I visited the hospital

“I’m going to get three dozen,” I said to Chris as we drove to our favorite donut place. “It’s going to be a little pricey, but it’s for the people who took care of our baby.” He nodded in agreement.

We were on our way to the hospital, my first time back since Mabel. Each month after her death I had something big to do. March I had to be home by myself. April I was supposed to go back to work (I didn’t). May was mother’s day and the birth of two new babies in my family. June I actually went back to work. July I started seeing prenatal patients and saw my newly born nephew for the first time. Now it was August and my plan was to go to the hospital, to simply be there. To sit in each of the rooms I was with her- the room I was pregnant in, the room I labored in, the room I birthed her in, the room she lived in and the room she died in. Step one for getting back to being a full scope midwife.

I told Chris on the ride in that I was nervous. He patted my thigh, as he usually does when he’s trying to reassure me. “I’m nervous about how I’ll feel- sad, angry. But I’m also nervous that I won’t cry.” I felt like I was setting the stage for how things were supposed to be. I’m supposed to go to the hospital and feel all sad, have a good cry and then the scariness of the building would melt away and all would be well. But I’ve learned that there is no set way to grieve, so I didn’t know how I would react. I was afraid that if I didn’t cry people would think I’m better- I’m over her.

As we approached the hospital, I felt shaky, as the familiar tightness in my chest that I have come to know as anxiety, took hold. Slow breaths and Chris’s warm hand on mine, helped calm me. My ID wouldn’t let me into my normal parking garage, so I had to ask the car behind me to back up so I could do the same. The embarrassment acted as a little distraction as I found a spot on the street. We entered the children’s hospital through a large revolving door and I noticed a decoration at the center- a bunny made out of grass and two carrots laying next to it. Had I been able to park in my normal garage, we would have missed this display all together, going in a separate entrance. I took this as a good sign.

The Carrots in the revolving door

The Carrots in the revolving door

When the elevator doors opened on the fourth floor, I stepped into the hallway. I froze, unable to go forward and so I surrendered myself to my tears. When I finally was ready to go on, we passed professional photos on the wall of smiling children- all successful graduates of the NICU. Under their faces, was listed their gestational age and reason for needing intensive care. Brian- 27 weeks- omphalocele. Mara, Jenna and Samuel- 32 weeks- triplets. There was no photo of Mabel- 36 weeks- Down Syndrome, dysplastic kidneys and pulmonary hypoplasia.

I swiped into the Labor & Birth unit and passed more photos, this time of pregnant women and smiling babies. I remembered sitting in the charting room when I was 24 weeks pregnant. Another doctor was commenting to me about those photos, which were a new addition to the floor. “You know, we are a high risk hospital and many of our babies end up in the NICU. It’s not a good representation of our population, all these healthy, normal looking babies.” I was nodding in agreement, when her face froze, realizing what she had done. “Oh, I am so sorry. I wasn’t even thinking of you.” She knew my baby had Down Syndrome. I appreciated her honesty.

I walked by the photos, thinking again how Mabel’s face was absent. There wasn’t even a face like hers. As I approached the front desk, I was greeted with smiles from some of the nurses. One gave me a big hug and said “It’s going to be ok. It’s going to be good.” More tears found there way out. I embraced another nurse and thanked her for the cards she had sent. I had received countless cards after Mabel died, but she had been one of the few people to send a card when Mabel was diagnosed with low fluid. Once hugs were exchanged, I said “I brought donuts,” which brought laughter to the group.

After relinquishing one of the dozens of donuts, we headed to 469- my labor room. We closed the door and I burst into tears. The last time I had been in this room, Mabel was alive. I cried looking at the bed I knelt on through my contractions. I cried looking at the shower I tried in an attempt to ease the pains of labor. I looked at the infant warmer and imagined all the babies I had placed on it in the past. I tried to imagine doing it again- being a midwife in this room, hearing the satisfying cries of new life, helping a couple become a family. I cried at the thought of holding babies and being part of these happy moments. I cried at the thought of helping people have what I didn’t. “I hate it here,” I said to Chris. I pulled up the youtube video I had made and we started watching it on my phone. I wanted to remember some of the good things. As we watched, my tears dried up and we heard knocks on the door. One of the midwives I work with, one of my labor nurses for Mabel and one of my midwives joined us. They gathered around me and watched the rest of the video. I could hear sniffles and soon a box of tissues was found. I remained dry-eyed. The video makes me happy, though it makes others sad.

My labor room

My labor room

When it was done, I was ready to move on to the NICU. My midwife had checked to see if Caroline’s room was free. It’s the space families can use when they need a place for privacy. “It’s not always used for bad news,” the neonatologist had told us on the tour, when I had asked him where can we go if our baby is dying. Today the room had a sign taped to the front, saying “reserved for the XX family.” My midwife had checked and we could use it for a few moments while the family was out. I wondered what bad news the XX family was dealing with today.

The furniture had been rearranged. The space was small, 6 x 10 feet maybe and it had just enough room for a small couch and two chairs. Today the couch and chairs were reversed, each occupying the space the other had been in when we were there with Mabel. I didn’t like it, the furniture rearrangement, and I said so. Chris and I sat on the couch; it was the couch were we held Mabel as she died, the couch where I put her on my lap so I could see all of her for the first time.

Caroline's room

Caroline’s room

“I don’t feel her here,” I said.

“I can, a little,” Chris replied.

“I don’t.”

But I then went on to tell my midwife about the bunny and carrots in the revolving door. We talked about how my ID didn’t work and she said I can’t take it as a sign that I shouldn’t be back. She had a problem with hers not so long ago. That brought us into a conversation about work and me being back delivering babies. It’s a conversation I don’t like and I got a little upset, so it didn’t last long.

Not wanting to take any more time away from the XX family, we left Caroline’s room and found the charting room to drop off our second dozen. The elevators then took us to the maternal special care floor. Three nurses were working there, two of them had cared for me while I was in house. I dropped off the remaining dozen donuts and headed to 1038, my room on the floor.

This was the place I was happiest in pregnancy. Once I was admitted and survived my first twenty-four hours, I realized that my baby was likely going to born alive. She was safe here- monitoring all the time and the burden of worrying about her well being wasn’t mine. The room looked more spacious, without the weeks worth of belongings I had brought with me and without the cot they had brought in for Chris. Their was an empty plastic basinet against the wall, waiting to be filled by a new baby. My baby never saw a basinet like that one. She only knew the warmth of a NICU isolette and the warmth of my skin.

my maternal special care room.  I was happiest here.

my maternal special care room. I was happiest here.

I looked out the window and noted how it looks different in the summer. My last view from the point showed streets covered in snow. My midwife joined us as we were looking outside. She mentioned how in the parking lot below us she had recently seen a jazz band at the farmer’s market that sets up there on Saturdays. The parking lot was outside the city’s mental hospital and Chris commented on how it was an odd place for a farmer’s market. “Look at that sign!” I pointed to a white banner hung up on the wall of the mental hospital that lined the parking lot. It advertised the farmer’s market and had a picture of carrots on it. There she was again. I still couldn’t feel her there, but she was making herself known.

If you look closely, you can see carrots on the left side of the white sign on the building.

If you look closely, you can see carrots on the left side of the white sign on the building.

As we left the hospital, the elevator doors opened onto the third floor. Thinking it was my stop, I started to step out. I paused realizing quickly I was getting off prematurely, when I almost bumped into a young woman, a teenager in fact, crying right there in front of the doors. She saw us and walked away. A hour before, I was her. A woman standing in front of the elevator doors, delaying my journey to retrace the last days of my daughter. I had cried tears for the baby I had lost and the memories I was about to face. I saw her crying on the third floor- I’m unsure what kind of floor it is- and wondered whom she was crying for. I turned to Chris and said, “I’m not the only one who cries by the elevators.”

12 thoughts on “I visited the hospital

  1. How strong of you to be taking these steps and preparing yourself for attending births. I know it must be hard. As I’ve said before, I’m not sure if I could return to the NICU. I took some cupcakes up to the hospital a few months after Owen died, and it was not as much of an event as I wanted it to be. I liked being there since it was last place we were alive together, but my favorite place to remember being with Owen is my couch, where I often laid on my side trying to feel him move (the polyhydramnios and my anterior placenta sometimes made it difficult). I can relate to your happiness on the maternal special care floor.

    • It’s very validating hearing that you arent sure you could return to the NICU. I’m doubtful about returning to birth. I know I want to…eventually. reading your words makes me feel less like a wimp r disappointment. makes me feel like it more of a natural reaction. thank you

      and yes, how I loved the maternal special care floor. I cried so hard in the shower before I was admitted. I was thinking, well this is it- today we’ll find out how much distress my baby was in. but when she proved strong, it became my safe space. i wanted to stay longer!

  2. Big step Meghan. And what a great documentation of the event. It sounds like it was very emotional, hopefully in a cathartic way. It also sounds like your little Karate Carrot was making herself known and giving you both signs even when you weren’t feeling it.

    Our hospital had a Caroline’s Room as well. It is where we last held Thomas as he passed away. That room is very much synonymous with bad news and painful memories. Nights of sleeping there when we weren’t sure if Thomas would survive the night and the snow storms this past winter made the 10 mile journey to the hospital prohibitive, especially if you only have moments between life and death. The countless meetings with doctors delivering the poor prognosis of our son with the only option we had was deciding when to pull support and even then we felt constantly pressured to do so as soon as possible. But it is the last place we got to hold our Thomas when he was alive.

    So bittersweet.

    • I felt weird photographing it. But it’s part of her memory, the rooms are hers too. No new photos to post of my smiling baby, so this is what I get. I was so hesitant to take pregnancy photos, I feel like I”m making up for lost time. and then those carrots showed up unexpectedly, so I was glad I could capture them

  3. I can very much relate to your comment, “I was afraid that if I didn’t cry people would think I’m better- I’m over her.” I worry about this all the time myself; I’m not really much of a crier and am always worried that people will think that I don’t “care” that my son died. Obviously, totally not true. Our first trip back to the NICU was a little different, as in the intervening months they had moved it to a new wing of the hospital. So everything was different; the room in which we said goodbye to Ander doesn’t exist anymore, and neither does the room in which I was on bed rest. To me, this is both a good and a bad thing. However, on our tour of the new NICU, we saw the walls of pictures of babies who made it, paired with pictures of them now (toddlers, children, teens). And of course, since this wall is intended to showcase how amazing the NICU is, many of the babies are under 25 weeks. All those pictures, reminding me that so many other babies survived, while my son did not. There is a lot of pain in that graduate wall for those of us whose babies are missing from it.

    • I had seen those photos so many times before and it wasnt until I returned after my little NICU baby died that those photos struck me so. Of course they are not going to put the “failures” up, they want to instill confidence int heir families, but there are times that I want to shout at my NICU (which I think is the best one in the state!) “but you didnt save my baby!” It’s not fair of me, but there’s that familiar pain of seeing success stories that’ll be there every time go to the hospital in the future. Happy they lived, sad mine died.

  4. Oh Meghan, there simply are no words of support good enough. This was heartbreaking. I so appreciate you sharing your journey; Mabel has an amazing mama…

    • someday. I didnt want to do, I didnt not like being there, but it was important for me to go and the right time for me to go. dont know when I”ll be back though….you’ll find your right time.

  5. Meghan – I wish I could have been an extra shoulder for you today. Just your photos tell a tremendous story of love and loss. How brave of you to conquer this, even if it was obligatory, for your job. It breaks my heart for you that there was not a trace of Mabel in the photos lining the walls. The injustice of every little thing just eats me alive. I’m so sorry.

    Sending you love and support tonight.

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