It’s been 19 months since I moved to Colorado. 19 months since I discovered that some people really do love going to work everyday. 19 months since I realized that being a labor nurse made ME one of those people- crazy in love with my job and sincerely grateful for it everyday.
Nursing, and more specifically labor and delivery nursing, has got to be one of the most privileged jobs there is. Would you let a stranger watch your child be born? No. Absolutely not. But you’d let me be there, as your nurse. A stranger, yes –> but your nurse. So I’m allowed, day in and day out, at one of the most important days of their, of your, lives.
Last week was nurses week.
Did you know?
Did you tell a nurse “thank you?” That’s fine. Just don’t forget to next year.
I’ll tell you a secret. I didn’t know nurses week existed until I was one. And to be honest, I kind of laughed when I learned it existed. What is one supposed to do? Hang some decorations? Make a cake? Should my husband buy me flowers? Does my career really deserve an ENTIRE WEEK of celebration?
You see, here’s the thing. People often tell me how nice it must be to have a job that doesn’t “come home with me” –> no emails, no phone calls, clock in, clock out. “Three 12 hour shifts, what a great schedule! You have so much time off!” I smile and nod my head. “Yep, it’s great.” Because on paper, it seems true. On paper, I work 36 hours a week and play every other day.
But wait. What about my heart?
If only my heart stayed at work. If only I could clock that in and out as well. THAT comes home with me, with all of us.
So I’m not so sure that I, that any of us, are ever really off the clock.
My first week on my own as a labor nurse, I helped deliver baby number two for a momma and her family. Things were perfectly normal, until they weren’t. Code blue. Code white. Sometimes, the placenta won’t come out. Sometimes that placenta literally flips that mother’s uterus inside out. So these mommas eyes roll back in their heads and they bleed and bleed and bleed, while the newborn baby cries in the warmer, a grandmother is hysterical in the corner, and a whole crash team of people arrive to help. To save. When they show up, you should be sharing information, delegating tasks. But then sometimes, your only thought is “How did we get here?” So you lock eyes with your momma, breathe with her, and command her to “Stay with me. That’s right. We’re okay. Hear him crying? He’s perfect.” You run back to the OR with her, losing circulation in the hand she clenches so tightly. And when she wakes back up, she wants you. A face she trusts. “Am I going to die?” “No, you’re okay.” You’re the only one. The only one she trusts to tell her “You’re going to be okay.” So you smile and reassure and comfort. You place that baby in her arms and watch her forget. You stay hours and hours late to fill out all the paperwork and charting involved with her emergency. Then you wish her well and drive home, and finally, the tears can flow relentlessly. Terrified of what might have been. And grateful for the chance to change it.
Sometimes, the doctor doesn’t make it to the delivery. These mommas come in to deliver baby number four, smiling, laughing, going naturally. They’re 5 cm and “It’s not so bad yet.” And for the most part, it often isn’t. They, and their bodies, have done this before. So you admit them, attach them to the monitors, and remind them three times to “Call me if you feel ANY pressure.” Then you sit at the desk, update nursery and the OB, watch that monitor and wait for the phone call. Knowing that when it happens, it will be fast. Hoping YOU make it in time. And when they call, you sprint to the room, tossing over your shoulder “I need an OB in room 252 now!” They’re complete of course, and practically crowning, and momma’s not laughing anymore. Maybe you pull a glove on, if you are lucky you get two. “Hang on, don’t push.” She ignores you. And then your brain goes quiet, and all you hear is the voice of your instructor from school years and years ago: “Deliver the head, check for a cord. If there is one, reduce it or deliver through it. Good, now deliver the shoulders.” And out that little one flies, screaming, angry, annoyed that happened so fast. The OB walks in and grins. And you shrug your shoulders, “Sorry, it happened so fast.” Yes, sometimes it does.
Months ago, I helped a family deliver their first baby boy. The parents were young, anxious, excited. Such trust though, such faith they put in me. Things were perfectly lovely, perfectly normal, from the minute I walked in the door until the minute I walked out the door. And as their little one delivered, I stood next to the bed, listening to the sweetest prayer of a terrified father, “Please Jesus, please Jesus, pleases Jesus.” I watched that terror turn to tears, to joy, to laugher. A son. He had a son. Delivered straight through those heartfelt pleas and prayers to the king. It was absolutely beautiful. So when that new dad turned to me with tears in his eyes and said, “Thank you. We couldn’t have done it without you,” I nodded, fighting back my own tears. “Of course. It truly was my pleasure.”
You see, there is so much in-between that makes this job what it is. The look between a husband and wife as they hear the first cry of their daughter, a look so full of expectation and hope that you can hardly breath from the enormity of it. The “thank God” glance between nurses as an infant, pink and screaming, delivers with 3 true knots in the cord. Your stomach growling because you skipped lunch to go running to the OR. The peace you see come over a parent’s face when they hear the steady whomp-whomp-whomp of their baby’s heartbeat. Your arm going numb from holding an “epiduralized” leg for 3 1/2 hours. The “ding-dong” tone of the machine alarms that you can’t get away from, even in your shower or bed at home. Your wet socks because a bag of water broke all over you, again. The baby announcement that shows up in your mailbox. The bone-crushing hug you get from a momma going home, empty handed, after you helped her deliver her lost little one on your shift the day before.
It’s all the in-between that we take home, that our hearts won’t let us forget.
This last month I was training a practicum student, weeks away from graduating, and absolutely certain that she wanted to be a labor nurse. Why? Because she “loved babies” and couldn’t wait to be a mother herself. That’s a huge part of it, of course. JOY. There is so much joy.
But there are some things, those in-betweens, that can’t be taught, that can’t be known, until they are done, until they are experienced. So I smiled, hugged her, and wished her well.
Yes, many of us often hear that we have “The coolest job in the world.” And I agree. I do.
But we don’t do it just because we love babies.
It’s so much more than that.