A mother’s future plans came crashing down when she received the news that her unborn daughter was no longer alive. Forced to birth her stillborn baby, she never anticipated the remark a nurse would make or how it will stick with her forever.
Rachel Whalen faced a difficult journey to motherhood, far from what she had envisioned. After two miscarriages, she became pregnant with her daughter Dorothy. But, at 28 weeks, she was diagnosed with severe preeclampsia. Complications cost Dorothy her life before she was even born and left Rachel fighting for her own, rushed to the ICU and forced to give birth to her stillborn daughter.
When Dorothy Grace Helena Whalen came into the world, “she never made a sound and her eyes never opened, but she was perfection,” a grieving Rachel recalled. “As the nurse placed her in my arms, I felt the weight of her tiny body. Even though she was so small, I immediately sensed her impact. Her lightness bore a heaviness that settled on my heart.”
“In that silent moment, I could only imagine the pain that was to come for our family,” Rachel admitted. “I didn’t yet realize the heartache and agony that would fill our days without her. I could not know what was ahead for us in our journey through grief and loss.”
The first leg of the journey was, of course, the hospital stay, where Rachel was taken aback by all that the nurses did for her. In a lengthy Facebook post, she thanked those nurses for saving her life. “Your skills and your knowledge saved me from following my daughter into death,” she wrote, but the staff had done so much more than that for the grieving parents.
“It was your compassion that guided me back towards life,” Rachel said of the nurses. “The humanity you demonstrated is what brought me back into life; you made it possible to think about living after death,” she added. “For this, I owe you my love and deepest gratitude.”
Expressing her appreciation, Rachel continued with a long list of “thank-you’s” for everything from always making sure her husband had enough pillows and letting him sneak popsicles from the hospital freezer, recognizing that he too needed care, to filling her bras with icepacks to help suppress her milk.
Nurses held Rachel as she wept, washed her face, and brushed her hair. They read her chart and learned her daughter’s name, making sure to say it along with Rachel’s and her husband’s to help them feel like a family. Some even shared their own stories of loss, leading her out of the isolation one feels after losing a child.
But, there was one nurse who made a particular remark that will stick with Rachel forever. The nurse crouched by her bedside and asked about Dorothy. “Thank you for knowing how important it was for her to be real even though she was gone. I will never forget the way you leaned in, just like we were friends, and asked: ‘Do you want to tell me about her?'” Rachel recalled.
In a separate blog post, Rachel revealed further why this was so important. “I am terrified that Dorothy will be forgotten,” she admitted, echoing the sentiments many mothers who suffer loss often feel. “Every day I say her name,” she said, admitting she fears that if she doesn’t, Dorothy will cease to exist.
“I am the only person who has a memory of what she felt like as a living being. Her movements stirred inside my body, and only my body. Her heart never beat outside of my womb,” Rachel continued. “Her life ended inside of me and I’m so scared that is where her memory will remain if I don’t let it out.”
Rachel is also thankful that one nurse refused to listen to her in her moments of grief. “They asked if I wanted photos. I said no,” she wrote. “I was certain that I wanted no memory of this moment—the day my daughter was stillborn. I was wrong. I was so very wrong. I want every memory of that day. I want to see what it looked like when I held her. I want to see what we looked like as a family of three. I want to see the memories of that day.”
Rachel had said no because she was scared, sick, confused, and heartbroken, and the staff listened — except one nurse. “I don’t know who it was, but she took a photo of my daughter. She dressed her and wrapped her up. She positioned her hands so delicately and tilted her head just so. And then she took a photo—our only photo of Dorothy,” Rachel revealed along with the photo she will forever cherish.
“I’m so glad she didn’t listen to me. I am so glad that there was someone who knew that, when I was ready, I would want to look upon that beautiful face every single day. She knew that this moment, the birth of my first child, was a day to remember,” Rachel said. “Thank you to the nurse who dressed my baby and took her picture. Thank you for making sure her hat didn’t cover her eyes and that her hands were positioned so gracefully. That picture means the world to us.”
When Rachel had her second daughter, she found even more reasons to thank the nurses. “Finally, I want to thank the nurses who saw me through my pregnancy with Dorothy’s little sister. Even after Frances came into the world, you never forgot that someone came before her. You knew that the birth of Frances did not make me a first-time mother. It made me a mother of two,” she wrote before singing the post, “Gratefully, The One You Brought Back.”
While Rachel expresses the devastation of losing a child in her many posts on Unexpected Family Outing, she also brings to light something else: The reality of being a nurse. Often, many picture labor and delivery nurses happily welcoming healthy babies into the world, rocking them quietly in the hospital nursery, and sharing the best moment in a family’s life with them.
Many times, however, these healthcare heroes walk into a nightmare the rest of us pray to avoid. Day after day, they suit up in scrubs, not knowing what painful tragedy they may face, but hoping for the right words to guide families through it. They deserve to be thanked for the courageous warriors they are. So, in tribute to nurses everywhere, please know — we thank you too.