Greater Baltimore Medical Center
"A Short But Beautiful Life"

Kay Berney's Story

I am a volunteer at Gilchrist Hospice Care. Several years ago, we had a special request over the 4th of July holiday. A family had been on vacation at the beach when the woman had very severe stomach pains and had to be taken to a nearby hospital. Once there, it was discovered that she was pregnant and in labor. She was very shocked and dismayed, as was her husband. They had a son but had no idea she was expecting a new baby.

The baby, Peyton, was very ill, born without a brain stem, and the medical consensus was that the baby would only live a few days. The family returned to Baltimore and the baby was admitted to GBMC with support from Gilchrist Kids and the Gilchrist Doula Program. We were asked to hold and rock Peyton, to keep him comforted until his life ended. I wrote this after spending part of the weekend with the baby and his family:

“Peyton was a beautiful baby. Upon seeing him the first time I was amazed at how lovely he was. I expected some awkwardness as he was born with no brain stem, but he looked as adorable as any new born.

He was a surprise to his parents and they were overwhelmed. They were not expecting a baby, and once the mother began delivery, they certainly were not prepared to care for a baby who would have such a short life.

We scheduled around-the-clock rockers for Peyton, who seemed to relax and stay calm when he was being held. I must say that being asked to quietly sit and rock a newborn was a task that was quite delightful. But during those quiet hours there was a lot to think about. Such circumstances make one think about life and death and all the unanswerable questions in between. It was a spiritual time.

I was there on several different days and got to know Peyton’s parents a bit. At first, they were hesitant to be in the room with their newborn and were scared. Slowly they observed their son and were drawn to him. All of their fear and confusion was overtaken by his innocence and sweetness, by his strength despite the certainty that his life would be very short. Soon his parents joined in the rocking and the cooing and the falling in love with their special baby.

I am continually reminded of the power this newborn baby had over all the people involved in his short life. He was unable to communicate, and yet he communicated volumes. He reminded us that strength and wisdom and beauty come in many different forms. How was it that this tiny being brought tenderness from so many people, and allowed us all to feel so deeply? We were able to put all our judgments and biases aside to be in the moment with this family during their precious days together.”

I think about this experience from time to time, and when I do, I feel a certain reverence and honor that I was able to participate in Peyton’s very short life.

Being a volunteer at Gilchrist is a valuable learning experience for me. I am fortunate to spend time with our patients and their families, and with our bereaved clients. I continue to be reassured of the human spirit as I observe people through the most difficult and saddest times of their lives. Because of GBMC, I feel very fortunate.

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