Nurses are indispensable. I know, because I am one, and I know how hard we work. But there’s something about being on a labor and delivery unit, working closely with women who are enduring the most vulnerable moments of their lives, that brings new meaning to care. My own birth experience was unexpected, and it left me with a trauma I battled for the next year. I always had great staff. But there were those nurses that will always remain with me and I don’t think they knew quite how much I needed them in those moments.
First, there was the no-nonsense nurse I had initially, right after being stitched up and wheeled back to the postpartum suite. She wasn’t one who made me feel warm and cozy, but she saved my life as the preeclampsia wreaked havoc on my body. As the magnesium dripped into me, she kept by my side closely monitoring my blood pressure and keeping tabs on my pain. At that moment, I needed a wickedly smart, quick-thinking, experienced nurse to keep me alive.
Then there was the nurse who came on shift my second night there. The night my baby realized she was indeed born and had to unwillingly adjust to life on the outside. She cried and wailed and breastfeeding was pretty much the hardest thing ever, as the techniques I was taught were just not getting her to latch right. This nurse breezed in, and offered up the advice that I credit to my success in continuing to nurse my now two and a half year old: Babies have been nursing for millennia. She knows what to do, so let her do her thing. And I plopped my daughter onto my breast where she immediately latched, specific holds be damned. This nurse spent time with my husband and me, patiently answering the questions we had, even though it was well past midnight.
There was also the nurse I had my third night, her twelve-hour shift the only one she had with me, but was placed there just when I needed her the most. I hadn’t slept properly in over forty-eight hours and as I lay there, hearing the phantom cries of my baby who was in the nursery, I cried. My hormones and anxiety were intense and I hated being separated from my daughter, even though my sleep was most important. When the on-call doctor stood over my bed and locked up the bed rails by my feet after I explained my auditory hallucinations, she told my nurse I needed full bed rest, as she wasn’t sure if this was related to the preeclampsia. I broke into racking sobs, feeling completely helpless for the first time in my life, sure they were going to take me up to the psychiatric unit for being crazy. My nurse put down the bed rails at my feet, freeing me from my self-contained prison, and advocated for me that I didn’t need those rails up because it seemed like a prison. She sat with me as I sobbed out my whole infertility story and how being away from my daughter was a knife in my chest. Thinking about that night and this nurse now still brings up those emotions.
My nurse I was assigned to for almost the duration the stay, six days total, was actually floating from another floor. She and I shared nursing stories and I explained to her how weird it was to be the one in the hospital bed. And when I continued to need strict bed rest, she was the one that would place the bedpan under me, without skipping a beat in the story she was telling me. She was the one, while I braced myself on the arms of the bedside commode, (her doing, because she pushed for the doctor to let me poop sitting up for freaking crying out loud) who wiped me like I used to wipe tons of hospital patients after a bowel movement without a second thought to their dignity. If you’ve never had someone wipe your butt while still being in your 30s, you should probably consider yourself lucky, because nothing makes you feel more helpless. She handled it with humor and respect and for that, I just can’t thank her enough.
So here’s to the nurses who cared for me in the hospital, and to all nurses who are there during those moments of bringing our babies into the world. For squatting with us while we take that first poop, for washing the blood off us, for seeing us at our most vulnerable. For holding our hands while we cry, and telling us our babies are the most beautiful things they’ve ever seen. For making us feel human in an environment of bright lights, beeping machines, and bedpans.
To my own nurses, you were there during the most emotionally and physically trying time of my life. Thank you for walking with me through it.