Facing the Unexpected

Unexpected backwards

My life has been full of the unexpected. Never traveling an easy course, my husband and I have faced the unexpected time and time again in our almost 20 years of marriage. Most recently we’ve experienced the unexpected loss of 3 of our unborn children, as well as the loss of two others several years ago. Each time the sonographer was the one to give us the news that things were not what they should be. Each time that individual had the power to compound our grief with careless words or offer compassion to minister to our hearts.

Our first pregnancy loss was a baby girl by the name of Dot. She was affectionately named this due to her tiny size the first time we laid eyes on her. We went in for what I thought was a routine ultrasound to date the pregnancy. The sonographer began fidgeting, growing uncomfortable, and finally turned the screen away from my eyes. I knew then that something was wrong. As she searched for a non-existent heartbeat, she wouldn’t answer any of my questions.

“Do you see a heartbeat?”

“I’m not sure.”

Wait, what? You aren’t sure? Why in the world are you scanning me then? I’m 9 weeks along, you should see a heartbeat!

“Is everything ok?” I tried again.

“I’ll get the radiologist to talk with you.”

These are not things you ever want to hear while lying on an ultrasound table with a baby that was long prayed for. After years of infertility, this was only the second time we had conceived. The first unexpected miracle was our firstborn son, Jaden four years earlier. I thought we had just been granted a second unexpected miracle, and it was all falling apart.

The radiologist came in and let me know that Dot had stopped growing around six weeks and that her heart had stopped beating around that time. I was nine weeks along and devastated that my baby had died weeks ago, and we hadn’t known. The tears were running down my face as I tried to hold the pieces of my broken heart together.

After several moments, the radiologist looked at me and said, “I’m sorry the fetus stopped developing, but the next time you come in we’ll give you happy baby pictures to take home with you.”

“If there is a next time,” I muttered under my breath, as I mentally cringed at his use of the word fetus versus the more compassionate word baby.

This radiologist had an opportunity to handle the situation with grace. His laughing and chuckling in nervousness and his inappropriate comments led to even more grief piled on top of the existing loss.

In the Pregnancy Medical Clinic as an advocate, a sonographer, and/or nurse you will face the unexpected. There’s so much that one of our sonography trainers could tell you about the medical side of finding unexpected results. I’m not a sonographer, but I have been a patient many times. And too many times, I was the victim of the unexpected.

Your patient may come in expecting a pregnancy that she planned to terminate. Once you begin scanning you realize she has a blighted ovum. You aren’t expecting her tears of grief as you inform her she no longer needs an abortion—that the baby has no heartbeat. Or you might not expect the joyful relief she shows, knowing you may be the only person grieving for this beautiful life.

Your patient may come in hard and unresponsive. She thought she was coming in for an abortion even though your clinic states that you do not provide abortions. Grudgingly she consents to the pregnancy test and ultrasound. You ask if she would like to see the screen and she agrees. The unexpected happens. Tears of joy run down her face as she marvels at the tiny little arm and leg buds—the rapid pulsing of the tiny heartbeat—the little wiggles of this tiny little life. She was not expecting to feel a connection, and she walks away choosing life.

Your patient may come in to your ultrasound room and after counseling, sharing her options with her, and allowing her to view the ultrasound screen, she remains convinced that abortion is her only option. She walks away to keep her appointment with Planned Parenthood. You weren’t expecting her to still choose to terminate when presented with so many other options.

You might have a patient that is just a practice scan. She’s a friend of a friend and has just found out she’s expecting. Your friend asks if she can come to the center for an ultrasound scan, and you, needing the practice, agree. She’s excited. She’s overwhelmed by the miracle growing inside of her. She shares with you her dreams for this child—the names she has picked out—nursery options she’s thought about. But the unexpected happens. No heartbeat. You are now the person that has to share with her that those hopes and dreams have just died with the life inside of her. What a heavy responsibility. What an opportunity to show the love and compassion of Christ. But certainly, not what you expected.

In all these situations emotions run high. As a sonographer, a nurse, a client advocate, you have the responsibility to handle the situation with grace, kindness, and gentleness. You also have the unique opportunity to help that patient identify the emotions she’s feeling and maybe even help her to understand why.

Clients do not come to you with the unexpected on their mind. They aren’t expecting to hear bad news. They many times aren’t expecting their reactions to the information you give to them, or they don’t understand the emotions that are occurring. You can help them identify those and deal with them in a manner that helps them to work through and process those emotions. Don’t be afraid of emotions. They are a part of who we are as image bearers of God. Identifying what a patient feels and then being able to minister to that person is an opportunity for you to love them in the same ways our heavenly Father loves us.

Kim Griggs
Sparrow Solutions Group

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