Vulnerable in a bad way and vulnerable in a good way

Years ago, I cared for a lady who came in from a jail with a guard and all the other routines that involve an incarcerated patient. She was pregnant and her pregnancy was actively ending prior to infant viability. In the course of carrying for her, I learned that her mother was dead and she had nothing and no one else in life and now her baby was gone too. It would be so easy to see a person in such circumstances spiral into darkness that they never emerge from, but in this was not to be the case.

The nurses who cared for her were the best we had…really good humans who serve others without judgement or condemnation. It would be nice if all healthcare workers were like these people, but honestly they are not.  We didn’t have a meeting and all decide we were going to help this women redefine her life, everything that happened flowed spontaneously and naturally.

It is normal to give women chances to hold the babies after the death…the wee ones are bathed and dressed and bundled in a handmade blanket. When I visited with the deceased baby, the guard got spooked and left so I was able to speak to the mom just her and me.

I think the tone of my voice was even more important than my words…I held the baby and looked at the lady and with the most optimistic voice said to her “What do you want to be?”. If you heard me without knowing the context of the conversation, you might think I was speaking to the valedictorian of a High School class.

You see…infant death is so big, it can wipe the slate clean and if the slate was bad, the mom can use it as a pivot point to go in a different direction.

No caregiver is ever completely responsible for how a lady or family responds to loss, but you should see it as a sobering reality  that if you handle the situation badly, you may nudge them into a spiral that is hard to emerge from.

It is our responsibility to never “kick a guy when they are down”- no matter how high or low they started before this life changing loss. This amazing moment of vulnerability is an awesome opportunity to build them up and help them respect their own strength and the world of possibilities ahead of them.

After she got out of jail, I needed to meet up with her to get her the photographs we had taken of the baby. She was waiting tables and I met her at her work and she was my server. Never underestimate the healing and dignity in allowing those we have served to demonstrate their strength back to us. That visit was another chance to give her another atta-boy and encourage her new path. I left her an extremely generous  tip, took my leave and never saw her again.

Treating people with respect (perhaps mostly when I interact with a person the world would tell me doesn’t deserve it) is one of the most powerful tools I have ever found in caring for the bereaved. They sense it, they respond to it, it can be transformative in how they see themselves and deal with this challenge (and because this challenge is so formative in how they see themselves for) the rest of their lives.

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1 Comment

  1. Baby Jo

    I wish more people could understand how they treat other people after a loss is significant. It can change the person one way or another. Its a very precarious time that can have long lasting effects. People that haven’t gone through it, don’t understand it. People who have never held a baby that has passed in their arms, will never feel the same level of deeply ingrained grief that the rest of us have. I don’t know how you teach people to treat people with respect and kindness after such a loss. But I can say that I am thankful for people like you, Tammy, who get it and try to ease the pain, even if it is only a little for those that are sufferring.

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