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.