During the birth of my first child, I didn't have much of an opinion one way or another about labor and delivery nurses, largely because I didn't see too much of mine and didn't interact with them outside of some perfunctory labor and delivery business. Plus, I was pretty occupied because hello #18hoursoflabor. After some time, distance, and an emergency c-section, my opinion was, "Well, they kind of sucked." But then came my second labor, and that's where I met "N." This labor and delivery nurse made me feel powerful, respected, cared for, and ready to have a baby.
There are few groups I respect more than nurses. They are underpaid and work impossibly long hours doing physically and emotionally demanding tasks. I have had amazing experiences with nurses throughout my life. Unfortunately, the labor and delivery (L&D) nurses my first time around were a notable exception to what has been a pretty reliable rule. To be fair, of course, I don't know what kind of day they'd had before I got there. Maybe they'd all just been through something terrible. Maybe at the same time I was going through a fairly typical labor they were with a mother who was in grave danger or about to deliver under tragic circumstances. Maybe there is a reason they were impersonal and curt.
Or, you know, maybe they were just jerks. Anything is possible.
Regardless of their reasons, the result was that I didn't receive the kind of support and encouragement that could have helped me through a difficult, emotional, and sometimes scary time. The truth of the matter is that I didn't realize just how much a L&D nurse can influence a birth experience until "N" came along and became an important character in the story of my daughter's delivery. The woman was seriously a Contraction Fairy Godmother or something, and she made me feel like an all-powerful birthing goddess by doing all of the following, magical things:
She Assuaged My Fears In Such A Way That Made Them Seem Impossible
Labor can be a scary time for a mom, even if she's already done it before. For one thing, your body is probably in pain, which sends your brain into a tizzy which in turn gets you all stressed out if you're not careful. For another, it's all lead up to birth, which isn't risk free and even under good circumstances is tough work. I was very determined not to have another c-section and deliver my daughter vaginally.
When I expressed to "N" that I was concerned I wouldn't be able to, she literally waved me away and with complete authority said, "Of course you will. Don't even think about it anymore. Just use this time to relax." Now, someone else could have said this and made me feel stupid or not heard or as though my feelings weren't being taken seriously. However, my nurse said it so matter-of-factly, with just the right balance of encouragement and dismissal, that after that I was like, "Oh. Duh. OK, yeah. Of course I can do this."
She Had Actual Conversations With Me
After a bad experience with L&D nurses for the birth of my first child, who seemed annoyed I was there, having a nurse intermittently come into my room just to check on how I was doing (not my stats or epidural: just me) made me feel awesome and well-looked after and ready to conquer anything. It was incredible to feel important and understood, and it was a great way to get to know the woman who would be crucial in bringing my baby into the world. For example, I learned...
She Was A Sports Mom
She talked about her kids and how her youngest was a high school junior starting to look at colleges. Then she casually let it drop that about 20 Division 1 schools were courting him to play football. Obviously that's something you delve into once you learn it. Apparently both her sons were big ol' sports stars and she was not only the crazy enthusiastic mom cheering them on at all their games and matches, but she was a huge sports fan herself and knew her stuff.
I have never in my life been sporty or athletic. My lack of physical ability was part of what worried me about giving birth. However, the fact that I had a bona fide sports mom, a sports mom with really accomplished kids, believing in me made my feel like a delivery room gladiator.
She Assured Me I Was Progressing Well And Rocking Labor Like A Champ
The major reason I wasn't able to deliver my first child vaginally was because, despite contracting every minute or so for hours, I never dilated past five centimeters. So, when I got stuck at eight centimeters for a while during my second labor and delivery, I was very, very nervous.
However, even when my midwife began to show a little flicker of concern, "N" assured me this was normal and that my body was working exactly the way it was supposed to. "You don't need Pitocin. You won't need another c-section. You're doing awesome."
And again I was like "Oh really? OK, great! Whew!"
She, Herself, Was Obviously A BAMF
Seriously, you couldn't be around this woman and not be impressed by her overall vibe. She was competent, kind, smart, wry, and personable without being saccharine. She exuded experience and confidence. Her belief in herself was absolutely contagious — that she took the time to get to know me, that she believed in me — enabled me to believe in myself in ways that I just didn't during my first birth.
She Complimented My Pushing
On my first "test push," both my midwife and my nurse seemed mildly and pleasantly surprised by my pushing abilities, which made me feel like the radiant daughter of She-Ra and Xena, Warrior Princess. I didn't know what I was capable of as I'd never had the chance to try it with my son, but their encouraging looks let me know I done good.
"I thought you said you weren't athletic!" they joked.
"I'm not," I replied, "but I guess my vagina is."
She Challenged Me
When my midwife encouraged me to rest and effusively assured me I was doing amazing, "N" would push me. "No, don't. You've got another one in you. You can do it! Come on, girl!"
The sports mom in her had been unleashed and had her energy directed on me and my delivery. The "good cop/bad cop" effect was tremendous and helpful and exactly what I needed.
She Literally Cheered For Me
Even though she challenged me to push when I wanted to rest and was the "bad cop," that didn't diminish her genuine enthusiasm and pride. Honestly, she should have had pom-poms. They were the only thing missing.
She Marveled At My Enormous Baby
My daughter was pretty huge; nine pounds two ounces (and two full weeks early). I won't lie, I was pretty damn impressed with myself and my athletic vagina. Turns out, "N" was too. "That is one big healthy baby girl," she assured me. Knowing someone else recognized how difficult what I'd just done gave me a deepened sense of satisfaction and pride.
She Showed Me My Placenta
I didn't even ask. Fortunately I'm not at all squeamish, because that thing is daunting. However, looking at it — this raw steak-looking temporary organ that had sustained my child for about nine months — gave me a feeling of awe. It was like, "Wow. That thing is incredible and powerful and I made it. That's super impressive. Kudos to me."
She Recapped My Birth With Me After Everyone Else Had Left
My daughter had to go up to the nursery after we had some cuddle time. My midwife and husband went with her, and it was just me and my nurse left in the room.
Have you ever watched a movie, and as soon as it's over you need to talk about it with someone? That's what birth felt like, and my nurse was the one who helped me process everything that had just happened. Even though no new information or revelatory interpretations of the events were proffered, it somehow made the whole experience feel complete.