Photo illustration by PxHere (Creative Commons)
Katie Samson remembers the last moment she had with her son, Cooper, as the nurse turned to take his frail body wrapped in a knitted white blanket out of the room.
Cooper died just short of 17 weeks gestation.
“I just remember her turning her back to walk away, and I said, ‘Oh, wait, just I want one second,’” she said through tears in an interview with the Daily Montanan. “She turned around and she said, ‘Do you want him back? Do you want to say goodbye again?’ I was like, ‘Oh, never mind. It’s OK.”
So the nurse walked out of the room at Northern Montana Hospital in Havre. That was more than a decade ago, but Samson holds regret about the last moment she had with Cooper.
“I wish I would have given him another kiss,” Samson said.
Samson, a registered nurse, talked to the Daily Montanan this week about LR-131, a ballot initiative aimed at requiring medical intervention for “born alive infants,” even if medical intervention would not change the fatal outcome.
Proponents of the measure say there aren’t legal protections for “infants who have survived abortions,” and that they “have been left to die.”
Samson, who worked in neonatal intensive care as well as labor and delivery all together for nearly a decade, said she believes most people inclined to vote for the referendum have good intentions and think they’re helping “born alive” babies that have a chance of survival. But she said that isn’t so.
“They’re thinking that this might save babies in that situation,” Samson said. “But health care providers, we already offer all of the resuscitation support that we can to save the babies that are savable.”
Infanticide, or killing an infant, is already illegal in Montana, as outlined in the Montana Code Annotated.
Samson’s experience with Cooper would not fall under LR-131 as Cooper died before being delivered by cesarean section. She said if the medical team tried to attempt resuscitation on her son if he had been born with a heartbeat, holding him would not have been the experience she had in 2011.
“Having a background in nursing, I know for a 17-week fetus there is no ET tube for intubation small enough to even intubate a baby like that,” she said, of an endotracheal tube.
LR-131 imposes penalties for doctors who don’t comply, including a $50,000 fine and up to 20 years in prison.
Samson said experiencing her own loss made her a better nurse, and that she could make a difference in her patients’ emotional recovery.
“I could empathize with those patients, and I wanted to help them because I knew how hard it could be to lose a baby,” she said. “I kind of remembered some things that were healing when I went through that loss.”
LR-131 has been opposed by the medical community, the Montana Medical Association, the Montana Nurses Association, the Montana Hospital Association and the Montana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Medical experts point out the referendum applies to all newborns unable to survive, including those born through natural labor.
Samson said she couldn’t fault people who didn’t know what happened behind the scenes if they hadn’t experienced loss themselves or seen it as a health care provider. But she asked people to trust that caregivers save lives when it’s possible.
“And when it’s not possible to save those babies, trust us to help the parents and provide the compassion and care that they deserve and that baby deserves,” she said.
Samson and her husband were allowed to take as much time as they needed with Cooper in the hospital, spending about seven hours holding him, taking pictures, and receiving a blessing from a local pastor, she said. His grandparents each took turns holding him.
“He was just in perfect shape,” she said. “He had my husband’s nose.”
She said the actions that are taken by the professionals around and during that loss have a potentially huge impact on the grieving process.
“That really is a big concern of mine with LR 131 if it’s passed, just imagining how different that experience could be for those families that are going through that loss,” she said.
She said that either way it’s an excruciating situation, but forcing resuscitation is not considered compassionate care.
“It would just make a horrible situation so much more traumatic.”
The ballot language stems from HB-167, which was introduced by Rep. Matt Regier, R-Kalispell. In a guest column in The Missoulian last week, Regier said that LR-131 would not require that a hospice infant be taken from its family.
“This law only affects medical providers intentionally allowing children born alive to perish,” he wrote. “Hospice care is appropriate and it is disingenuous of the opposition to misconstrue and belittle the hospice line of healthcare.”
Regier was not available for comment by phone on Wednesday.
At a press event in Helena last week, medical leaders said the law, if passed, could also impact the ability for Montana hospitals to recruit and retain health care workers at a time when many are already understaffed.
Samson said if she was still working in the NICU or Labor and Delivery, she doesn’t know if she would stay if LR-131 passed. She said she didn’t think she would be able to take a baby out of a mother’s arms against her will, adding that resuscitation attempts on a baby who won’t survive causes harm to the baby and the family.
She compared this situation to when adults have Do Not Resuscitate orders.
“When an adult doesn’t have the capability of making medical decisions for themselves anymore, you appoint a person who’s responsible for that,” she said. “For these babies, it’s their parents.”
Samson and her husband have two kids, Kayley, 12, and AJ, 9, and she now works at Helena Surgery Center. Both of her children know about Cooper.
“Having some peaceful memories within that traumatic experience can help with your mental health and emotional health and how that carries through for the rest of your life,” she said. “I would just hate for those peaceful moments to be taken away.”
She said the days after losing Cooper are mostly blocked from her memory, but she remembers some.
“Instead of bringing a baby home from the hospital, you’re picking up ashes from the funeral home,” she said.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.