Journey into Medicine – White Doves and Screw Top Jars

During our training for the labour and delivery department we were never told about the white doves. I happened to read about the doves one night from a staff training book. I encountered my first dove one evening as I arrived for my shift.

The staff were unusually sombre, one nurse had been crying, it had been a long difficult day. A new nurse arrived to take over the shift. The nurses’ station was oddly quiet. I then saw the white dove on a patient’s door. This was her first child and she had come in at 28 weeks with signs of preterm labour. Every effort they had made to stop the delivery failed. I am not sure exactly what happened but in the final stages of labour the baby’s heart rate had dropped and she was born with no signs of life.

I was asked to pack up the baby’s wristband, footprints, birth card and other personal items. The mum had asked for them to be destroyed, but the nurses had stored them for her, in case she would change her mind. She never did, it was too painful.

I understand that the doves represent death, and letting the baby ‘go free’ to rest in peace. There was peace in the room, but a kind of empty, void in which nothing can fill. The mum looked grey, she did not speak, and she did not move as we moved her to the postpartum room where she would sleep hearing the cries of other living babies that night. Her husband spoke cheerily to me as I wheeled her over, he was asking questions like “where do you come from?” and so on like nothing had happened.

I was angry with him, I didn’t want to answer but this was his way of dealing with it. A kind of denial. He walked with a bounce and I couldn’t understand why. I wanted to respect her loss, her sense of solitude, emptiness and despair, filling the void with idle chitter-chatter seemed wrong.

I saw him leave 15 minutes later to go home. He couldn’t get out fast enough, I imagine that he needed to leave and mourn in privacy. I felt for the woman alone in that room with no-one there. I wanted to go in and be with her, but I’m not trained or placed to do so. I still wonder what she felt those first moments of being completely alone. That night I cried on the way home. I thought of that baby and the short life it had led.

Barely a week later I arrived for another shift. A woman 18 weeks pregnant had had a missed miscarriage. I didn’t know about her loss and she had no white dove on her door. I walked into the room and again noticed the silence and sadness that filled the air. I chose not to be with her as she had a D&C. It seemed bizarre that she had no white dove on her door, her baby had also died and she too was feeling the same loss.

A couple hours later I was given a screw-top jar to take to the lab. It was marked ‘products of conception’. I knew what I was carrying. I carried it in the elevator as others came in laughing and joking about other worlds. I looked inside the blood filled container and saw the foetal sac and looked away. I was carrying this to pathology. I’m not very religious but I said a prayer as I carried this ‘child’ to its final destination. To these parents this baby was their beloved child no matter how many weeks old it was. I carried the jar with the same love and respect I would have carried my child. Still they wouldn’t know that, but at least they know that someone cared.

** These are based on events, but genders, details and so on have been changed to protect identities. When appropriate, consent was obtained.

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