That same day

“has not had a period since birth of her son on February 15, 2014”

I read the last note I had written on the patient before I went in to see her.  I rarely am so specific in the dating- usually I’d say something along the lines of  “has not had a period since childbirth 5 months ago.”  Clearly the date had struck me.  I wrote it down mindfully, deliberately in the note.  I remember that visit.  I was seeing the patient in the same room actually and thought of how that was also Mabel’s birthday.  At the time all I could think of was how she had a baby to go home to and I did not.

On this day, many months later, a new thought crossed my mind when I re-read my note.  As I stared at her, all I could think of was how she had been on the labor floor at the same time as me.  She was there, down the hall, when I was wheeled from the NICU back to my labor room so that we could call our family in private and tell them our daughter was going to die soon.  As I said “it’s a girl!” in the same breath as “her time with us is short,” picturing the five pound wonder child I had just left on a warmer, tubes criss crossing her slowly bluing face and body, this woman was holding her baby on her chest, shushing those first newborn cries and excitedly cooing over her own little wonder.  Not long later I held my dead daughter as I struggled to keep my eyes open, having been up all night in labor, but not wanting admit I needed sleep for it meant saying good bye to my baby forever.  She probably struggled with fatigue as well, wondering how on earth she would be able to take care of her needy little one when she was just so tired.  I returned to a postpartum room, crawled into the hospital bed with my husband and slept, undisturbed in a quiet room.  She went down the hall, her attempted sleep punctuated by cries telling of a needed diaper change or feeding.  I walked out of the hospital with a box and she was wheeled out with a baby.

I write these words not out of bitterness and jealousy, as I would have many months ago, but out of fascination… that here we both were, face to face, our lives forever changed by the birth of our first children on that same fateful February day, in the same place, but how very very different our lives are now.

 

 

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A patients grief for her dad

I was reviewing her medical history and when we went over her family history, she told me that her father had died last year.

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” I replied.

She told me how his birthday just passed and the anniversary of his death was coming up. I asked if she did anything for the birthday or was planning anything for the anniversary. She peered at me with a look of surprise- like she never thought about doing something in remembrance.

“It’s just been so hard, losing my dad…” she started. She was young- younger than me by ten years at least, which meant her dad died young. She mentioned how her live-in-boyfriend didn’t quite understand, especially now that it’s been so long. She shrugged her shoulders, brushing it off a bit.

I looked at her in the eyes, trying to drum up all the compassion I could. “There is no timeline on grief,” I spoke the words I have read over and over again on blogs and articles and have tried to convince myself are true. “You will be sad forever. He was your dad. It’ll change over time, but you can always be sad. I’ve learned a lot about grief over the last year and one thing I know is that you grieve how and for as long as you need to.”

Her eyes got a little wet and she gave a small smile.

“Thank you.”

Have you been able to comfort someone in their grief?

She’ll remember

Some patients are difficult. Some take a long time. When I saw on my schedule that I had a patient coming in who “needs extra time” and had an extra slot blocked off for her, my stomach dropped a bit- it would make for a long afternoon. Until I read the name of the patient and realized who it was. Yes, she needed extra time. Yes, it could be difficult to care for her. But she was so pleasant- a pleasure actually.

Her chart labeled her simply as “learning disabled.” I have been taking care of her for years, having inherited her when her previous midwife left our practice.   My guess is she is on the autism spectrum somewhere, though I am not a psychiatric provider. She also has some compulsions, leaving the house wearing no less than ten layers of clothes. The extra time needed for her was merely so she could dress and undress.

She spoke in in a loud monotone voice, but was friendly. She complimented me, and just about everyone else she interacted with, on at least several pieces of clothing I was wearing.

“That’s a nice sweater and necklace and shoes and hairstyle. Your hair is so long. It wasn’t that long before.”

“No I think it’s the longest I’ve ever had it.”

She has an astoundingly accurate memory- for people and dates especially. She could tell me the exact date of each of her mammograms over the past year. She quoted from a letter she received from her previous midwife informing her of the death of a mutual friend of theirs.

“I didn’t see you last year. I saw Margaret. You were on maternity leave,” she started. I could see where this was going. “Did you have a boy or a girl?”

“A girl,” I answered with a smile. Isn’t it nice when people ask about our babies?

“That’s nice. When was she born?”

“February 15.”

“Oh, the day after Valentine’s day. That’s nice.”

And then the visit somehow went one. I asked my typical calcium intake and exercise questions. We discussed her weight. I asked how retirement was. And all the while I thought about her amazing memory. I would have told her the truth if she asked the right question, but it didn’t come up. I felt like she would ask about my baby in years to come, because she would remember. So at the end of the visit I said to her,

“I have to tell you something. You asked about my baby earlier. Well, I wanted you to know that she died shortly after birth.”

“Oh, that’s so sad,” she said without hesitating. “What happened?”

“Well, she her lungs were too small and she couldn’t breathe.”

“Why were her lungs small?”

“So she had some birth defects, because she had Down Syndrome. Sometimes babies with Down Syndrome had issues like hers.”

“I know some people with Down Syndrome. That’s sad about your baby.”

“Thank you. And thank you for asking about her.”

I wanted her to know, because she’ll remember. She’ll remember Mabel for years and years.

Is there someone you know that will remember your baby always?

Storytelling regret

I told Mabel’s story to a patient who was kind enough to ask- but had been rude to my staff and frankly too cavalier and too familiar with me. I will tell my daughter’s story as often as I can, but I didn’t like how she asked so nonchalantly “so, what happened to your baby?” It wasn’t nerves or awkwardness; I think it was her personality. “So you knew, then?” she asked matter-of-factly when I told her about the low fluid, the non functioning kidneys and potential for small lungs. “No, we didn’t know if she would live or die. No one could tell. We just had to wait and see when she was born.” I was annoyed that she seemed to imply that knowing ahead of time made it easier for me. It minimized all the grieving I did in my pregnancy and all the grieving I did (and am still doing) afterwards. Worst of all was her casualness about it all. I was left with the impression that she thought it could never happen to her. Newsflash- it could. It probably won’t, but it could.  For the first time, I felt some regret about sharing.

Have you ever shared your loved one’s story and regretted it afterwards?

Small moment of jealousy

“Oh hey!” I could hear my assistant greet my next patient. “You’re doing it again? How’s the baby?”

They were all smiles and celebrations.

“Great- he’s in the other room! How’s yours?”

The niceties were genuine and went back and forth for a few minutes. The patient and my assistant had been pregnant at the same time and so their faces were pleasant reminders of each other’s pregnancies.

I easedropped until I couldn’t take it anymore. I yearned to be in one of their shoes for just a moment. Sure, they each have their own struggles, but at that moment I was deaf to them.  All I could think of is not only did I lose my child, but I lost out on all the things that follow- the big and the little.   Oh, to be able to have a simple moment like that, remembering my pregnancy fondly with someone else and talking giddily over my living child.

Perhaps someday…

Do you have small moments of jealousy? What do you yearn for?