By: Jennifer Haake
I spent many years in a clinical capacity in healthcare. I don’t think anyone would ever disagree that nurses are the unsung heroes of medicine. For a newly bereaved parent, they are often the ones to shape where the journey begins.
In my case, I was laying on a stretcher getting my weekly non-stress test (NST). A young nursing student was trying to hook up the mom with multiples in her belly. She was supervised by Marti (the nurse I had been seeing for weeks). When it got time to get the third band on, she struggled. She tried and tried and just couldn’t find his heartbeat. Marti tried, and struggled too. The nursing student turned white and walked away. I didn’t see her again. Marti walked us over to the ultrasound room. She held my hand as they confirmed the worst. She called our doctor, who dropped everything and sprinted down from his office. She held the trash can as I hysterically cried and threw up the water I drank earlier. As they walked me off to surgery, she hugged us and consoled my broken and confused heart.
Fast forward about an hour…it was a nurse in the operating room who held our son and rocked him and sang to him while I was sewn up, and my husband looked on in stunned agony through a small window as they worked on my two daughters.
It was she, who forced a very emotionally broken husband to hold his son. He was paralyzed with fear and so overwhelmed. He will tell you how grateful he is to her that she did that. She helped him calm his fear and look at our boy. He held him first. The next night, as my mom lay in the hospital bed next to me. I couldn’t sleep. I got up. Walked out of the room and shuffled down the long hall from the perinatal wing. I sat in a red chair in the main area and sobbed the kinds of sobs that come from the very tips of your feet and very deep inside a broken heart. My nurse followed me. She sat with me while I sobbed, silently offering me tissues.
Nothing more, she was just there for me, and I am sure had I needed anything more, all I had to do was ask. What else could she say or do, but simply care and be by my side.
But, the nurse who likely inadvertently shaped my grief journey was the nurse who discharged me. She came in to give me my paperwork and take out my IV. She looked at me with such emotion and compassion. I don’t know that I understood it until she paused at the door, and returned to my bedside and spoke of her son. She had lost her son when he was young in an accident. She too began to cry with me. She told me how time does not heal all wounds, but that the pain lessens. The intensity lessens. Like any newly bereaved mother, I couldn’t wrap my head around that, but I tucked it away and referenced it often.
I left the hospital and did not return until 3 years later. My youngest daughter decided she didn’t want to stay in for the required 38 weeks. She wanted out at 28 weeks.
The day Abigail was born, I had the same nurse. She didn’t remember me from 3 years before, but I remembered her.
The minute she walked in my door. She had been watching Abby on the monitor all day. She had watched her tracing show signs of distress. I reminded her of our previous discussion. I think I caught her off guard, but then she held my hand. Told me everything was going to be okay. And off I went to the operating room.
I certainly cannot forget Nancy. She was a nurse representative for the support group I attended for the first 3+ years of our journey. She checked on me and counseled me while my girls were in the NICU. She sat in our meetings as I cried so hard I couldn’t breathe. She validated my anger when there was no one to direct it at, yet I was so full of rage. Nancy assured me that I would indeed be okay. She supported me. She supported all of us. She didn’t have to, it was volunteer work, but just one more example how people like her go above and beyond to make those that are ill, in many ways and not just physical ones, get better.
She keeps doing it, an unsung hero, holding someone’s hand just because they need it and she has supported hundreds of parents over her 30+ year career – just one shining example of tens of thousands that help those in need.
Nurses see hundreds of patients a year. There are always cases that touch their heart for one reason or another. Rarely do they expect gratitude to be shown, gratitude that they dearly deserve. They are the first to hold your hand when bad news is given. They are the ones who walk through that journey with you in the beginning, quietly checking on your wellbeing without you realizing it. They offer simple words of encouragement and hope when you likely won’t hear them until much later if ever.
I am grateful to them for all of the small gestures and the simple act of listening when my heart was broken.
About Jennifer Haake
Jennifer Haake is a parent companion with Share. She found Share when her son, Charlie, was stillborn in 2010. Jennifer lives in the St. Louis area with her husband of 17 years, Derek, and their three daughters. Volunteering for Share is a family affair. Derek serves on the board of directors for Share while the girls can always be found passing out water and helping out at the Walk for Remembrance and Hope.