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  1. Needham, Daine BSN, RN

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I GREW UP AS the youngest of three brothers. Neither of my brothers is married or has children. Before my labor and delivery (L&D) clinical experience, I'd never held a newborn, and I had no personal knowledge of either the clinical or emotional aspects of pregnancy and childbirth. L&D was the one area of nursing I was nervous to experience firsthand during my nursing education.


I was raised "old school." Growing up around so many males had conditioned me to avoid showing emotion under any circumstance. I was taught males who cried were weak. But, I also learned from my father and my religion to be nonjudgmental and compassionate, and to help anyone in need. For these reasons, I was drawn to the nursing profession. As I advanced through clinicals in nursing school, my family's expectations that I should both be strong and help others molded me to feel that I should try to shoulder my patients' pain. This approach to patient care helped me cope with extreme grief on the most difficult day of my nursing education.


The day time stood still

This particular clinical day started just like any another. I'd been up studying until 0100 the night before, so I groaned when my alarm rang at 0615, awakening me in time to get ready for another long clinical shift. Walking into the hospital's L&D unit, I thought I knew what to expect: I was going to witness the "miracle of life." I was paired with a nurse with over 30 years of L&D unit experience. Her tone commanded authority, but in a gentle and compassionate way.


My nurse mentor explained the complicated condition of my patient for the day. This patient had premature rupture of the membranes at 18 weeks of gestation. She'd since been in and out of the hospital working with her care team to try and save the baby. This morning, she arrived at the ED at 22 weeks gestation complaining of cramps. At 0430, she delivered a stillborn baby. My nurse mentor warned me I wouldn't know what to say at first because of the complex emotions this type of situation encompasses. She gave me a short lesson: Work slowly and try to connect on a very basic level; gain trust and work from there.


As I entered the patient's room and introduced myself, I could instantly feel how broken this patient felt. Then when I approached, she buried her face in her arm and began to cry silently, as if trying very hard to hold back crying out loud in frustration and sadness. I stood dumbfounded, finding myself in a new situation, not having a clue what to say, and letting the silence drag on. I proceeded to help her with a new clean gown until my nurse mentor returned.


A nurse's duty

I remembered something my nurse mentor told me: "When children bury their parents they bury the past; when parents bury their children they bury the future." That's when I knew I had to do whatever I could to ease this patient's suffering.


The primary nurse asked me to help prepare the baby memory box for the mother. I knew what this box was because I'd seen one the day before. It would contain a photo of the baby along with plaster castings of the baby's feet, and hand and foot ink prints.


As the nurse handed the mother her baby girl wrapped in a warm blanket, tears started running down the mother's face. She smiled as she rubbed her baby girl's tiny hands and kissed her head. The sadness in my patient's eyes is something I'll never forget. My nurse told her we'd give her time alone with her baby and we both left the room.


My nurse gave me a bear hug and told me she was proud I'd made it through this experience.



As I made my way to postclinical conference, I fought back tears every step of the way. When it was my turn to talk, I said, "I'm guessing most of you already know this has been the longest day of my life." I tried to start explaining my experience, but I couldn't get the words out. As one instructor started to explain my patient and the situation, all the images of the day ran through my mind. I couldn't fight back the tears anymore and walked out of the room.


The next morning, I felt a warmth come over me and I somehow knew that a tiny baby girl was "up there" and doing just fine. I knew I'd found my purpose. I am, and always will be, a nurse.