Wear Me Out, Fill Me Up
I vividly remember the experience ten years ago, when I realized the nursing profession would drain, restore, and capture me forever.
It was midnight. I was in charge and the only RN in the Nursery, when an emergency Cesarean birth was called for fetal distress. I notified the Pediatrician, picked up the necessary supplies, and headed for the OR to set up for a potential high risk newborn.
Everything happened in split seconds. The baby was handed to me, and I instantly knew there were problems. The baby survived, but she had more gross congenital anomalies than I have every seen in one newborn. Amazing though, this imperfect newborn was responding well to extrauterine life.
I returned to the Nursery with the baby while the Pediatrician went to talk with the father. The Pediatrician and the father returned. By this time, the father knew his firstborn child would not live very long; hours, maybe a few days, but definitely not long. He looked as though he wanted to run away as the Pediatrician explained each anomaly.
I could not stand it. This situation had to be altered, and I realized I was the one to do it. I wrapped the baby with only her face and hands showing, pulled the father into a rocking chair and placed his daughter in his arms. The love he had been guarding against hurt, as if he really could, began to show.
Kneeling beside him, I pointed out the perfect fingers and perfect face, then remarked about how pretty and contented she looked in his arms. He started talking to her, rocking and crying at the same time. The Daddy twice visited his little girl to touch her, ask questions and cry, before his wife was alert and stable enough to “hear the news.”
The Dad appeared at the Nursery door. Confused, shaking, with tears in his eyes, he announced he had told his wife, but she refused to see their daughter. Since it was 4:00 a.m. and the attending physicians were at home sleeping, I quickly deducted it was an expectation of me to initially talk with the Mom.
I went to her room, introduced myself, sat next to her bed, and explained exactly what she would see with the baby wrapped in the blanket, a perfect little pink face, perfect hands and ten perfect little fingers. That was all she could accept right then and she allowed me to bring the baby to her. She like the Dad, instantly bonded with her daughter. As we (Dad, Mom, and I) sat together, she slowly opened the blanket to view their baby and began to accept reality. We all cried together.
I went home totally drained and returned the next morning to find the baby still alive, but critical. The only orders were for comfort measures, and she would probably not survive my shift.
After assessing the infant, I asked the Mom and Dad if they would like to spend some private time with their daughter. I checked on them frequently, then brought the baby back to the Nursery so they could rest. An hour later the baby was significantly worse. I asked the parents if they would like to be with their baby when she died.
My Head Nurse and the staff on duty were horrified when I told them what I was doing. They were not about to let me, the youngest nurse and only staff person there without children leave the Nursery with that baby. They were in shock until I asked them if it were one of their children dying, would they not want to be with them?
I checked on the family often and listened to the fading heartbeat, gently announcing when it had stopped. Too soon it came time to take the baby away from the parents, instead of giving them their child.
Turning to leave with the baby, I looked at the parents. The Mom crying and empty, the Dad crying, looking at me and not knowing what to do. Suddenly I remembered something from a seminar I had attended, that many marriages do not survive the loss of a child. I did what I felt was right. I took the Dad’s hand, pulled him over to the bed, and as he hugged his wife I told them it was O.K. to cry. I left them grieving together.
Once again I went home drained but satisfied with the knowledge that I may have made a difference in this family’s life. I visited them again before they went home to grieve and eventually survive their loss.
I was privileged to meet this family again about one year later. They came back for a repeat Cesarean birth with their second child. They seemed delighted to see a familiar face, and I was happy to see them together with what presented to be a healthy pregnancy.
I think all of us were holding our breath from the beginning of surgery to the delivery of an 8 pound, 2 ounce boy, healthy in all respects! What a joy to place him in Dad’s arms with Mom looking on, and of course, all three of us were crying. I went home that day overflowing!
Ginger K. Windham, RN
Director, Maternal & Child Health, Riverside Regional Medical Center
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