I wrote today on my nursing blog about how I feel that I’m like a midwife, but in reverse. Rather than ushering life into this world with my pair of hands, I ease their way out of it. There is sometimes blood, there are usually tears, and always always there are huge changes for everyone who loved that person. Just like birth, it is a finality. In birth, it is a happy finality: A human soul has come down from somewhere, and is suddenly here. This life will change the lives of everyone around it. In death, it is a sad finality: A human life has gone back to somewhere, and is suddenly not here. The end of this life will touch the lives of everyone around it.
A midwife/nurse will start the pitocin. I will hang the morphine drip. The midwife/nurse will monitor the fetal heart rate in relation to contractions. I will watch the slowing of the heartrate, the dropping of the blood pressure. The midwife/nurse will say “It’s a boy/girl!” I will say, “He/she has passed. I’m so sorry for your loss.” The midwife will dry and warm the new baby, and hand it to a pair of waiting, loving hands. I will remove the breathing tube, clean the face, fold the lifeless hands sweetly over smooth, clean sheets. The new parents will say “hello”. The families of my patients will come back one more time to say “goodbye”.
Both ends of life need a midwife.
*This is only relevant to the natural cycles of death and birth. When our babies die, a nurse must be both kind midwives. It is no wonder that many of them are so lost as to what to say and do. A baby’s death is not part of our understanding of life. It is not even part of our medical understanding. We are unprepared. We are unscripted, and so are our caregivers. My own caregivers did not do a great job handling the loss of my daughter. Nevertheless, her death was still a part of life. It was still natural, at least as far as the greater world is concerned. Babies die. Mothers die having babies. Children die. Parents die. All sorts of unimaginable deaths occur in every imaginable way. Sometimes I ease people out of this world who are in their 30s, who have little kids. Sometimes it’s not OK. Sometimes it’s not acceptable. But it’s still… natural. Cancer, disease, accidents. They are a part of our world, and natural. And awful.