a new way to handle infant loss

So dang important. As a hospital social worker I faced this horrible situation way too often – the middle of the night, a groggy chaplain, teams of residents and nurses silently sobbing, the cries of a mother’s grief that don’t even sound human.

There’s no way to ease the pain they’re feeling, the ongoing grief they’ll feel…the going home to a finished nursery or the telling of friends or the baby gifts they won’t get to use. For some reason one of the most vivid images I have is of sitting in the room holding a mom and looking over to the table where this expensive camera sat, waiting to take pictures of a newborn…a toddler…the first day of kindergarten….it was awful.

We try to give the family as much time as they need with their child, with their little family that won’t ever leave this hospital. But this article is right: 2-4 hours often isn’t enough. In fact, the first couple of hours the mother may even refuse to see the child, saying she can’t do it. But most of the time she changes her mind, and we try to anticipate it – keeping the baby in another room until mom is ready. We take footprints even when mom says she doesn’t want to see them, create a memory box just in case. Sometimes family takes it and we hear later that mom/dad were so grateful later on when they had these keepsakes. I love this idea of slowing down, of letting the family have extra time to make decisions. We try to never tell the family there is a time limit, and honestly my families rarely use the whole time we’ve given them….but I think if the staff knew we had extra time we could aid in this slowing down process rather than feel the pressure of the clock and worry that we’d have to tell the family it’s time to physically let the child go.

I love these little suggestions, the colorful blanket or the recording family members. But this….this has changed the way I will handle infant loss forever:

It’s all about taking the time to say hello to their child before saying goodbye.

What a profound and incredible statement. Thank you, Megan, for the work you do and for taking time to share it with us.

Mandy Maneval faced infertility for years. Finally, three years ago, she became pregnant with twins. At a routine ultra sound, she was faced with the news that Aaron was lost at 20 weeks. Her little girl, Abigail (Abby), was healthy.

At 30 weeks, Mandy went into labor. She called her sister, Megan Shellenberger, a nurse at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, located in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Megan spends most of her time working in labor and delivery, and she was quick to reassure Mandy that everything would be O.K.

Suspecting that baby Abigail had a heart defect, Mandy came to Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, the home of a leading neonatal cardiologist. The physicians were able to stop Mandy’s labor, but she would remain an inpatient until delivering Abby at 35 weeks.

Abby was born with two very complex heart defects. So rare, that her doctors described it…

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