A LEGACY OF COM­PAS­SION

Re­tir­ing nurse gave so­lace to those who lost ba­bies

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY EL­IZ­A­BETH SIMP­SON

NOR­FOLK, VA. | Ann Prescott’s un­usual work be­gan with a med­i­cal ad­vance.

Technology in the late 1970s meant ba­bies who once would have died in the womb were of­ten de­liv­ered early. Some sur­vived, but some died within min­utes or hours.

The think­ing of the time was that it would be too emo­tion­ally wrench­ing for moth­ers to hold th­ese ba­bies des­tined for death. They were put in the hos­pi­tal nurs­ery, and Ms. Prescott, a nurse at Sen­tara Nor­folk Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal, would pick them up as their last breaths were drawn.

“I would hold them and rock them and talk to them,” she said.

Soon, hos­pi­tal philoso­phies changed, and by the mid-1980s, a na­tional move­ment was grow­ing to ask moth­ers and fa­thers whether they wanted to see their ba­bies. It fell to Ms. Prescott to ask, and to bring the ba­bies and coun­sel fam­i­lies through the griev­ing, start­ing around 1988.

Over the years, she brought warm wa­ter for par­ents to bathe their ba­bies, and tiny gowns to dress them. She helped par­ents cre­ate me­men­tos, such as their ba­bies’ foot­prints, and gave them keep­sake boxes. She told them about a sup­port group to help them af­ter they left the hos­pi­tal, and of­fered be­reave­ment coun­sel­ing in the fol­low­ing months and even years.

She also reached out to moth­ers who had mis­car­riages and still­births, and even­tu­ally, she helped find a place at Wood­lawn Me­mo­rial Gardens in Nor­folk where cre­mated re­mains of those ba­bies are buried dur­ing a cer­e­mony ev­ery six weeks.

Ms. Prescott, now 67, never kept count of the ba­bies, but even a con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mate is strik­ing: Some 7,000 span­ning a 28-year span that ended with Ms. Prescott’s re­tire­ment from Sen­tara Health­care last week.

Ms. Prescott sat at the Cir­cle of Love Garden one day in mid-April, con­tem­plat­ing the la­bor of love that has de­fined her ca­reer. The ceme­tery donated the land for this garden, where peo­ple come for so­lace and to leave me­men­tos. To­day there are teddy bears, and pin­wheels, tiny di­nosaurs and even a lit­tle bad­minton set for chil­dren who never got to play.

A plaque bears words Ms. Prescott crafted: “In lov­ing mem­ory of the pre­cious lit­tle lives who were car­ried with hope, born in si­lence, and re­mem­bered with love, al­ways.”

Some fam­i­lies ar­range fu­ner­als for chil­dren who are still­born or born too early. Oth­ers don’t, and espe­cially for women who had mis­car­riages, this is the place to re­mem­ber a child.

It’s a so­ci­etal niche most look away from, but Ms. Prescott sat quietly with par­ents whose ba­bies had so many de­for­mi­ties they died within hours. Cancer pa­tients who faced the de­ci­sion of whether to ter­mi­nate a preg­nancy or forgo chemo­ther­apy treat­ments. Women who ar­rived in the ER af­ter ac­ci­dents that ended the lives of the ba­bies in their wombs.

It seems like heart­break­ing work, but she brings them out of the dark­est of places, and that is where the sat­is­fac­tion lies.

“What gives me joy is see­ing fam­i­lies who were in the deep­est hole they could be in con­tinue to live and be­come happy again,” she said. “They find a pur­pose for their loss that they can use to grow.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Ann Prescott, a nurse who worked as a be­reave­ment coun­selor, is re­tir­ing af­ter 40 years. She spe­cial­ized in coun­sel­ing fam­i­lies who had lost ba­bies. Here she has me­men­tos at the Cir­cle of Love Garden at Wood­lawn Me­mo­rial Gardens in Nor­folk, Vir­ginia.

Ms. Prescott crafted the plaque at the Cir­cle of Love Garden. Griev­ing fam­i­lies will find so­lace and leave me­men­tos be­hind.

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