An Ode to The Nurses of Speare Memorial Hospital – Part 2 (only a year late)

SpeareThings have been quiet on here – and by quiet I mean SILENT for almost a year.  I have felt guilty about this knowing that I owed this specific post to the amazing crew at Speare Memorial Hospital (for whom I have an even higher level of love and respect now more than ever).  I know I don’t have to give any explanations, but I hit a wall last fall.  Not a day has passed that I haven’t thought about missed memories with Isaac, how deeply I miss and love Isaac, Speare, and everything that happened last year.  However, there came a time in life after loss Isaac where I needed to find a way forward – to develop routines and traditions that didn’t constantly send me back to July of last summer.  This post continued to plague me over the last year.  I couldn’t get it just right, so I avoided it entirely.  It’s been sitting (substantially in the form you find it below) in my drafts since last year.

As I said in Part I, my experience with the nurses at Speare Memorial Hospital was amazing.  I wanted to take some time to recognize a few more of the incredible women who helped me, my husband and my family through what I hope will turn out to be the most difficult hospital stay of my life.  So, without further ado, here is Part 2.

I think that anyone who has ever had a hospital stay can relate to this sense of impending doom that you feel when it comes time for shift change.  When you like your nurse as much as we did, you end up scared of who will replace him/her for the next 12 hours.  Saturday morning was the first point in my stay at which I was coherent enough to be aware of the changing shifts.  When Meghan gently exited our room with our baby, Isaac, and did not return, I realized that I had no idea who would pop in next.  We had been through hell and back at that point, and I remember thinking that, with my luck, we’d be in for a difficult nurse.  I was wrong, and I am so glad that Laurel came through next.


Laurel was the perfect dose of emotional support, structure/practical support and cold hard facts.  Aside from being emotionally wrecked that morning, I realized that I had been in my hospital bed for a few days without showering or even brushing my teeth.  I had cut my hair a week before ending up in the hospital thinking it would be perfect ponytail length by the time we were supposed to deliver Isaac in September.  Having remained untamed for a few days straight, my crazy curls had become a horrifying snarled halo.  I realize that this was not a fashion show.  No one cared what I looked like, but I desperately needed to feel human again.  I was still on full bedrest, but Laurel sensed my discomfort and immediately endeavored to get me cleaned up.  She even managed to get the bulk of my hair into a ponytail holder.  For that alone, she should be considered a miracle worker.  She cleaned me up, changed my linens and made me as comfortable as I possibly could be after three days of not getting out of the bed.  She made me feel human.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I like to thoroughly research everything.  I like facts and statistics and I can always come up with more questions to ask.  I knew that Preeclampsia was a dangerous pregnancy-induced condition and of the general signs that I had overlooked, but I did not know much beyond that.  Honestly, the day and a half leading up to the morning we met Laurel was so foggy that I, personally, did not even know with any certainty that I had Preeclampsia.  I had no idea that I’d had HELLP Syndrome (or what that was).  Needless to say, even in my magnesium-induced stupor, I had A LOT of questions.  Fortunately, Laurel was training to be a Nurse Practitioner and had both endless patience and answers to my constant questions.  Her knowledge brought a feeling of safety to my upturned world and began painting a picture of what had happened.

We actually had Laurel as our nurse for two days, the day immediately following Isaac’s birth and the day after when I was ultimately discharged.  When Laurel arrived that last morning, I was pretty darn cranky.  My arms throbbed wherever there were IV lines, and something had gone amiss with my catheter (TMI perhaps, but when you have Preeclampsia/HELLP Syndrome and are on full bed rest, you get a catheter until you finish with the Magnesium IV drip).  I wanted the IVs out, my catheter out and I desperately wanted to be discharged. Laurel showed up and was supposed to immediately go into a shift change meeting where the last shift briefs the new shift.  At this point, I was so dreadfully uncomfortable that waiting out the meeting was completely impossible for me.  Laurel left her meeting to come remove the IVs and catheter.  She then patiently got me out of bed and to the restroom for a pretty horrifying bathroom experience and, FINALLY, a shower.  I remember bargaining with her.  I knew she had her meeting to get back to and I felt so bad, but I was also pretty desperate.  I told her she could leave me sitting in the bathroom and promised I would not move.  Somehow I negotiated my way into the shower and again promised I wouldn’t move.  It was perhaps the most I have ever needed a shower in my entire life, and I am so glad she did not make me wait a moment longer.  As promised, I remained sitting in the shower until her meeting ended.

Somehow, Laurel was also juggling things behind the scenes.  I know she worked with our doctor and my father to arrange for terribly difficult but necessary things, like a funeral home and autopsy.  She made sure that our baby boy would be treated with the utmost care and respect.  She answered my father’s questions.  She brought us the remembrance box with the only mementos of our son we will ever have.  She helped us by taking my husband’s and my bracelets from our honeymoon in Thailand and tying them to our baby boy’s wrist so that he would always have something of ours with him.  She even gave my family tips on where to find decent food in the area.  She was everything that we all needed.

Finally, I feel that I have to share my favorite mental image of Laurel.  Thanks to Preeclampsia, I needed my blood pressure checked pretty frequently.  Laurel would regularly check my blood pressure an make the funniest scrunched up face when she would see my less than ideal blood pressure readings.  I still think of that face every time I get a blood pressure check.


Amy was perhaps the biggest character that we encountered at Speare, but she was not actually my nurse.  She was the other nurse on shift with Laurel (and perhaps at some other times).  To this day, I imagine that Amy is the kind of nurse who could do her job in the middle of winter, in an isolated log cabin, with no electricity or medical supplies.  The woman has chutzpah in the most flattering way possible.  She has this traditional New England tough charm that you only get in that part of the country.  I have no doubt that Amy did a thousand things for us while we were at Speare, but I have to share the story of the “Amy Maneuver”.

As a brief and incomplete introduction to the biological part of things, when a woman gives birth there are a thousand tiny little changes triggered in the mother’s body.  When there is not a squirmy little baby involved postpartum, certain signals that help in recovery go missing.  For example, the uterus has just had the stretch of a lifetime and needs to contract back into a tight little ball really quickly to stop bleeding in the mother.  In a normal experience, the process of breastfeeding a baby provides a hormonal signal that makes the uterus contract.

After Isaac, my uterus was missing the memo to contract.  Thanks to the magnesium drip and a relatively traumatic birth experience, I already felt like I had been hit by a car, and to make things more fun, Laurel had to poke at my uterus regularly.  During one such check, she found that my uterus had softened back up again.  She paused and then told me she was going to grab Amy, who was “brutal but effective.”  Amy came in and proceeded to dig her impressively strong fist into my abdomen before twisting like her life depended on it.  Warren reacted by telling me to breathe, which would typically make sense.  You’re supposed to breathe through the pain – right?  Yet in this one instance, there wasn’t a chance in hell I could have gotten even a gasp of air.  Amy turned to Warren with the most serious expression on her face and said, “Telling your wife to breathe right now would be like me grabbing you by your *man bits*, pulling, twisting and then telling you to breathe.”  I never thought I’d look back fondly on a memory from such a tragically terrible experience, but this memory still makes me smile.

All I know is that if there is an apocalypse, I want Amy on my team.  She is one badass lady (pardon the language, but I speak the truth).


Brenda was our nurse on our final evening at Speare.  She was soothing and gentle and tolerated me at my most emotional and miserable points.  She’s the one who brought Isaac in for us to say a final heartbreaking goodbye.  She’s the one who had to push the bassinet out of the room as I wailed helplessly from my bed.  I remember being so impressed by the knowing look in her eye as she comforted me and knew exactly what to say.  She didn’t lie about the difficult road ahead or act like this was something I would get over eventually.  I didn’t know it at the time, but Brenda was a loss mom herself.  If memory serves, she had lost both of her adult sons in a single car accident.  My heart still aches at the thought of what she must have gone through.  I think it is magical that she continues to help new mothers despite the fact that it must constantly remind her of what she herself has lost.  As I mentioned before, I see a grief therapist who specializes in baby loss.  Brenda was really my first calm, but firm, introduction to my life as a loss mother.  Though I hardly knew her, she will forever remain a role model for the type of person I want to be.


I don’t know how to close this post in any way, but to say THANK YOU a thousand times over to these women.  Speare Memorial Hospital has a world-class team of nurses hidden away in the middle of nowhere, and I will never ever forget what they did for me, Warren, Isaac and my whole family.


This Is Us

I know I still haven’t posted Part 2 of my thoughts on the nurses at Speare Memorial Hospital.  There are just so many feelings involved when I work on that story and I can only do so much at a time.  I also just want it to be as good as these ladies deserve – so, be patient.  I also have a post in the works about our trip back to New Hampshire (where we were when we lost Isaac) and the plaque with Isaac’s name that now hangs in Labor and Delivery at Speare.  There is a lot to catch up on, but I want to do it all justice and decided not to rush something out just for the sake of posting something on a blog with an extremely limited audience.


This Is Us - Season Pilot

Today, I wanted to talk about the new NBC show, This Is Us I am certainly late to the party on this one, as every loss mommy blog I follow has already offered up some valuable commentary on this show that takes our experiences into the limelight.  For those of you who have not yet seen the show and plan to, SPOILER ALERT. Go watch and then come back to this post (or not).  When we lost Isaac, I didn’t think I was connected to anyone else who had lost a child in the last trimester of pregnancy.  I was wrong, and people came out of the woodwork with painful stories.  I was wrong because people don’t tend to talk about this horrible possibility.  The subject matter seems to have become taboo at some point in the history of motherhood and pregnancy.

This Is Us directly addresses stillbirth, and it seems to be a major part of the show’s premise.  Mandy Moore’s character, who interestingly is also named Rebecca, loses one of her triplets during childbirth.  She and her husband ultimately end up adopting a third baby, who was abandoned in the hospital the same day that the baby was lost.  The doctor who delivers the babies is perfectly played by Gerald McRaney.  As Milo Ventimiglia (the husband) sits in the hallway, heartbroken and concerned about the stability of his wife, the doctor delivers a touching pep talk.  He shares that his wife lost a baby at the end of pregnancy and how it affected them and then drops a line that loss mommies everywhere now love:

I like to think that one day you’ll be an old man like me talkin’ a young man’s ear off explainin’ to him how you took the sourest lemon that life has to offer and turned it into something resembling lemonade. If you can do that, then maybe you will still be taking three babies home from this hospital, just maybe not the way you planned.

It’s a great line that definitely speaks to women like me, who have lost a baby.  Losing a child is certainly the sourest lemon that life has to offer, and while we can’t just move on and go back to life as we planned (what I imagine would be perfectly blended lemonade in this analogy) we can do our best and turn that sour lemon into something resembling lemonade.  I think that “something resembling lemonade” means the best life we can given the circumstances – it’s our new normal.

Look – I think This Is Us is a great show, and I love the speech that the doctor gives, but I’m just not as convinced as some others that this is a fair portrayal of what it is like to lose a baby.  I realize that, in this case, two babies survive, and I honestly do not know if that somehow makes it easier to cope.  However, as good a story as it makes, I can’t see someone being able to take a different baby home and move on with life as effectively as these characters do.  Sure, there is a plot line where Mandy Moore struggles with the “replacement baby,” but that plot line is neatly wrapped up when she acknowledges that the baby is not the baby she lost and gives him his own name.  The show misses out on so much of what people experience when they lose a baby.  They don’t show the spontaneous tears that plague you for weeks after the loss (and beyond) and they don’t show waking up in a panic from nightmares about a child you will never know.  They don’t show agonizing over what to do with your child’s remains or how hard it is to find the right urn.  They don’t show the desire to memorialize your baby’s life in any way you can.  They don’t show the endless “what ifs” that inevitably plague you.  I know these parents are being distracted by three newborn babies, but I just think the show misses out on the chance to really dig into the emotional part of losing a baby.

I am so glad that this show has at least chosen to address stillbirth as a potential outcome of pregnancy, I only wish that it did a little more to show the world what that experience is actually like.  I hope that this ends up being a good first step.  Perhaps the world isn’t ready to see all the brutal details of baby loss on primetime television, and maybe this is just an initial introduction.  I also hope that this doesn’t end up trivializing something that, for those who experience it, is the most difficult thing that we will ever face.

An Ode to The Nurses of Speare Memorial Hospital – Part 1

From the moment I found out that I was pregnant, I had a lot of ideas about what Isaac’s birth would be like.  I was scared about all of the different birth scenarios that ran through my head, but none of those scenarios involved giving birth to Isaac, stillborn,  in a 25-bed hospital in Plymouth, New Hampshire at 32 weeks gestation.  We had chosen Chester County Hospital in West Chester, Pennsylvania.  For the sake of comparison, Chester County has 245 beds, a level 3 NICU (the highest level of care available for sick babies) and a brand new maternity ward.  I’m not saying there is anything wrong with a small hospital, but I am saying that Speare was the exact opposite of what we had planned.

From the moment they wheeled me into Speare, I spent my entire stay in one room.  I actually didn’t get out of my bed a single time from the moment I first laid down on Thursday until Sunday morning.  I didn’t realize that I had not moved rooms at all until my husband and family told me.

The most surprising thing about this tiny hospital in New England was the nursing care I received.  It may sound cliché to say that nurses don’t get enough credit, but this experience showed me that it is undeniably true.  They could not possibly be getting enough credit.  The nurses at Speare were incredible.  I can’t imagine I would have received quite such personalized care had I been at a bigger hospital.  I had several nurses, but each one of them provided exactly what I needed at some crucial point in time.  They were so amazing that I’ve decided I need to share some of these stories and thank them.  I’ll start at the beginning.  For the sake of anyone reading this, I am going to split this into two parts.  Yes – these women were that amazing.

When I arrived at the hospital I was in denial.  I think that deep down I knew Isaac was gone hours before being told as much.  I simply couldn’t wrap my head around it for another few hours (maybe I still can’t wrap my head around it).  I had called Speare’s Labor & Delivery Department on my way in and spoke to a nurse, Kathy.  She was expecting me when I arrived, quickly got me changed and set to work looking for Isaac’s heartbeat.  She kept me calm, repeatedly reminding me not to panic.  She could find no heartbeat and the first doctor came in for his own attempt.  Fast forward a bit, the doctor has just said, “I don’t see any cardiac activity.”  My husband and I are crying and confused, and, eventually, I have to send my husband to call my parents to have them come to the hospital.  I remember laying there in shock and repeating over and over, “I knew it.”  Kathy swooped in quickly with her unfogettable barbie pink glasses and comforted me.  She reminded me that despite any fears I had previously, I couldn’t possibly have known something like this would happen.  She told me how sorry she was and held on to me as I cried.  I know there was much more to our story that I can’t remember.  Shock will do that to you.  The last time I saw Kathy was at the end of her shift.  She told me I was about to get a new doctor.  She knew I wasn’t particularly comfortable with our first doctor and the last thing I remember was her telling me I was getting a new doctor and she thought I might like him more.  It provided a glimmer of hope to my otherwise bleak outlook.  I didn’t realize I wasn’t going to see her again.  I never got to thank her for her kindness at the most heartbreaking moment of my life.  Kathy, you are a gem.  Thank you so much.

Things happened quickly after we found out Isaac was gone.  I didn’t realize what was wrong with me (Preeclampsia and HELLP Syndrome), but I was immediately put on an IV bolus of Magnesium that had me really uncomfortable and sick.  That was followed by something to reduce my anxiety and some pain medication.  I was totally out of it and drifted in and out of consciousness for the 12 hours or so of Janice’s shift.  I remember Janice, but the bulk of what I know about her comes from my family.  I know she let my parents and three younger sisters stay in the room with my husband even though it was certainly more people than I was supposed to have there.  She knew I needed them.

Days later, I learned that I cracked jokes throughout the hospital stay.  At some point, someone in the room said some now unknown thing.  It doesn’t matter what it was, but it must have been about food.  As I prepared to blurt out one of my go to lines of the summer in response, Janice beat me to it and said, “The snozzberries taste like snozzberries.”  It was exactly what I had been about to say.  She even nailed the voice. I still can’t believe that of all the funny lines to drop, she dropped my favorite one.  It’s like she was in my head.  I also have a vague recollection of her telling me not to fight her as she repeatedly tried to check my reflexes.  I know Janice sat at the little table at the end of my bed and kept an eye on my vitals as the hours slowly passed.  Janice is another nurse I don’t remember leaving at the end of her shift.  So – thank you, Janice.  Thank you for putting up with my large and loud family, and for knowing that I needed them there.  Thank you for keeping a sense of humor on the longest day of my life.  Finally, I swear I wasn’t trying to fight you as you checked my reflexes.

Gosh – where to begin.  Meghan and her pink scrubs had me for my most intense moments in the hospital.  She was there with me my second night in the hospital when I suspect I was the most difficult, but she never lost her cool.  She had me for five terrifying hours of epidural free labor.*  She had me as I refused to breathe through contractions and as my BP skyrocketed into the 200s.  I can’t imagine I was particularly charming after finding out my son had died before I ever met him and 24 hours of labor.  I vaguely remember cervix checks and being intensely frustrated when I found out I hadn’t progressed much at all.  Then things escalated . . . quickly.  I went from 3cm to 10cm dilated in less than an hour.  I guess I didn’t realize that the doctor wasn’t at the hospital anymore, but he was not.  Things had been moving very slowly and it was really late.  Despite the doctor’s absence, at some point, it became clear that Isaac was on his way whether we were ready or not.  I said that I felt like I needed to push and I know Meghan told me not to.  I couldn’t have stopped myself even if I had wanted to.  Meghan delivered Isaac at 12:06 AM.  The doctor arrived at some point soon after.  I know she cleaned Isaac off and let me hold him, despite my ongoing inability to remain conscious.  I know she took pictures of my husband, Isaac and I.  They aren’t the pictures of his birth I had imagined, but considering the circumstances, I love them.

The next thing I knew, I was waking up at dawn.  I was comfortable and didn’t realize what had happened at first.  Meghan came in at some point and gently explained that she had our son in the nursery.  She brought him to me as my husband lay sleeping and I had the only moments alone with my son that I will ever have.  When it became too much for me, she woke my husband.  We spent some time alone and at some point she gently took him away.  I never saw her again after that and was initially disappointed.  I found out a few days later that Meghan had been exhausted (rightfully so) and, at the end of her shift, had gone home and passed out.  Then she woke up and called in tears.  She was so upset that she hadn’t said goodbye to us.  I’ll never forget Meghan or how grateful I am for her.  She delivered our son under scary and unusual circumstances without ever skipping a beat, and that’s remarkable.  I needed to be kept calm, and that’s exactly what she did. Thank you, Meghan.  You handled an incredible difficult situation with such patience, compassion, and composure.  I can’t imagine a way that it could have been done any better.

*I didn’t want to change my own recollection of things, but my husband has pointed out that Meghan was also my nurse during my first night at the hospital.  My father has also told me that he remembers Meghan having quiet and peaceful conversations with me to manage my anxiety and confusion.  I clearly do not remember either of those things, but am grateful all the same.

There is more to come on the amazing nurses at Speare, but I do want to recognize that I can’t cover every single nurse that helped me during my hospital stay.  I know a lot of patient nurses and technicians made their way in and out of our room.  Heck – there was even a lovely nurse who got down on the ground next to my bed to take blood from my fingertips when my veins refused to cooperate.  I can’t remember each and every one of these amazing people.  However, I am endlessly grateful for all of their help.