As a part of the 50th anniversary of the BYU College of Nursing, a book was compiled called “The Healer’s Art: 50 stories for 50 years.” It has been 15 years since this book was first published and these stories were shared. We plan to regularly post selections from this book to help each of us remember and cherish the experiences of nursing and learning the Healer’s art.
An Act of Love
In my last semester in nursing school, my rotation was in labor and delivery. I was assigned to a hospital that worked with an adoption agency for girls from another state. I went to clinical on Monday and during report, the night nurse told us about one of the girls in labor. At the age of seventeen, Michelle conceived through an assault from her father, who was divorced from her mother.
Michelle did not communicate much with the nurses or her family. The night nurse suggested we care for her one-on-one so she could receive better attention and care. During the day we found out a little bit more about the family. Michelle discovered she was pregnant when she started to feel the baby move (about four months). She tried to find out if she could have an abortion but it was too late. Michelle finally told her mother at eight months. They found out about the adoption agency that sends girls to Utah, because the adoptive parents live throughout Utah. Michelle and her mother decided that was the best thing to do, so they came to Utah for the delivery, even though the mother lost her job.
Throughout the day, the mother would talk with us, yet Michelle would only say a few words. One time I went in to check on her alone, without my nurse or the girl’s mother. I started joking around and tried to see how she was really doing. After a couple of minutes Michelle started to smile and glanced at me for a second. Then a little while later she kind of laughed, made eye contact, and actually had a pleasant facial expression. Throughout the day she grew to be more comfortable with me and told me how she was feeling. She was very scared. She was in a lot of pain, not only physical, but emotional. She said that she did not want to hold the baby after the birth, but did want to see the baby. She did not want to remember this as her first child. She wanted to have a family right; not the way this baby had been conceived. She had a stack of letters from possible parents sitting on her bed table. We all looked through them to see if we could pick out the perfect parents for the baby. She decided on one family if it was a girl and another one if it was a boy.
That afternoon Michelle delivered a very healthy, beautiful baby boy. He was perfect in every way. It was hard to believe what his mother had gone through to have him. We showed her the baby, asked again if she wanted to hold him. “No,” she said, so we took him to the nursery.
The next day I came back for clinical and was assigned to the post partum side. In report, we found out Michelle wanted to have the baby in her room during the night and then decided to keep him. She was sobbing all night and not verbally communicating with the nurses. Everyone was worried because the family did not have a place to live. (They had been staying in shelters for the last month.) Neither Michelle or her mother had a job or any money, and they had no place to go. They would have to reimburse the adoption agency for all the services the agency had already provided and try and find a place to go after leaving the hospital. Also, Michelle was not emotionally prepared for such a huge responsibility, especially knowing how she conceived the child. She asked to talk to a counselor to try and work things out.
Because of the time I spent with Michelle the day before and the rapport we had developed, the other nurses wanted me to care for her. I went in to find out how she was doing. Her mother was excited to see me, but Michelle wouldn’t look at me and didn’t really answer my questions. Her mother said she had never been the type to talk to anyone, and was quiet about her feelings and the issues she was dealing with.
I went back in a little bit later, sat on Michelle’s bed, put my hand on hers, and said, “I heard that you had a rough night. What happened?” The tears started pouring down her face. I held her hand more tightly, waiting a moment, until I said softly, “Do you want to keep your baby?” The tears came harder and she nodded and looked up at me and said, “Yes.” “That must be so hard to carry a baby for nine months, see such a beautiful boy and then give him up,” I replied. She nodded. “So what are you going to do?” I asked. She sat there for a moment, looked up at me again, and said, “I don’t know.”
“You must love him so much.” “Yes,” she said. I then talked with Michelle about what would happen if she kept the baby, where they would go, and what she would do. She knew the baby wouldn’t have a good life, because she didn’t even know where she was going. I shared an experience about a friend, Karen, who gave her baby up for adoption. Karen said it was the hardest thing that she had ever done. She held the baby for a couple hours, but in the end she gave the baby up. Karen said that she loved the baby so much that she did the best thing for the baby, which was the hardest for her. She gave the baby a wonderful family that promised to take care of her and love her for eternity.
Michelle looked up at me and said, “She did that?” “Yes, she did, and she did it out of love.” I said, “If you give up this baby I know that you are doing it out of how much you love him. I do know it will be the most painful thing you have had to do so far in your life.” As she looked up at me, still with tears streaming down her face, I said, “And it is okay to cry: you need to grieve.” She held my hand tightly and sighed. It was like she needed that permission to hurt.
We talked for a while longer, looked at the adoptive families again, and talked about what the baby needed. Throughout the next couple of hours, I spent as much time as I could with her. The hospital counselor and the adoption agency representative came and spoke to her.
That afternoon Michelle decided she would give the baby up for adoption. I was there as she signed the papers with tears dripping down her cheeks. I know it was difficult to come to that decision, and I know she will grieve. I know she will physically heal from giving birth to her baby, but I also know she will forever carry the memory of her first child. I hope the memory will not always be painful. Even though I didn’t do much for her, she had someone to talk with. I gave her permission to hurt, which gave her a little bit of reassurance and strength. That day I had a taste of the art of healing by using the simple act of caring.