There were two neonatal deaths this week at work. The first was expected. The second absolutely was not. My heart has been SO heavy. I know that Heavenly Father has a plan for these sweet babies and I am not sad for them. I am sad for their parents. Because although we can find peace in the plan of salvation, it does not erase the natural grief. I was the nursery nurse in the birth center for both of these babies.
The first one was an infant who was just 23 weeks gestation. It was not her parents' first loss. This mother's water had ruptured about a week previously and we were all surprised that the baby lasted as long as she did. She must have formed a seal over the hole and began retaining fluid again. Anyway... it was an excruciatingly sad moment to be present in that room as this sweet little girl came into the world. She came out wiggling a bit and trying to breathe somewhat. Because of her size and gestational age, we did not try to help her out or resuscitate her. She lived for about 20 minutes before giving up. I bonded with her father, who spoke no English at all. Words were not needed.
I was able to get hand and footprints of the baby. They were so tiny. Her little feet were only about an inch long, maybe shorter. The heart wrenching moment came when her father pulled a photograph out of his wallet. It was a photo of himself and his wife. He did not speak English but gestured to me that he wanted me to lay the photo next to the baby and take a photograph of the three of them. You see, the baby's mother did not want to see her at all. All of this was done in the nursery. So I laid the picture of the beautiful couple next to the tiny baby and took a picture for him. That would be the only picture he would ever have of the three of them together.
The second situation was even more tragic than the first. The mother came in, full term and in a massive amount of pain. She had other children and kept saying it hurt so much worse than her other babies. She looked like she was ready to push so I quickly set up a warmer for the baby and my heart just sank when the labor nurse couldn't find the heartbeat. Mind you, just because a nurse can't find a heartbeat doesn't always mean it is absent. Often the baby gets so far into the birth canal that it's difficult to pick up. But my heart knew. Even as I was setting up that warmer and she continued to search, in my mind I was already saying, "Just stop. You're not going to find it." The spirit was amazingly present in that room.
We had the doc come in with the portable ultrasound machine and she confirmed this mother's worst nightmare. Her baby was dead. Though she was several doors down from the nurses station, there was no mistaking the wailing and crying that was coming from that room. It's a sound that rips your heart out and leaves a huge, gaping hole in its place. All you can do is stand there and think of your own babies at home. And although I knew that Heavenly Father had a plan for that baby, I still couldn't help but stand there and ask, "Why?" as this mother continued to wail.
Later on in the morning, I had the utmost honor of helping her to make memories of her little boy. When I walked into her room, he was wrapped up next to her and she had her face buried in the top of his head, just sobbing into his hair. She was clutching him with everything she had in her. I lost it. Right there... I sobbed with her. How can you not? I gently told her that there was no rush but that when she was ready, we could weigh him and measure him. She said she was ready. So I took him out of her arms and just looked at him for a moment. He was perfect. Truly. He was a perfect, perfect little boy. Just gorgeous. He simply looked as though he was sleeping. The only giveaway was the color of his lips... a deep, cherry red... very dark... that is what happens to the lips of babies after they die. He was so beautiful and so perfect and in my mind I was almost trying to will him to just open his eyes and take a breath. Live! Just live and breathe! But alas that was not the plan for his short life.
I weighed him and measured him in the room with his mother, father, and aunt present. A perfect 7 pound baby. Have I mentioned that he was perfect? SIGH... We took him to the nursery to bathe him in the deep tub. I had the honor of giving this little boy a bath. I placed him on the warmer and unwrapped him. We got some hand and footprints before the bath and again, they were perfect. Often it is difficult to get hand prints because infants naturally clutch their fists closed. But his mother begged for hand prints and it seems her son knew how much she needed them because his hands were so relaxed and we got absolutely flawless prints. Then I placed him in a warm bath and we washed his beautiful little body. Again, he just looked as though he was asleep. We dried him and then cut a lock of his hair near the back of his neck for his mother to keep. Then his father put a diaper on him and we dressed him in a lovely, white outfit. They chose a hat for him and then we wrapped him up in beautiful blankets.
I talked with his parents for a long time. We talked about their shattered plans. We talked about Christmas. We talked about the other children and she sort of laughed and asked me, "How am I supposed to go home and tell the other kids their brother is not coming home? They don't know yet. Do you want to tell them?" She was kidding of course. I can't imagine having to deliver that kind of news. I just can't imagine.
Later before I left for the morning, I went back into their room and asked if I could hold him once more. I sort of felt selfish asking. I knew their time with him was so limited and precious. But she was happy to oblige. I held him for about 20 minutes as I talked with them. By that time, we were able to laugh a bit and the room felt lighter. But that little boy's spirit was ALL around us in that room. He was VERY present and I could feel him almost tangibly. I held him in the crook of my arm and held one of his hands in mine. His skin was like velvet. I could tell he was an amazing spirit. I was in awe of him and I was so honored to be in his presence. As sad as that experience was, I was glad I walked down that fiery path with those parents. It's one of those things that is SO hard to do and yet helps us grow in ways untold. I am forever changed because of it.
Happy Birthday Baby L. I hope I am worthy enough to be in your presence again someday!
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