Neonatal Nurse Perspective

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As a neonatal nurse, when I initially got out of nursing school and took care of my first little patients, I worked the night shift. Probably as most new nurses do, I found myself ultra-focused on the technical part of my work. It was so important that I get it right that sometimes, I know early on, I overlooked the emotional part – the relationship – especially when a sad outcome was already expected. It was a protective mechanism.

Very soon into my young career, I lost my first patient. He transferred into our unit from a smaller outlying hospital. It hit me hard. He was a sweet baby but a very sick baby, and it was known before he came to us - before he was born – his days would be short and he wouldn’t live to be a little boy with twisted shorts, dirty feet and orange popsicle-stained legs who offered sweet chocolate milk kisses. I never met his parents.

I am retired now, but in my position as a staff nurse and then nurse manager, I saw many babies enter this world and some were lost dreams who never made it home. I recall taking care of two such babies at the same time. One, a little guy born way too soon, valiantly fought several weeks to live but gave up his little fight to die only hours before the little girl who fought her own battle on the warmed bed next to him. She had Trisomy 18. During her pregnancy, her single mommy was told her daughter was not expected to live and if she was born alive, her little life would be only hours. She was wheeled down to the unit and first stood at her baby’s bedside and lovingly watched her little girl while at the same time she took in all the lights and sounds around them. Hours later, while cradling her infant, her tiny one took her last breath. During part of that time, we quietly talked and I got to know her. I liked her a lot. I, too, had been a single mom. I knew some of what her life had been like during her pregnancy, but I knew nothing about the ache of her kind of loss.

It was a hard day losing two. While we don’t discuss our patients with friends or families – we find it even harder not to discuss our losses, and so each time we bury the sadness deep within our hearts.

When a baby is miscarried, stillborn, or dies after birth, the nurses who care for the baby develop a relationship with the parents who put their trust into the hands of all those part of the care giving process. It is one of the many hard facts parents deal with in these circumstances. Trust. They were supposed to be the ones to care for their baby, to go home and have a happy new beginning. So, painfully, I learned that when I found myself deeply grieving a loss of a baby, I grieved for the loss of the relationship with the parent(s) too.

Parents would often bring their graduated premature or formerly sick infant back for a visit, so the staff can see and celebrate their progression. The parents who suffer loss and go home with empty arms after their sad journey through our unit rarely returned. They simply, and understandably, didn’t want to relive the memory of the pain they experienced. We were the ones who walked that journey with them, but we, and all around us, were also a reminder of their deep loss too.

I recall a friend of mine who was special to me, although we were not overly close. I ran into her at church and noticed a baby bump. We chatted and she told me she was pregnant. Even though she smiled, her face was etched with a pain I recognized. She phoned me later and told me her baby had anencephaly. This is when the brain and the skull are not fully developed. Babies with this condition rarely live outside the womb. Because she knew I worked at the hospital where she would deliver, she asked me to be present at her delivery when the day came.

I remember receiving her call. It was an afternoon on my day off, weeks before Christmas. I lived close to the hospital and was able to quickly get there. The room was dark and soft music played. Her OB, one I knew well, acknowledged my presence as I took my place at the head of her bed and held her hand. She experienced a short labor and subsequently delivered their tiny premature son in her labor bed (instead of going back to a separate delivery room which is what they did back then).

He had thick dark hair like hers and we heard a few soft little cries before he was silent. Working together, the labor and delivery nurse and I gently wrapped him in a warm blanket and slipped a little pink and blue beanie over his head before we placed him against her chest where she and her husband could examine him, love on him and say their goodbyes. Their baby was born and lived only minutes. A short time later, we cut a lock of his hair and gave them a stamped print of his tiny feet for them to keep forever, and then they went home with empty arms and broken hearts.

It was a bittersweet time and that’s how we described it in the months that followed. She knew the outcome beforehand. She was as prepared as she could be. Her memory of how it played out was as positive as she could imagine knowing what she knew.  What I remember most about that time is for months after, every now and then, my phone would ring, and she would want to talk. She would want to relive detailed moments of seeing him, loving him, and everything that went with that precious brief time she had with him.

To talk it out – over and over is so important. We would talk for almost an hour until the next time and the time after that, until she stopped calling, and I never heard from her again. I never hear from any of the moms who lost their little ones, but even today, I think of them often and will always carry them in my heart.

Deborah, Neonatal Nurse
The NILMDTS Remembrance Walk, “Our Journey Together” is for parents, family members, and friends to come together to remember a precious baby who has died due to miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS, neonatal or any type of pregnancy or infant loss.

The NILMDTS Remembrance Walk includes a presentation with readings, music, and speakers to honor your baby. During the event, each baby is honored by having his or her name read aloud with the optional release of a butterfly. Following the presentation participants will journey together for an optional one-mile reflective walk.It is an opportunity to bring honor to our babies and healing to our hearts.

The Remembrance Walk also ensures future support to families who will sadly walk in our shoes one day.

Find out where our 2018 Remembrance Walks will be this year or join our Virtual Walk www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org/remembrancewalk