We sit quietly, the doctor and I.
The only sounds are the soft hiss of the ventilator and the muffled sobs of a broken mother, cradling her baby son in her arms.
I’m so glad this doctor is here with me.
That I’m not alone.
I know that when mum says she’s ready, when we remove the ventilator tube that is the only thing now standing between her baby and death, there will be an outpouring of her grief that she has so far managed to keep from engulfing her completely.
I don’t think I’m strong enough to face that flood on my own.
I don’t know what it is to grieve for my child.
But I know that there is no grief like that of a mother.
Every fiber of her being screaming at her to do something, anything to save this tiny life that she has created and carried so carefully within her, beneath her heart.
Knowing that no matter what she does or how strong her love she cannot turn back time or change what is happening to her little boy.
Left with a lifetime of wondering who he would have been and who they could have been together.
Having to watch her baby slip away from her when she would sacrifice anything, even herself, for him to be able to stay.
It makes my heart ache to watch her; to see her tears run down her face and gently fall around her little boy and to hear the muffled sounds of the sobs she is trying to stop from escaping.
I can feel my own tears rising inside me, threatening to spill out when this mother needs me to be strong.
There is a time for my grief but it is not now.
I grit my teeth, bite my tongue and take strength from the presence of the doctor beside me.
I’m so glad she’s here.
We don’t see each other outside work, the doctor and I, but every shift we smile and ask how the other is with a genuine interest beyond that of automatic greetings.
In quiet moments we sit and chat, keeping the wheels of our simple work friendship turning and making our working day that bit brighter.
I always make an effort to get to know the doctors, partly because my the Northern One is a doctor but mostly because I like to get along with everyone that I work with. We do a difficult jobs, doctors and nurses both and the days where we need each other to lean upon are far from rare.
Doctors and nurses may not always have the strongest bonds, with the differences between our roles sometimes lead to a mentality of ‘us and them.’ But on days like this, when we truly need each other, we know that the other will stand at our side so that we do not have to face these days alone.
We’re both kneeling; me mum’s shoulder, supporting the ventilator tubing and the doctor in front her so she can clearly see the little boy.
She’s pretty, this doctor, with dark wavy hair and a heart-shaped face.
I’m used to seeing her smiling but today her face is serious.
Sad yet calm and composed.
She looks like someone you could turn to on the very worst day of your life.
It is the very worst day of this mother’s life.
The doctor catches me eye and gives me a tiny smile.
It’s a gesture of comfort from one person to another when they both finds themselves in a situation that they don’t know how to control but, with the other person’s help, they will find their way through.
I always feel confident working with her, even on the most difficult and stressful of days.
Mum’s words break the silence.
She tells us that she’s ready to let her little boy go.
I can hear
The doctor helps Mum to remove the adhesive pads holding the breathing tube securely onto her baby’s face.
Her hands are steady.
She’s so gentle.
Doing everything she can not to damage the baby’s delicate skin, not wanting to cause him even a second more pain than he has already been through .
Once the pads have been removed she stops and waits.
Sitting back on her heels to rest her knees that must be aching after so long spent kneeling on the floor.
Giving mum as much time as she needs before we remove the tube.
The final thing.
Mum tells us she’s ready and so I carefully pull the breathing tube out of the little boy’s lungs.
My eyes are blurred with tears but I force myself to focus.
Looking at mum to see if she’s managing to hold on.
The room is quiet apart from the sound of mum’s sobs.
Through her tears she manages to ask us if her baby has gone.
The doctor quietly asks if she wants her to listen for a heartbeat and mum nods so she gently places her stethoscope on his tiny chest, closes her eyes and listens.
She seems to draw in on herself.
Needing to be absolutely sure as to whether she can hear a heart beat.
Or whether there is silence.
The seconds tick by and in amongst the emotion and turmoil of the last few hours her serene face brings me a few moments of respite.
A few seconds calm in the midst of the sadness and grief.
Mum’s eyes are fixed on the doctor’s face.
Willing her to speak but dreading her answer all the same.
Knowing what she will tell her.
The doctor takes a breath and opens her eyes.
There are no tears.
Maybe she’s not a person who particularly cries.
Maybe for her tears make everything too real, blurring the boundaries between work and the rest of her life.
Maybe she knows that if the tears start she will lose all self control.
Maybe she’s just stronger than me.
It doesn’t matter why.
“I’m so sorry” she says
“I can’t hear anything.”
Louise is a full time mum, a part time neonatal nurse and award nominated blogger who has battled depression for many years but was particularly ill during her pregnancy. She lives with her husband (the Northern One) their little boy (Squidge) and their three guinea pigs who live in the kitchen.
Louise blogs at 23weeksocks (http://23weeksocks.com) about lots of different (and seemingly unconnected) topics that she’s passionate about, including mental health, antenatal depression, neonatal care and baby loss. She’s also involved in #MatExp (https://www.facebook.com/groups/MatExp/); an online maternity experience campaign that was formed to help improve maternity services in the UK. As part of this she hosts the #MatExpHour Twitter chat every Friday and would love to see you there.