Coretta Collins
UAH alumna Coretta Collins shows a copy of her poetry collection “Mine for a Time.” The 2009 College of Nursing graduate writes about the experience of losing an infant and ways dealing with the grief.
Coretta Collins

Poetry helped alumna Coretta Collins (B.S.N., 2009) make it through 2006. It was the year before she enrolled in the College of Nursing at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), and she suffered a loss that many face but fewer confide. Her first child – a boy they named Walter – was stillborn. To deal with her grief, compounded by the loss of her mother to ovarian cancer later that year, she wrote about her pain.

As a nursing student still going through the grief process, Collins showed her poems to Dr. Darlene Showalter, clinical associate professor at UAH, a part of The University of Alabama System. Showalter recognized the power of Collins’ words to benefit readers as well as the writer, and she helped Collins share them with other grief-stricken parents through a Huntsville Hospital bereavement program.

Now Collins’ poems are available to a wider audience. Last fall, she published a poetry collection, “Mine for a Time.” She also writes about grief and loss, cancer and other medical issues, and marriage and family on her blog, “Confessions of a Nurse Practitioner.”

A board-certified family nurse practitioner, Collins is currently in school again, this time at the University of Alabama, getting her doctorate in nursing practice. She’s set to finish in December.

Collins says she’s always liked to write, but it became more important as she increasingly turned to poetry during that first year of intense grief.

“I used writing as a coping mechanism,” she says. “It helped me to be able to express on paper in a way that you might not be able to express to someone when you’re talking to them. When something came to me, I would write about it.”

Collins’ poems illuminate situations that people might not imagine if they’ve never experienced an infant loss. But for readers like Showalter, they are familiar.

“I had a baby loss, too,” Showalter says. “I found Coretta’s poems to be so poignant. You go home with your breasts full of milk but no baby. She wrote a poem about that. You set up the nursery, and then you have to take it down. She wrote a poem about that.”

Collins was taking Showalter’s obstetrics class when she shared her poems.

“One of our textbook chapters is about loss, loss of fetus, loss of infant – when you’re pregnant and not taking a baby home,” says Showalter, who is also coordinator of UAH’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program.

Nurses are trained to deal with dying patients, but training doesn’t eliminate sorrow. And when an expectation of joy turns to anguish, even the strongest coping skills may need support.

“Being a nurse doesn’t fully qualify you for that gut-wrenching moment when your patient tearfully tells you about her baby shower and gifts that she now has to return,” Showalter says. “No one is prepared for that.”

“Infant mortality, maternal mortality are serious problems in Alabama,” she adds. “But it’s one thing to read about it and answer exam questions about it and another thing to connect to a person who has gone through it.”

Showalter and Collins agree that talking about the loss helps.

“In a lot of ways, I felt alone,” Collins says. “My close friends hadn’t had that experience – and I’m glad they hadn’t. Pregnancy loss is still considered somewhat taboo. It’s not talked about as much. I want to encourage other people to talk about their loss. The more I talked about it, the more I found that other people had had similar experiences.”

Collins knew that two of her aunts had experienced miscarriages, but she discovered that a third had, too.

“One aunt had never talked about it until I was going through my experience,” she says. “My experiences made me want to advocate for other parents.”

As a nurse, Collins is primarily a caregiver for physical needs. Her poetry offers caregiving for emotional needs.

“I was sharing the poems more and more with other people,” she says. “They said I understood what they were feeling more than most. That led to this book. I wanted to help people who’ve had this experience and also help those who haven’t so they can understand the experience.

“Our grief matters. Our process matters. And at the end of the day, it can help somebody.”



Kristina Hendrix

Elizabeth Gibisch