She couldn’t have been much more than 100 pounds. Just super petite. Tiny even. This was made even more apparent when compared to my extremely rotund and bloated figure. So when she said “lean your head against my chest and squeeze my hands when the pain hits,” I laughed. And then laughed again. And then the laughter walked right up to the border of hysterical, mostly because Dolph Lundgren’s voice saying “I must break you” in Rocky IV kept running through my head.
But then the pain hit. I gasped and squeezed as hard as I could as the world’s largest epidural needle penetrated where no needle had ever dared penetrate before. And suddenly, Nurse Itty McLittle turned into a rock made of steel and Ryan Reynold’s abs.
Yet her voice suddenly took on the soothing murmur of a grandmother comforting a toddler with a boo-boo knee.
“You’re doing great. It’s almost over. Almost there. You’re doing fantastic, Momma.”
That’s when it hit me. No matter what happened from here on out with the birth of my first child, I was in very good hands. The very good, freakishly strong hands of a caring nurse.
And for the first time in a long time, I felt like I was going to get through this in one piece.
Bringing a life into this world, and the aftermath of that birth, whether you did it the old-fashioned way or via a cesarean, is absolutely brutal. We’re not supposed to admit this, of course. Not in our society. Oh no. Women are supposed to have an 8-pound human exit their body and then continue on their day as if nothing happened (and God help you if you aren’t back to your pre-pregnancy weight the second they cut that umbilical cord). Nevermind that your body has been stretched to the limit physically, mentally and emotionally. Nevermind that you haven’t slept, haven’t ate, haven’t been able to take a pain-free breath. Nevermind that when you tell the lactation specialist, with giant crocodile tears in your eyes, that there is a large amount of blood in your breastmilk when you pump, and her response is “oh, don’t worry, the blood won’t hurt the baby,” and your response is “that wasn’t my concern.” No. Nevermind all that.
It’s time to get over it. You’re a mom now.
I mean, it’s not like you’re a man with cold. Back to work, lady.
Part of the blame for this falls on our society in general, which has made it clear time and time again that we don’t necessarily value mothers or what they do. But another big chunk is simply that when you have a baby, everything becomes about the baby. You, your partner, your parents, your in-laws. All of your collective concern is on the baby. It is tiny. It is fragile. And even though you’ve only known it for 30 seconds, you all love it with such devotion that you would die if anything happened to it.
They’re miracles. Our own personal miracles.
How can a bloody and broken and stretched and exhausted mom body compare to that?
It can’t. Except when it came to the nurses. They’re the ones who saw me. In all the chaos, they saw me. They saw my bloody, broken, stretched, exhausted body and they took care of me.
They, for lack of a better word, mommed me.
This was especially apparent with my second baby. Because when you are a mom, it doesn’t matter if you have another child’s head emerging from your vagina at that exact moment. Your toddler will still ask you to get him some juice.
So when, after getting someone else a cup of juice no less than 1,672 times, someone asks you if YOU’D like some juice? It’s enough to make a crazy hormonal, homicidally sleep-deprived new mom cry tears of joy.
Of course, none of this is to discount what my husband and my mom and my mother-in-law did for me during this time. All three went above and beyond to take care of me, the baby, my older son, my ridiculously needy, neurotic dog and our quirky home with its weird windows and very vocal refrigerator.
I also had a fantastic doctor who got me from Point A to Point “Get This Thing The Hell Out Of Me” with grace and humor and competence.
But it was the nurses, oftentimes working quietly in the background, that need to have the spotlight shined on them.
So many of us new mothers feel we can’t complain or even acknowledge the amount of pain we are in because the gift we get in return is so much greater. And that’s where the nurses swoop in with their invisible superhero capes. They take care of us without us ever having to ask. They know we need tender, loving care even if we don’t.
It takes a special kind of person to be a nurse, I think. The kind of person who you can meet and within 90 seconds has you comfortable enough with them that you let them help you pee. The kind of person who makes you feel like you are their only patient, when in reality they are overworked, underpaid and haven’t had time to go to the bathroom themselves since 8 a.m.
I realize that for my nurses I was likely just another patient that day. But to me, they made all the difference. Their smiles, their gentle hands, their patience, their laughter, their reassurances, their ability to answer my god-awfully stupid first-time parent questions without a single eyeroll. They are how I survived those utterly terrifying first days of motherhood.
So to all the nurses out there, I want to thank you for seeing me. And I want you to know that I see you and all you do.
I see you.
And while I’ll forever be grateful to my wonderful and highly skilled doctor for bringing my children into this world, I’ll forever be grateful to every nurse who graced my hospital room door for bringing me back to life.