I ice-climbed in Colorado with Chicks With Picks in January. It was fun. It was eye-opening in many respects. I went there (not-so-secretly) hoping that I would find that one thing that would change my life and point me in the right direction. I found amazing women and strength and humor and that ice climbing is easier than rock climbing. But I didn’t find the magical one thing.
I went to Guatemala with LAMP in February, a week-long medical trip to provide simple but life-changing surgeries for people in a small city 3 hours outside of Guatemala City. I went there not sure what to expect this year (as I also went last year), but perhaps hoping that somewhere in the middle of the night, as I watched over these amazing, generous, kind, beautiful people, that that one thing that would change my life and point me in the right direction would be revealed to me. I found grace and laughter (so much laughter!), love and kindness and new friends, and the knowledge that my Spanish is still really bad and that I want to grow dreadlocks. But I didn’t find the magical one thing.
So. Now it is March.
I am sitting out in triage at work. It is a relatively quiet weekend morning. The ER is puttering along smoothly. I look up from my magazine as a young woman walks in. She is holding her arms as though she is carrying a child. But all I can see there is a white sheet. Something is very off about this. My antennae go up instantly.
“Hi — can I help you?”
She has the strangest, smallest, strained smile on her face. “Yes. I have a baby for Safe Place for Newborns.”
I realize suddenly that she IS carrying a child. An infant. It is wrapped only in a white sheet. And she is here to surrender it to our care. My care. I click over into professional mode while my brain starts freaking the fuck out.
“OK! I’m glad you’re here. Will you come answer a few questions for us?” She nods, and we head back into the ER.
The infant is a girl. She was born, presumably at home, after 38 weeks at about 6:30 a.m. She is seven hours old.
The mother answers basic questions about the baby and the pregnancy calmly. She is composed but from her radiates the most awful, agonizing pain. I can feel it in my bones. It hurts to look at this woman and know that her heart is being wrenched out of her body, wrapped in a white sheet, and then, suddenly, handed to a nurse.
I take the little girl — she is so small I can hold her in my right arm alone — and reach up with my left arm and I hug this woman. “I want you to be proud of yourself,” I say. “This is the most selfless thing you could ever have done. I am proud of you. You’ve given her the opportunity for such a wonderful life. Thank you for doing this.”
“Thank you,” she says. And she walks out of the ER, out of the front door, back into the cold and the wind and the grey day.
And I am standing in my ER, holding a tiny child.
The news that we have a Safe Haven baby spreads through the ER like wildfire. I turn her over to the other nurses and doctors and case managers and NICU nurses and she goes upstairs where she is pronounced to be in absolutely perfect health. Child Protective Services will put her in foster care until she is adopted. It will take less than 24 hours to find her a family.
It takes me a few minutes, but I go and peer out the front door to see if the mother is still there. I wonder if she made it away from the hospital before she started crying. “She’s gone,” says the security guard. “I saw her walk down the sidewalk and turn the corner.”
I sit back down in triage and I start to cry.
And funny enough, of all the emotions that overwhelm me at the moment, the strongest is a deep LOVE for that mother. For her to be brave enough to surrender a child that she – for whatever reason – could not care for.
I relate this story to another ER nurse later, and she says, “Why on earth did you hug her? I would have grabbed the baby and kicked her out. She had nine months to figure that shit out and she didn’t!”
And I realize at that moment that THIS is the magical one thing that will point me in the right direction. I am so glad I hugged that mother. I want to always be a nurse who can hug her patients as they struggle to figure out their lives, just like all the rest of us. I want to be the resource they can go to when they need help.
I went to school to be a public health nurse.
I heard a quote recently: “If you ever want to get back on the path….step back on the path.”
Now. To step back on the path.