Thursday, April 5, 2007

Sympathy notes

I have two sympathy notes to write.
It's hard to find those words.
I'm writing to two people who just lost their mothers.

When I worked in labor and delivery, I took care of lots of women who lost their babies fairly late in their pregnancies. I worked at a large hospital that received all the high risk obstetrical patients.

I got very good at knowing what to say to these mothers. They all seemed to feel more than a little guilt when they lost a baby. As though, "If I were a better mother, I would have grown a better baby. My uterus would have been a safer place for her. I would have sent more of the nutrients he needed through that placenta."

They very rarely verbalized these thoughts, and I don't remember how I realized that they were thinking them. At some point, though, I told a woman I was taking care of, "You know, this is not your fault." She looked at me, and her quiet sobbing turned into full blown crying.

She said, "I feel like it is, though. Like if I were a better mom, he would be okay."

I said, "You know, this baby is one of the luckiest babies in the world. He wasn't here for very long, but during his short time you gave him a warm, safe place to live and you loved him. You took such good care of him. And, even now, he has a mom who will keep loving him and will miss him and remember him forever. He is a lucky baby because you are his mom."

It was actually these patients who I enjoyed taking care of the most. During my last shift in labor and delivery, I sat in bed with a young girl as she held the baby she'd just lost. Her family had all left for the day. She was only 15, and was receiving much less support from the staff than older, married mothers do. There was some thought that she was better off. That she wouldn't have made a good mother anyway. That she would bounce back and be pregnant again in no time. I decided to ignore all that and say the same thing to her I did to other moms, "You know, this is not your fault." And she had the same outpouring of guilt and grief as every other mother. I told her that he was a lucky baby because she was his mom, and I cried with her and held her as she held her baby.

Two weeks later, I had relocated and was working as a receptionist, a job to hold me over until school started. I cried all the way home from work one night because I missed taking care of those mothers so much. It was such a privilege to share that space, that time, that grief with them. Without really knowing me, they let me into their lives and laid themselves bare. I always felt so incredibly lucky to be there, and I still miss it.

Buying sympathy cards today for people who lost their mothers made me think of the mothers I took care of. I guess this is how it's supposed to be--children burying their parents, rather than vice versa. I still don't know what to write in these notes, though.


Cheryl said...

You will find what to write in those notes. I have no doubt after what you've said to those grieving mothers. How very lucky they were to have you at their side.

ryan said...

its so hard
apart of life

i think
that we are on this earth
for many different reasons
but relationships are definitely one of them
they are the thing that keeps us moving
families to me are the strongest relationships you can have
are the hardest to let go

good luck on the notes
they will be perfect

Maria said...

Maybe you should specialize?

It sounds like you have a great niche right there.....

ab said...

I want every nurse and healthcare provider to do the things you have done. I'm so thankful for people like you. Don't ever underestimate what to you may seem like a small gesture. To someone else it can and does make a huge difference.

emmapeelDallas said...

I agree with Cheryl. You're eloquent and compassionate, and you'll write terrific notes. Those moms were so lucky to have you.


Mme Benaut from Adelaide Daily Photo said...

I was a Mother like one of those - five times - but when you lose a baby, you aren't entitled to use the title "Mother". I still have difficulty every Mother's Day. The first time, I was expected to get over it. The second time, I had just lost twin boys and I was put in a ward with new mothers while I recovered. I couldn't bear the cruelty of that and eventually I was moved to another ward. If someone like you had sat with and hugged me, I might not still be grieving, twenty five years later. What a wonderful person you are Terroni and what a wonderful doctor you will always be.