23 Mar More Than Just A Box
I remember the first time I opened an Owl Love You Forever box. I was still working with my precepting nurse during my transition from Postpartum to Labor and Delivery. The patient was a teenage girl, who was a victim of a terrible car accident, and had lost her baby as a result of the trauma to her body. I had been a mother-baby nurse for nearly two years before experiencing this solemn side of the “happiest unit in the hospital”. Nursing school taught me that miscarriages and neonatal loss affected more women than I had originally thought. Nursing school did not prepare me for the reality of being the first person, besides the physician, to be supporting these women through one of the worst moments of their lives. During the year and a half that I worked in Labor and Delivery, I personally cared for about 15-20 families experiencing loss. Every family I cared for was offered one of Shayla’s boxes and every family accepted it without question. No one ever doubted the contents or denied their use. Even families that declined bathing their baby saw the benefits of associating the smell of baby shampoo with positive memories of their baby. I realized how much the contents of the box were utilized depended on how the box was presented. When the gift of life has been stolen, very few people can handle being given a gift as unique as these boxes without some loving direction. The way I introduced the boxes was by sharing Shayla’s story. I would explain that these boxes had stuff that helped Shayla and her husband bond with their twins, Arie and Hadilyn, when they were born at 22-weeks gestation. I would describe the contents of the box, starting with the stuffed owl– reminding the partner to offer it as a tool to fill her arms as they left the hospital. There is something therapeutic about filling the hands of a woman who’s lost her child. We all know clutching a stuffed owl doesn’t erase the void a mother feels, but it fills it just enough to get them home. Other contents were self-explanatory but I would unpack each item and explain them all: blankets, baby hat/bow, tissues, candle, baby shampoo and washcloth, baby lotion, written materials, and small baggies for a lock of baby hair. If the baby was too young to have hair, I would remove the baggy so the parents wouldn’t feel like they were missing out on a keepsake. I would end the introduction by giving the parents the authority to reject the box. I would inform them that everyone’s grieving process is different. I would reassure them that no decision with me and this box was final during their hospital stay. If they didn’t want to photograph or bathe their baby/babies, it was still an option for them at any time. Most of these individuals have never experienced something like this before, so in my experience, the advice and tools from someone who has was always considered. There is freedom in patience and choice during moments like this. I believe the success of the Owl Love You Forever boxes doesn’t rely on their use, as much as it relies on their availability to be used by those who could benefit from them.
Our boxes were stored in the back of the unit, near the rooms we would utilize for grieving patients. The cupboard they were stored in contained the bins of tiny baby clothes and craft supplies we would use for keepsakes. It looked like something you would find in a large family home; a home where they had many children and scrapbooked. I think having the supplies in one area helped our nurses use them more often, as well as know when to replenish them so we could ensure every family had access to the same keepsake options. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the bins of lettered beads that we would use to make bracelets with the babies’ names on them were how I decompressed and soothed during those shifts. I would always find all the beads to make three identical bracelets and I would be so grateful for whoever replenished our supplies.
Through that act of service, I was able to process my own emotions of the shift, but I would also make sure to debrief any traumatic situations from my shift with the nurse I was handing off to, the social worker who visited my patient, the charge nurse, and/or the physician who was in the delivery with me. Similar to the advice I would give my patients about leaning into their support person or people, I recommend nurses understand how important communicating about heavy experiences and situations is in preventing burnout and the accumulation of work-related trauma. Lastly, the self-care you perform after these shifts is more important than you may realize. Other than talking about it, you should be aware of how you feel leaving the hospital after handoff. Do you feel anxious, exhausted, hopeless, or a combination of it all? Prior to getting as much restful sleep as possible, you may benefit from a walk or jog, and a relaxing bath with essential oils. During a session where I was begging for help coping with these shifts, my therapist shared with me that bipedal exercise, such as running, can help the brain process information. The endorphins released during exercise can also improve your mood immediately. Running may make you tired, or it may wake you up, so walking is a good alternative to ensure you get sleep. There is no doubt nurses are superheroes, but even Bruce Wayne found a way to rest and recharge. Just as you coach your patients on how to use the tools provided to them to find peace where it seems impossible, like the Shayla’s Owl Love You Forever boxes, we need to do the same for ourselves.
Shaleigh Rae is a freelance writer, you can read more from her here: Raediant LLC