The lines between
I have two short stories to share. First, because I have an urge to write something right now- an instinct I am learning to follow when it presents itself. Second, because this is a topic we need to discuss. Third, because sharing my story is always therapeutic, and might help someone out there.
I will keep these stories fairly short, but they come from deep and long stories full of miracles and insanity and beauty. They will probably be a part of my book one day.
Story one, takes place in a humongous hospital in one of the largest cities in Colorado, my home state. A short recap: I was here for my grandmas funeral. I flew out from NC to CO days after my birthday. The day after the funeral, I went to this hospital where they confirmed what I had known for days, despite a lack of symptoms. I had lost the baby in my womb. Now that story... is important, but it's for another time. This story isn't just about me, but about one very brave man that I will always have space in my heart for.
This was in 2019, pre-covid. Isn't it crazy that we have to make that distinction now? But we do, especially in birth.
The fluorescent lighting flickered above our heads. My uncle sat in the waiting room, my mother by my bedside. My husband and son were states away back in NC. Everyone was praying, I was sitting still with one hand on my belly. A man entered, he was to be my ultrasound technician. I was very present. There was no daydreaming, no sobbing or fear, just this moment, in clarity. I was fairly certain that this trip was a mere confirmation of what my heart already knew, but we were here to see.
He introduced himself, and smiled kindly at me. He chatted with me.
Already, this had been warmer and better than any previous like experience. In my life, ultrasound techs had a bad reputation, I had never talked with one who'd met me with any sort of kindness.
Yet here I was, with a dead baby in my womb, a last sliver of hope in my heart, and I was met by this angel of a man.
After we begun, he made small talk, clicked buttons, and observed me. He asked me how many ultrasounds I'd seen. He could tell I was practiced in reading them. I explained my work, and he took interest in my profession. Many minutes went by. When I turned my face away from the screen, his face crumpled with mine. He expressed how hard he was trying, how much time he was spending, but that he just could not find what we were both looking for. A heartbeat.
I already knew. I saw it with my own eyes. A little chamber in the chest of my baby, where there should be a little fluttering movement. He went on to keep looking, despite the hopelessness of it. And he went on to talk about it, openly, and kindly. He told me he was so sorry. He told me that he wasn't supposed to say anything to me, but that he knew that I knew, and he could see it in my eyes. He told me he was glad he was the one here, to be able to be here in this moment with me. The compassion in his heart shined like a beacon to me. He printed me out a photo and told me to put it in my purse, he wasn't supposed to do that. He asked me what her name was. He cleaned my belly of goop, and wrapped up his cords. He kept talking, saying kind things. Just before he left, he paused, and again said something kind. We thanked him so heartfeltly. He was reflecting in his own eyes, as well as explaining to us his actions, when he said two words that I have been waiting my whole life to hear from a medical professional. He said "I just believe that sometimes, humanity trumps policy."
He left, others came in, and not a single person was brave enough to tell me what happened, that my baby had died. So if he had not, I would have left confused or had to pry it out of someone. The dr included, everyone was afraid to say it. They didn't prepare me, or give me options. They gave me a thin pamphlet and meekly sent me on my way, whenever I was ready of course. The care was kind and good. The visit was important, one of the most important hospital trips of my life.
This one is much more recent. Covid restrictions, very present. Quick backstory, a series of events led me to losing my ability to walk last year. A severe spinal injury. After months of not walking, and being in so much pain I couldn't lift myself out of bed, or roll over, or even shower on my own... we saw a specialist who found the cause of my pain. He was shocked at the severity of my case and helped us expedite the surgery scheduling process, pulling strings all along the way for us.
This surgery was something I was TERRIFIED of. I still don't understand why completely, but it was big. The fear had a lot to do with my husband and son being left should something go wrong.
Anyway, its surgery day. I go in. They tell us the good news that my husband WILL be able to see me after surgery (something we had been told was not going to happen because of covid) We rejoiced and prepared. I kissed my husband in the hall. That's the last thing I remember, though they didn't give me anesthesia until at least a half hour later. I came to my senses a while after being put into the surgery recovery bay. I had been awake for a while, but this is around the time my memory kicks in.
It's just me and this nurse. I start to realize where I am, when I am. WOW. I am alive. The shock of that, the realization that my fear is no irrelevant- I can not even express how hugly that moment hit me. Wow, I was ALIVE!
I celebrated my living victory, by trying to share this immense joy that was bubbling up inside me. To be blunt, this nurse wanted none of it. Also, to be fair, I am sure I was terribly annoying, and I was still super high. I was trying to tell her how happy I was to be alive, how relieved. I kept smiling. I wanted to tell her a joke, because I could tell that she just wasn't understanding this joy. Surly a joke would cheer her up right? (stupid drugs talking here LOL) So I tell her a joke, I say "Why can't you give else a balloon?" She doesn't ask why, and just looks at me, so I finish on my own "because she will LET IT GO! hahahahahaha" I laughed at the glory of this amazing joke. She was not amused.
I quieted down a bit, and tried to apologize, feeling a bit of shame for being obnoxious. "I am sorry, I am just so happy, am I annoying you? I can totally shut up if I am" I said, hoping she would reassure me that it was ok, and that this was normal, and that it was great I was alive. Or ya know, anything decent.
She didn't even bother looking at me when she said "you are literally just another patient to me" In the most devastating tone. Those words are exactly what she said. But what I heard was more along the lines of "You dont matter. I don't care that your alive. I don't want to be here. I don't care that this was the scariest day of your life. I don't care." now I know she didn't say any of that, but thats what my heart felt. There was not a single ounce of care in anything she did for me. Moments later, I had a panic attack. I didn't understand it at the time, I didn't connect her words and lack of empathy to my current hyperventilative state.
Someone called my husband, I could see glimpses of his face, but I was wildly looking about the room. The meds were enhancing this panic attack to insane degrees. They gave me something in my IV. My husbands eyes looked scared, and he kept telling me to breathe, I was breathing right? Wasn't I?
I'll cut this story short here. I calmed down, lots of other things happened, and later on I got some incredible nurses that really moved mountains to make me feel safe.
The reason I have typed up these two stories, is to illuminate the difference in care. Not of the visits as a whole, but of two people. An ultrasound tech, and a post-op nurse. Two people who would spend less then 30 minutes with me. On two very hard days in my life.
They each made a choice, on how to show up, who to be, what to say. They each made a choice of what kind of care they were going to provide.
The nurse, she chose not to care or empathize. She chose not to connect. Maybe she was having a bad day, maybe she was bored or tired or going through her own shit. Maybe.
The ultrasound tech, he spent extra time. He chose to go out of his way to connect. He chose to listen. He chose to offer words of encouragement and kindness. He chose to share in our joy, and our pain in different moments. He related to us with stories of his own family. They were irrelevant, but he chose to be present. His words, impacted me so deeply. They are everything I stand for. Everything that we need in birth.
During Covid, I have seen so much unnecessary cruelty. Women who have to suffer for hours alone, going through a miscarriage; some in the ER where people WITH covid are being treated. I have seen mothers who have had to birth alone, and I have grieved with fathers who did not get to be present for the most important day of their child's life. I have seen hospitals ban doula support, increasing the risk of complications and deaths- ESPECIALLY within the birth spaces of black mothers and others suffering from disparities. I have seen fear operate, and ruin lives. Policies creating more harm than good. Policies creating a breeding ground for things like PTSD, violence, bias, racism, and PMADS.
Mothers and infants being separated out of fear, not evidence. People committing suicide because of lack of income or hope. Isolation. Fear. Anger. Control.
No matter what side of the pandemic you are on (if there even are sides) we ALL have to come to terms with the damage that has been done, and that continues to stand in place.
The thing is, this isn't a covid problem. This is a system problem.
Far before covid, mothers have miscarried alone. Far before covid, racism has killed and crushed within the birth space. Far before covid, hurtful words from a staff member, have caused lasting trauma for patients. I remember the day of my first birth, my son. The dr's had made a mistake and induced me a month two early. (Another long story!) And instead of treating my son (who was fine by the way) they took him from me, and transferred him to another hospital out of fear. Fear that I would sue them if he died on their watch. They transferred the responsibility. They had a nicu. All he needed was oxygen. But they transferred him. A nurse walked in and looked at me with anger in her eyes and said " you shouldn't of had your baby. " She blamed me, over and over again. Those words... shattered me. They were so lasting.
It's a no wonder this angel of a man, this ultrasound tech and the little catch phrase he left with me- was so healing.
My point is, that we need more people standing up and putting people first. We need more humans willing to lend a hand, or a word, to the suffering. We need more "Humanity trumps policy" moments. We need to heal.
Ourselves. Our systems. Our birth spaces.
Humanity trumps policy.
Making a mother birth alone does not save a life.
Humanity trumps policy.
Leaving a miscarrying woman alone in and ER full of sick people does not save a life.
Humanity trumps policy.
Doulas, who are the very people who prevent bias from killing patients, and who take pressure off of nurses, and who are trained to help mothers through birth in healthy and wholesome way. Doulas, who protect our mental health in the birth space... banning them does not save a life.
Humanity trumps policy.
Sometimes. MOST times, there is a way to be equally human, and follow policy. We are creative, amazing, complex minded individuals. When we come together amazing things happen. The internet. Cars. Electricity. A man on the moon. We can do anything. I know, that we can make change, in a system that puts numbers and budgets first- I know there is ROOM for improvement.
The only place I want to begin is here, now, with me. Being this person, and trying to call for others to be this person. Try to live as a human, who believes in the power of words. Because ONE person can make or break someone's entire season or life. One sentence can set someone on a path.
I don't want the end of this blog to be about an overwhelming hugeness of everything that needs to change. I want it to be about remembering this one soul in my life, that chose to offer me kindness. I want it to be about the solid ideas of humanity and policy, are they solid barriers? Or melding opposites of grey area? There is a lot of space between the two sides, and a million lines in between. We all need to know where we stand. If were flexible. We need to know how human we will allow ourselves to be when someone else is depending on it.
In a moment where my world was sinking, this man's gift offered me a preserver, kept me afloat. Seconds after my heart shattered, he handed me a bit of glue and the patience required for such a tender task as putting it back together.
His words, and so many others over the next few days, would carry me through this. I am so grateful for his kindness. I can still see his wrinkled brow. I can still feel his hand shaking mine, holding it a second longer than necessary just to offer a small token of comfort. I can hear his voice, saying so bravely what I needed to hear. Bravery in directness. Bravery in honesty. Bravery in taking his time, and not rushing away from the discomfort. Bravery. Kindness.
Angel, or human, he simply made a difference in my life.
And that is something to talk about.