By Ann Coyle for the Guardian. Published online 29th February
You’re a nurse? Where do you work?” When I tell people I work in the neonatal intensive care unit, most say: “It must be so nice working with babies!” I tell people that I have the best job in the hospital, most of the time. A high percentage of the babies we take care of live and go on to develop into beautiful children and adults. However, there is that small percentage most nurses, doctors and healthcare personnel will never forget – those babies who die.
It is out of the normal flow of life for babies to die before their parents. Pregnancy and birth should be a time of joy and happiness, not grief and despair. Pregnancy and infant loss is often sudden and always unexpected. Burying a child is the last thing on a parent’s mind when they find out about a pregnancy and start to form plans for the future. You are unlikely to read about infant loss in any baby book, or hear about it in a prenatal class. Most parents are blindsided with the terrible news.
The feeling of helplessness contributes to the secondary trauma of the doctors and nurses involved in a pregnancy or infant loss. We go into our professions, learning that we have the ability to “fix things” – whether by administration of a medication, or applying a bandage to the wound, we have that power. That power is quickly taken away by the trauma of new parents coming into the hospital, excited and anticipating the birth of their newborn, only to find there is no longer a heartbeat. The hopes, dreams and expectations of an entire family are instantly crushed by a few short words, or a picture on an ultrasound screen. Everyone reacts differently in these situations; many leave the room and avoid the family at all cost. Death is an uncomfortable subject, no matter what age the person is, but an innocent baby is unimaginable. Many people avoid contact due to a fear of what to say. There are no words to help the situation, so the best we can do is simply walk alongside the grieving and guide them on their journey.
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