Monday, June 22, 2009

The Baby Factory-Part 2 (Kleenex Recommended)

“Okay, just leave her here and call me when she no longer has a heartbeat,” the resident ordered as he left the darkened room, just as quickly as he’d arrived.

I could see it wasn’t going to be a usual night at the “Baby Factory”. It was one of my first nights team leading and it was to be a night that would change my life…forever.

Standing alone, peering through the Plexiglas walls of the incubator, I was immediately taken aback and could not help but to let out a soft gasp.

The baby before me was dying.

Life in her mother’s womb had come to an abrupt ending. The membranes that had surrounded her, protecting her, had failed and ruptured. The fluid, that cushioned her and helped her development, flowed out. Contractions soon followed and within hours she was expelled from her mother’s uterus, out into a harsh, cold world. It was a world she was not prepared for.

Born too soon…much too soon. She was 20 weeks gestation, having made it only half way through the time she should have spent growing and developing within her mother. There was no hope for her survival, no medical miracle to save her, just the harsh reality of her impending death.

Reaching into the clear walled isolette, I gently unwrapped her seemingly lifeless body, freeing her from a jumble of moist and bloodied blankets.

She was so perfect, she took my breath away for a moment.

Tiny, yet perfectly formed.

She may have gasped weakly at birth, but her lungs were not yet ready to expand and exchange air. It was too early for her to sustain her own life. Her chest was still.

But on closer examination, there was one small sign of life that could be seen. If I hadn’t been careful I would have easily missed it. In the reflection of light on her chest, I saw the small pulsation of her heart within, just a tiny flicker of movement, the slightest motion of her delicate chest wall. Suppressing a blink in order to catch a glimpse, I had to hold her in the light, just right, to be able to see that faint sign of her life. A stethoscope could not hear this subtle motion, it could only be visualized. Her heart was definitely beating. However, it was a slow, agonal rate.

She was so similar to a healthy newborn, yet so different. Her skin was bright red, shiny, and gelatinous, with very little fat beneath, revealing fragile blood vessels. My fingertips caressed her fragile form as I carefully examined every centimeter of her body. Finding myself drawn to her little hands, the perfect size to grasp my fingertip, I started counting… one, two, three…ten itty-bitty fingers. Her little feet beckoned, and I discovering ten teensy toes. These little features were so normal. As surreal as it was to see a human life so early in development, those diminutive hands and feet made it so clear to my mind that she was just a petite babe, a tiny little child. She was a pretty baby, with dainty little nose. I wanted to see the color of her eyes, but it wasn’t possible, the lids were still fused, not yet able to open.

Taking her gently into my hands, she fit perfectly in my palms, with her arms and legs curled up at her chest and tummy.

“You should be kicking, floating, fluttering,” I thought as I gazed upon her, “gracefully tumbling within the warmth of your mother’s womb.”

At you may recall, at this hospital, no newborn was left with it’s parents in the delivery room, especially not a dying newborn. This miniscule baby had been whisked past rooms full of healthy babies and sequestered into the recesses of the Newborn Nursery. A dark little examination room held a single incubator, reserved for dying babies. She had been brought there, the place of no hope, the place of abandonment, the place to die…alone.

But she was alive, she was a human being, she was her daddy’s little girl, her mother’s dream. She deserved dignity, to be valued, to be honored.

Things were going to be a bit different at the Baby Factory that night…this baby was not going to die alone. Not on my watch.

Since I was the nurse in charge that night, I was in control of what happened to her. Hours had already passed in my shift, before she’d arrived, and I had completed the bulk of my assigned duties. Visiting hours were long over, so the public was no longer peering into the fishbowl-like nursery. There was no reason that I couldn’t attend to her as I saw fit.

Gathering layers of warm blankets, I swaddled my little cherub with care and cradled her into my arms. Spreading out an extra blanket, I draped us discreetly. This wasn’t a progressive hospital and I had no interest in discussing my decisions with anyone.

Then, I went about my shift, answering questions and overseeing the unit. Nobody had any idea that she wasn’t just another fussy baby I was calming. Gently rocking her, stroking her sweet cheeks, and whispering words of love into her tiny ears, I made the most of her short time on this earth.

Every half hour or so, I’d walk her back to her isolette and checked to see if her heart was still beating. Over and over, it was still present, confirming that she was still alive.

After about four hours, her heart finally stopped. She had died.

But not as so many had, before her, in that newborn nursery.

No, she had died with dignity. She had died being held and loved.

She had changed my path in nursing. She would influence the care I gave and continue to give to bereaved families in Labor and Delivery. In turn, I have had the privilege to influence hundreds of nurses in my role as a bereavement nurse and educator.

Her life has had tremendous value, as each life brought into this world does.

It still breaks my heart still that it could not have been her parents who held her .

I will, like them, hold her in my heart...forever.

Baby Factory Part 1- here


Valerie said...

No kidding about the kleenex...I am sitting here sobbing as I type this comment. Coincidentally, I was up posting about my own loss and was checking my dashboard when I saw your post. God does work in mysterious ways.

Carolyn said...

Amen sister. You changed the precious girls whole life. Literally. X.

Jules said...

Wow! What an awesome story. I am a Sr. in nursing school and will be graduating in December. I am very sad and surprised to say I have seen much more of what I DON'T want to be then of what I DO want to be. I always thought nurses would be people of such compassion and drive. Unfortunately, my experience has shown that not to be the case. How refreshing to hear a story of one who actually cares! I hope I meet more nurses like you once I'm beyond cliniclas and the stigma of "The Student" (the under the breath grumble, eyes rolling response as the nurses behind the station see us coming). I can't wait to parooze your blog!

Beth in NC said...

Yep, my first cry for the day.

Just think how much her parents would have loved to have kissed on her for 4 hours. I wish there was a way they could know that their child was held and loved.

God bless you for caring for others.

renee said...

thank you for that.

Candace Jean July 16 said...

You took me back many years when I had a very similar experience. I have so many of those children in my heart - and years later, so many adults. This job really can hurt sometimes - but I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Kelley said...

thank you so much for this story. you always remind me about what being a patient advocate is!

Mighty M said...

Thank you for being there for the baby, that one and all the others - you are a wonderful nurse!

E @ Scottsville said...

Awwwwwwwwwww... you were right. This post brought tears. =0(

What kills me is that her parents weren't allowed those hours with her. As a parent, I can't imagine!!! I'm glad you're making a difference, Julie!!

Morgan said...

That is so horrible- how could they not let the babies stay with the parents, especially if one was dying?!? Did the mother get to hold her baby at all before she died? So very sad.

Beth E. said...

What a beautiful, touching story. You are a true gift from God. Thank you for your ministry to the babies and their families!

April said...

Hi Julie~
Yes, that was definitely a tear jerker! Your compassion for human life is God-given and you made a big difference that day. To hold that sweet little baby and care for her during her final hours on earth must have been life-changing...for you both!

Jen said...

this is beautiful, I just wish that her mother could have held her or knew what you did.

Prisca: said...

Ah, been there--and probably couldn't express it as well as you have. I'm glad to find someone who feels the same as I do about the lives of these little are awesome, girl!

-stephanie- said...

Thank you for your caring loving heart. I'm sure these babies felt the care and concern, and love.

mrosev14 said...

I think bereavement is so important, I don't think people understand the importance of it until someone they have loved has been lost. That is amazing how one quiet shift can change your course of nursing forever. I can't wait to see the way my nursing career evolves. Thanks for sharing another wonderful story.

blueviolet said...

That was one of the most touching and beautiful stories I've ever heard. You are an angel on earth.

jennykate77 said...

I don't understand why the parents couldn't have held her until she passed. Makes me so sad...and makes my heart ache. What an angel you are to these desperate little babies. I love your love for them. It's so apparent in the things that you write and share with us. That's what makes you a PHENOMENAL

Pam D said...

What an amazing blessing, that God put the two of you together. You, to comfort her during her brief time here. Her, to teach you that ALL life has value and that compassion trumps efficiency. If her parents only knew... what a comfort that would be to them. I DO know that God was smiling down on you... and I believe that you will hold her again someday, and she will KNOW you.

grandma mac said...

As I read this, I thought of the thousands that are aborted in third trimester, some still "alive" and just put in a room to die...My heart aches for all the sweet, sweet children that come into this world who do not have you to tend to them. What a blessing you are to this Earth...What a blessing and joy that you are to our Heavenly Father that you can minister to the healthy, the sick and the dying, you are there with your sweet face peering over them, making sure that all is well.

Thank you again, for the inspiring story! I hope you have a great day, and remember, take care of you... :)

Gracie said...

Beautiful, Julie. This is what Nursing is all about and what makes me proud to be a Nurse. =)

He And Me + 3 said...

Thank God for nurses that care like you. How horrible that mommy was not allowed to hold her baby and be with her when she passed away. So glad that you were there with that sweet baby. You make a difference my friend.

Anne Basso said...

God love you, Julie. When I think of holding my tiny lifeless 22 week old Sarah in my arms, I can see all the things that you talked about, except the heartbeat. The only physical sign that all was not right with Sarah, was the bulge on the top of her head where her meninges had pushed through with all the pressure of the fluid, and her poor brain.

My baby was gone, but she was with me for as long as I wanted her. Of course, there's just never enough time.

I'm so grateful that this tiny little person didn't have to be alone. But I'm still heartbroken that the people who loved her most in the world, were deprived the opportunity of loving her while she went. That was their time. Their only time. Their only chance to make the memories that would have to last them a lifetime. I know! And they were robbed.

Thank you for being who are, and doing what you do. Because, even four years later, I read this, and think about that day, and sob. Grief is harsh, and we need people who can help us. And whether a patient is a teeny tiny 20 weeker, or a 106 year old (I have one on my unit right now), no one shoule die alone in the dark.

Casey said...

That is an awesome story!

I have to admit, this is the part of L&D that I dislike the most...and it happens far too often.

You are amazing!

Carebear said...

Very sad, moving story Julie. I HATE that baby factory and I've only read two posts about it! I commend you and thank you for stepping outside protocol and following your heart. You are a special person for sure!

Mags said...

I'm so grateful that Baby Girl had you to treasure her during her short stay here on earth. I'm so sorry her parents couldn't be with her. My babies were born at 24w and were immediately whisked to another hospital...Despite having a c-section, I "snuck" out of my hospital to see them. My son had passed away in his daddy's arms before I got there...I held my baby girl when it was her time. Saying goodbye to them is the toughest thing I've been through.

Miranda said...

You are an amazing nurse!! This story touched my heart and made it smile and cry at the same time.

Five Moms & A Blog said...

Yea, you must be right Julie. God must have some big plan for Riley cuz the Devil has sure done his best to snatch her away from me a time or two, and God keeps on saying "No, no, no!" =0)



Orah said...

Such a sad story. Did the parents want, or get to hold the baby at all? I am happy most hospitals have progressed in this area. There has to be closure for families. Good work Julie, caring for the baby as the baby deserved to be cared for.

momstheword said...

What a blessing that you were there for her! So that she wasn't ripped away from her mommy's warmth and movement and put in a sterile lonely place.

But it's just so sad that her parents weren't able to enjoy those last precious moments of her life. I know I would have wanted to be there.

Five Moms & A Blog said...

ooops. I came on signed on as my "momstheword" blog instead of the Five Moms blog. I guess it doesn't really matter though!

~ Nan

Joy said...

You are an angel on earth. I know, I know- you didn't write this to be glorified in any way, shape or form. What I'm saying is that you have guts and you have a heart. A huge heart.

Thank you for sharing this and for being there for that sweet baby.

Helene said...

Julie, this was such a beautiful post...and yes, I needed kleenex. That baby was so blessed to have you there, so caring and so loving. My heart aches for what her parents must have gone not even have had a chance to be with her when she died. I just can't imagine what they went through...what the baby went just really saddens me.

You are an angel to so many people, I hope you realize that!

Three under Three said...

wow... how luck she was that she had you as a nurse. You gave her dignity and respect.

Rachel said...

Friend, we really must meet someday.

All I could think of as I read each word, was how much you GET it. You understand the miracle - or at least can recognize and describe beautifully when God places one in your arms.

The timing... WOW. As I struggled to put Gracie's story into words - trying somehow to convey just how THANKFUL we were for 25 hours - in spite of the pain of grief... and you managed to take my breath away with your tender care of this baby freshly borrowed from Heaven.

Can you imagine? You are part of giving these parents and children a chance to squeeze the most out of every precious moment... something that they may not have had, if not for the experienced that changed your life.

Thank you for sharing, sweet friend. Somehow I feel so hugged after reading this... knowing that we both have been way too close to this, but God has used it for good.

Yaya said...

That poor baby. And her parents. My heart aches for them. I can't imagine experiencing that.

Semi-Slacker Mom said...

Thanks for the Kleenex warning, Saint Julie. Glad you are feeling better!

Becca~TimeWellSpent said...

Just beautiful! My first job in L&D was also in a baby factory. I am so thankful she had you, that you had to compassion and prescence of mind to care, cuddle and love on her during her short life. You will see her again I'm sure!

~*Michelle*~ said...

One month late reading this, but not a minute too soon for what my heart needed to read......God bless you for your compassion and expressing the true love of Christ to that baby.