Mom gives birth to stillborn. The midwife says something she’ll never forget: miscarriages are more common than one might think. It’s rare that people talk openly about them. As is most often the case, it’s difficult for people to talk about experiences that have hurt them greatly. Even though the majority of the time, it’s doing exactly that, that can help them heal.
Perhaps it’s because people are embarrassed. Perhaps women who miscarry feel ashamed. But why, I ask, should anyone feel ashamed over something they have no control over? Rachel Whalen is a woman who knows exactly what it feels like to lose a child. She spoke out about a topic that is uncomfortable for everyone, but it teaches us something about compassion that we should all know.
Unfortunately, the signs of a miscarriage for Rachel were discovered late in her pregnancy. Instead, she had planned a future for her unborn child and almost went into the hospital believing her baby to be healthy and well. As it was, it was just before the birth that she was informed her daughter was no longer alive. When something so terrible as that happens, most people are unsure exactly how to react. How do you tell someone that they’ve lost their child?
For Rachel, it wasn’t just love and support from friends and family that helped her in her hour of need. It was the experienced and compassionate nurses she met at the hospital that played a huge role. Those who consoled her in the aftermath of having to give birth to a baby that had already passed away. Now Rachel has chosen to open up on the darkest hours of her life. She wrote to the nurses: “Thank you for saving me.
Your skills and your knowledge saved me from following my daughter into death, but it was your compassion that guided me back towards life. The humanity you demonstrated is what brought me back to life. You made it possible to think about living after death. For this, I owe you my love and deepest gratitude.” Thank you to the nurses who always made sure my husband had enough pillows when he had to stay in my hospital room.
And thank you to the nurses who let him sneak popsicles from the freezer. You recognized that this was an experience for him and that he also needed your care. Thank you to the nurse who came with me when they rushed me to the ICU from labor and delivery. Thank you for being my advocate when I couldn’t speak up because I was too busy fighting for my life. I’m not sure I would have lived to see my daughter if you hadn’t been there.
Thank you to the nurse who taught me to fill my bra with ice packs when I needed to suppress my milk after my daughter was stillborn. I also want to thank you for holding me as I wept at the burden I could not release. Your embrace did nothing to lighten the heaviness in my breasts, but you brought a glimmer of light into my very dark world. Thank you to the nurse in the ICU who came in to clean me up after my daughter died. Thank you for taking the time to help me wash my face and brush my hair.
I can still sense how it felt and have you smooth my hair back into a ponytail. It was a touch that wasn’t a poke or a prod. It was a gesture. Thank you to the nurse who crouched by my bedside and asked me about Dorothy. Thank you for knowing how important it was for her to be real, even though she was gone.
I will never forget the way you leaned in, just like we were friends, and asked, “Do you want to tell me about her?” Thank you to the nurse who dressed my baby and took her picture. Thank you for making sure her hat didn’t cover her eyes and their hands were positioned so gracefully. That picture means the world to us. Thank you to the nurses who took the time to read my chart before shift change.
I want to thank you for learning our names and learning the name of our daughter before you walked into my room. It meant so much to hear our names spoken together. It made us feel like a family. Thank you to the nurse who slipped quietly into my room on my first night without Dorothy so that you could hold my hand. Thank you for whispering to me your story about your own child who was born still.
Thank you for being the first person to lead me out of the isolation one feels after losing a child. Your presence felt too good to be true. I’m still not convinced I didn’t dream you up just so I could make it through that first lonely night. Finally, I want to thank the nurses who saw me through my pregnancy with Dorothy’s little sister. Even after Francis came into the world, you never forgot that someone came before her.
You knew that the birth of Francis did not make me a first-time mother. It made me a mother of two, gratefully the one you brought back. It’s impossible to fathom just how it feels to birth a dead child because that’s exactly what some others have to do. Even though you’ve been told the baby in your stomach no longer lives, you still have to deliver. I know a lot of people are afraid to mention the deceased child to a parent, but please don’t ignore that they had a child.
They need people to recognize that the child existed and that it was loved. The loss of the child does not diminish that love. Use the child’s name. It was real. It existed, and the loss is real.
My heart goes out to Rachel and also to the compassionate nurses who helped when her world was falling down. Share this story with your friends and family to pay tribute to all the nurses and midwives around the world.