My labor and delivery nurse, Vanessa, should be canonized. It's no secret that labor and delivery (L&D) nurses are among the best people there are, but mine in particular deserves sainthood status. I was about to place my son for adoption, but he had to come out of me first, and honestly, I couldn't have given birth without my labor and delivery nurse, and I certainly couldn't have asked for a kinder woman by my side than Vanessa. Once the doctor told me they'd be inducing me, Vanessa stepped in, politely and quietly pointing at the spot on my chart that said "Placing Baby for Adoption" and asking if I'd need anything special. "No," I said, "there's nothing different you need to do."
"So you wanna hold the baby when he comes out, everything?"
"Yup," I said. "You can just treat me like any other mom." And she did. She cracked jokes as she stuck me with a needle, saying, "I like to make the mommies laugh." (My needle-phobic friend Emily responded from the corner, "I like not passing out, so I'll just be over here.")
Vanessa called me "Mommy" all day and she had silly names for everything. My butt was my "boom boom." If she needed me to lift my butt, she'd say, "OK Mommy, boom boom up." My butt could also be referred to as my "goodies"; as I walked to the bathroom with my gown open in the back, she said, "Mommy, your goodies are hanging out." "I know," I told her.
Can I ask you a personal question?" Vanessa asked me as I reeled with pleasure from my new drugs. I told her she could. "Why are you giving your baby up for adoption?"
She was patient with my impatience when I decided it was epidural time. She stood against my knees during the epidural so my legs wouldn't jerk too much from the shock, squeezing my hands and breathing with me, whispering, "You're doing so good, Mommy." No one could be in the room with me for the epidural (I had a coterie of friends camped out in the hospital lobby who tagged in and out of my room), so when the epidural technician left, it was just the two of us. "Can I ask you a personal question?" Vanessa asked me as I reeled with pleasure from my new drugs. I told her she could.
What I said was, "It's complicated." Which was true. What also was true was, "I'm more broke than I've ever been in my life because I defaulted on two student loans and three credit cards and the baby daddy isn't in the picture and I'm a theatre artist and I can't afford to not live with roommates and I've thought about this decision really, super hard and found a really great gay couple for my son to live with so that's why." I just couldn't really articulate all that in the moment. But I hastily added to my two-word answer, "It's an open adoption, though. I'll still get to see him."
"Well, that's good," she said. "As long as he knows you, and he knows his mommy was a good person, and educated and everything, and she just had to make a hard decision. You're just too nice of a person for him not to know you."
I repeated the words over in my head: You're too nice of a person for him not to know you.
When my little boy came out, Vanessa was the one who cut the cord. She was there when I held my son for the first time and fell completely in love with him.
I don't know if I said anything to that. I was all sleepy-peaceful-cozy from the epidural, so I took a nap; it was the one time all day I was alone. The sky was technicolor blue outside my window, which was on the tenth floor with a pretty great view of Hell's Kitchen. I know that I felt peaceful. I know that I was grateful that this woman who had only known me half a day had, on some level, seen me. That she wasn't judging me, she just thought it'd be a shame for my son not to know his nice mommy. Her words lived in me quietly all day even as I got distracted by other things: a rapidly dilating cervix, three hours of pushing, vomiting from pain.
Vanessa stayed two hours past the end of her shift to meet my baby. She squeezed my hand through all three hours of pushing and whispered quietly in my ear, "Push, mommy, you've got to push," while Emily and my doula squeezed my other hand and pushed my chin to my chest with every push. When my little boy came out, Vanessa was the one who cut the cord. She was there when I held my son for the first time and fell completely in love with him.
And then we said goodbye. I was wheeled over to recovery and attended by new nurses, all of whom were very nice and competent, but none of whom were Vanessa. The next few months were a tornado of grief, tempered by the love and support of my friends. I thought I'd never see Vanessa again, though I thought about her all the time.
But two years later, when a clip of me talking about the day my son was born was featured on Upworthy (wherein I asserted that Vanessa deserved sainthood), an acquaintance got in touch:
Hi, Mariah, I just saw your Upworthy video. I work with Vanessa. She should be canonized. Can I share the video with her? I think she would be very touched to know you remembered her.
Soon I had an email from Vanessa, telling me how proud she was of me and that she sent blessings to me and the baby and his adoptive family. I exploded with love and tears. I was so happy she remembered me. I still couldn't quite tell her how much her words had meant to me, but I sent her a gushing email back:
It's so wonderful to hear from you. Thank you so much for writing! I always wanted to send you a thank you letter or something... but I didn't know your last name, and I thought, what if there's more than one Vanessa? and I never sent it. But here we are. God has brought us together, and so now I can finally say — thank you. Thank you so much for your warmth and kindness that day. For staying late to meet Leo. For the love and generosity that you clearly bring to your job and your patients on a daily basis, but which I was fortunate enough to receive that day. You were a huge part of making that day one of the best days of my life. My eyes are filling with tears as I write this. I'm just so grateful that I met you. Thank you for being a bright shining light. I love you and I thank God for you. Thank you for writing me!
Not long after that, I visited her at the hospital and gave her a humongous hug. "I'm still taking care of the mommies and wiping the boom booms," she said, and I told her that was the best news I'd ever heard. And a few months later, when I performed my solo show about becoming a birth mother, she climbed six flights of stairs to see it.
I will never, ever forget this woman or the power of her words. The world needs more Vanessas: selfless, gentle, loving souls who just want everyone to be OK, and are willing to wipe the boom booms in the process. Thank you, Vanessa. Thank you.