best they could. I told her that she paved the way for her future siblings. I thanked her for being so beautiful. I told her that she mattered. I told her that she would not be forgotten. I told her that there would be peace that passed understanding.

I closed my eyes and rested with her in my arms. I hoped she could hear my heartbeat through the blankets. And when I opened them again. I knew she was gone. I could sense her energy had lessened; her delicate mouth began to open. It was time to assess her heart rate again. But instead I held her a little longer.

Indeed she had passed. A sadness came over me. But a peace filled my heart. I thanked her for letting me hold her. I thanked her for needing me. I sent my well wishes to her, her parents, and her future siblings. I asked her to say hello to my baby that was in Heaven and hoped he would usher her into her Creator’s loving embrace.

I was needed that day. Not in the way I’m used to being needed. And in the process, I realized that I needed her.

I was filled to the brim with gratitude, love, peace, and grace. The ache in my soul from losing my stillborn son almost four years before was soothed in her presence. She filled a gap. A wondering for me. She gave me the opportunity to BE in the moment of life and death.

An amazing baby with an amazing message, and for that I am so grateful.

 

Within Normal Limits…

It’s been one of those weeks…the kind where you don’t know your center.  You can’t remember the details of anything in particular, but you remember that for sure there should be someway that is easier, calmer, better.

At work we have a term called Within Normal Limits. WNL. It may not be perfect or exactly what we want to see, but it’s still within normal limits. So that’s where I’m at right now. WNL.

The screeching from the witching hour sends shivers up my spine.

I can’t remember a day where the whole family was off together and enjoyed each other’s company.

The laundry is mocking me.

The kitchen floor is only clean for a fraction of a second during the day.

I can’t remember the last time I drank a cup of hot coffee. I like hot coffee. It appears to be too much to ask for these days. Including at work, when I poured my hot coffee into a disposable cup and slammed it down while standing in the OR corridor prior to attending a C-section. This is not relaxing or calming. Honestly.

And then, in the midst of it all…I am reminded of the LOVE that I have and that I am.

I am tired, frustrated, irritable, and weepy. I find it a struggle to put one foot in front of the other with a smile. 

But a bad day or a bad week doesn’t constitute a bad life.

I am filled with hope that we’ll all get back on track.

That I’ll find my center again.

That the full moon will pass.

That the tears will dry.

That I will fill up on the screeches and screams instead of cringe.

I know my lap won’t always be so full and bumpy.

I am deeply understanding that this is the beauty of life after loss.

My inability to see through the current fog doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it’s mystery and question its presence.

I get it. It’s real life. It’s loud, fast, maddening, joyful, and sweet.

All within normal limits. And it’s easier to see it when I look in their eyes.

The crocheted blanket…

Although I can offer my condolences to a family who just lost their newborn baby, I cannot fix the reason I am offering my understanding and love in the first place. I have no answers most of the time. All I can do is share that they are not alone, that their baby matters to them, to us, and the world. 

I remind them that there is no right or wrong way to integrate this loss. Some insist from the very minute they learn of their baby’s demise that there will be a tattoo. Even if they aren’t tattoo kind of people. Others refuse photos initially, but give in after they hear our pleas. 

They are very tastefully done. 

They are in black and white.

They become absolute treasures.

They are all you will have left.

It’s all true. There aren’t crawling pictures, preschool photos, or graduation invites. The family walks out of the hospital one less family member than they walked in. There is no soothing balm for that.

The space this baby leaves is a chasm that I try to bridge as a caregiver. I always take two sets of footprints and handprints. Just in case if something should happen to the one set you have. I try to find a lovely lotion I can put on the blanket I wrap the baby in, sometimes in dire need to cover up a horrific smell, other times to help mom “bank” her memory of her baby. 

I remind you to hold your baby for hours and hours if that feels right. There is no need to rush to the morgue. And, if you change your mind and need more time with your baby, I will go get your baby from the morgue and wrap him or her in warm blankets to help the chill go away. I will encourage you to just BE with your baby. Examine every finger and toe. Kiss her cheeks. Nuzzle his neck. There will never be another time. 

And when the time comes to say goodbye, I will take your beautiful baby, and with grace and dignity I will wrap him up, remind him that Mommy and Daddy love him very much, thank him for his presence, his gifts, his spirit, and send blessings to the parents who’ve just joined the club of Empty Arms, Broken Heart.

I will then take a deep breath and wonder about the person who took the time to crochet the beautiful blanket that I just gave to the mother. The blanket that was wrapped around her baby’s body. The blanket which will become the catcher for all the many tears to come. The blanket which she might sleep with, just to be close to her baby who now lives on in her heart and spirit.  That person who spent all that time crocheting the blanket and donated it to our hospital, had no idea what a gift she gave. I for one, am grateful.

The Deep Sigh and a Jumpsuit…

He’s wearing the dark blue “daddy jumpsuit”. He’s about to become a dad for the first time. Staring at the wall in front of him, he anxiously waits for us to call him in the operating room to join his wife giving birth. 

He looks up from his phone for a brief minute as I introduce myself.  I let him know I am here to help take care of his baby. I ask all the easy questions. Is this your first baby? Is this a boy or a girl? Do you have a name picked out yet? I see his eyes dart back to his phone.  Not great reception down here, I say. Don’t worry you won’t miss anything. We’re just getting everything set up for the baby.

I stand next to the surgeons as they scrub in. I wait to sneak in and grab a pair of splash goggles, a mask, and a fingernail pick.  All three of us scrubbing up to the elbows to become sterile in order to welcome this new baby into the world as aseptically as possible.  All three of us women, mothers. 

I follow the doctors into the OR, donning our sterile gowns, gloves, and I stand near the sterile drape that covers everything except a window onto mom’s abdomen. Her husband can come in now, says the surgeon as she makes the first cut.

He sits next to her. Holds her hand. She says she’s nauseous, she can’t breathe. Her nervousness is clear now to all present in the room. He is now becoming anxious as well. The doctors use easy, clear language to remind her that this is expected, normal in fact. Almost to baby…announces the doctor.

The head is delivered first, followed by bulb suctioning of the nose and mouth, a strong tug on the head and neck and the rest of the body follows. And we’re out, I say. Time is called out.  Then the cry. 

I take the baby from the surgeon’s hands and carry him to the radiant warmer to do my job. Apgars 8/9. Which is an easy way to say I didn’t have to do much.

I ask Daddy to trim the cord. I remind him to take pictures. I point out 10 fingers, 10 toes. I answer his questions. I encourage him to touch his son. To talk to him. I wrap him up and take him over to Mom. They hold their new son together. Tears flow freely from her eyes. She is overwhelmed with joy and responsibility. He is beaming with pride.

I explain to Mom that we are going to head over to the recovery room and wait for her there. Daddy come with me, I say. He kisses his wife’s forehead and comes with me. 

As we walk out of the operating room I ask him to place his new baby into the bassinet. I remove my gown, gloves, and mask. I let him know he can pull off his mask as we walk down the corridor.  I hear a deep sigh. The sigh to say, Oh thank God it’s over. Oh thank God he’s fine. Oh thank God she’s fine. Oh thank God because that was horrible waiting! Oh thank God we’ve made it! 

The deep sigh is what every Daddy does after they take off their mask. As if it’s the end to a marathon or something. And yet, it’s just the beginning of a marathon of questioning, wondering, loving, connecting, disappointing, encouraging, serving, and teaching.

After Mom is settled into the recovery room, I nestle her baby skin to skin on her breast. I cover them with warm blankets and remind Dad to take a few more deep breaths, because after all this is just the beginning.

She Needed Me…

It happens. Life. Death. I just happen to work where I see both at the exact same time. I’m trained to be the personnel who tends to your baby’s first breath. Rarely, my services are actually needed to sustain a life, but in the event it happens, I’m there. Along with a team.

This particular day I was needed. But not in the way I thought.

She was born many weeks too early to survive. Her little body pushed from her mother’s warm, loving interior, into the cold world. Her heart beating, trying it’s best to give it a shot, though her lungs were far too underdeveloped to oxygenate her vital organs. She lay still. Her nurse wrapped her in a warm blanket and handed her to her devastated parents to hold.

But after nearly an hour her parents were done. They asked the nurse to take her, do what you have to do, weights and measures. The nurse gently set her in the crib and started to walk toward the nursery.

I saw the look on the nurse’s face. Sad. Confused. Unsure. I asked if the baby was gone yet, she looked at me and said no. No? I asked confused. Why on earth did parents not want to hold their dying baby? I can’t imagine. Oh wait. I can.

I told the nurse I’d take her. I pulled the blanket that covered her tiny body. Still warm, I could feel there was some life in her. I carefully wrapped extra blankets around her so that the crib didn’t look empty as I walked in the hallway to take her to the nursery.

When I arrived I made my way to the back where there was privacy and a curtain. I took out my stethoscope and listened. Nothing. And then a very brief series of heartbeats. Irregularly fluttering in her little chest. She was still hanging on.

I walked quickly to the blanket warmer where I grabbed a nice warm blanket and I gently wrapped this precious baby girl in it. Her little head peering out from the swaddle I sat down in the rocker and began to rock.

But something told me she didn’t want to be rocked. She wanted to be held, but not rocked. So I stood up, walked around and held her close to my chest. I talked to her. I told her she was not alone. I told her I would hold her until the end.

After about a half an hour of walking with her in the crook of my arm, I assessed for signs of life. Again, the fluttering of a little heartbeat still present. I told her that I was going to weigh and measure her. I assured her that I was not going to do this because I was assuming she was gone, but that I do this for every baby. I took two sets of footprints, two sets of handprints. Then quickly I wrapped her back up in the warm blanket.

I looked around the nursery and miraculously it was empty now. The hustle and bustle of the day had settled and it was just this baby girl and me. I took a seat behind our desk with one of our swizzle chairs and gently back and forth we swayed. I began to sing one of the lullabies that I sing for my boys.

Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King… Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King… Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King… Allelujah Allelujah…we are going to see the King.

We swayed and sang for nearly 20 minutes. I had to stop myself from reaching down and kissing her tiny head that peeked out from the blankets. I listened with my heart, melting with gratitude that this precious girl needed me. To just hold her. To just be in my arms.

The time that we swayed seemed like hours. I imagined her body feeling comforted, warm, and loved. I reminded her that her mommy and daddy loved her very much. I told her they did the very best they could. I told her that she paved the way for her future siblings. I thanked her for being so beautiful. I told her that she mattered. I told her that she would not be forgotten. I told her that there will be peace that passed understanding.

I closed my eyes and rested with her in my arms. I hoped she could hear my heartbeat through the blankets. And when I opened them again. I knew she was gone. I could sense her energy had lessened, her delicate mouth began to open. It was time to assess her heart rate again. But instead I held her a little longer.

Indeed she had passed. A sadness came over me. But a peace filled my heart. I thanked her for letting me hold her. I thanked her for needing me. I sent my well wishes to her, her parents, and her future siblings. I asked her to say hello to my baby that was in Heaven and hoped he would usher her into her Creator’s loving embrace.

I was needed that day. Not in the way I’m used to being needed. And in the process, I realized that I needed her.

I was filled to the brim with gratitude, love, peace, and grace. The ache in my soul from losing my stillborn son almost four years before was soothed in her presence. She filled a gap. A wondering for me. She gave me the opportunity to BE in the moment of life and death.

An amazing baby with an amazing message, and for that I am so grateful.