midwife in reverse

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.

Author: Mother of All Things

Mother by fostering, adoption, and marriage... wife to my best friend... Bay area critical care nurse... travel in my blood, reading in my bones, clean food on my mind!

3 thoughts on “midwife in reverse”

  1. I stumbled upon this blog keeping track of some ttc friends, and got quite drawn in, but I have never commented. This post rings very true to me. I lost both parents (one in hospice the other in the hospital) when my first child was a little baby, and the memory of her labor and delivery was still fresh in my mind. The birth-death connection was exactly as you describe it here, but I had not yet heard anyone put it into words.

    I was particularly frustrated with the slow dying process of my dad in hospice. He was in a coma and no longer responsive, but his body would not shut down, and I developed fantasies of being able to help him speed up the process somehow (death pitocin?!), but I came to see it as a form of “natural labor.” Some births come faster, some deaths come faster, the labor of birth and the labor of death takes both take their own course. Just as I wondered what day my daughter would be born and would wake up and thinking “will today be the day”?, I would wake up and wonder if my dad would complete the passage: “will today be the day”?.

    I have never written this down before and appreciate having found the space to think about it again.

  2. Beautiful post. I work for Hospice Toronto (as a complementary therapy volunteer) and I always say there is something incredibly spiritual and powerful in helping someone go to the ‘other side’ and onto another journey, whatever that journey may be. My dad died when I was 6 years old and as a result, death has been a part of my life and in my awareness from a very young age. I’m not uncomfortable with it, or talking about it, like so many people seem to be. It takes a certain kind of person to be able to work with the dying and the families left to grieve and mourn.

    You are a beautiful soul.

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