To the labor & delivery nurse who was with us during the birth of our daughter:
I was a first-time mom and you knew I was terrified.
You also knew that I was in the throes of contractions so intense that I couldn’t tell you how much I was freaking out.
It was only 24 hours before that I packed my hospital bag, proud of myself for preparing so far in advance. After all, this baby wasn’t supposed to come for another three weeks. But I was just told by a different triage nurse that I was 8 centimeters dilated and could start birthing this baby within minutes.
All that was running through my head was, “Ring of fire… need epidural… I’m going to die.”
But you kept your cool as you directed the swarm of nurses that entered the room to prep me for what was ahead. You acted like this was no big deal… and since I couldn’t tell you in the moment, I want to tell you now that it was your cool confidence that quieted my fears.
Even though I wasn’t prepared, you were.
I remember nodding my head as much as I could when you asked me if I wanted an epidural. You introduced me to the anesthesiologist and then carefully pulled me up to a sitting position. Then you lifted each of my arms around your shoulders, leaning into the weight I had no choice but to put on you. The contractions were coming every two minutes and I had no strength to sit up on my own.
I began to shake uncontrollably and I got really cold. I was feeling pain I had never felt before. But all I could do was endure. I couldn’t talk to say how vulnerable and scared and weak I felt—yet you somehow anticipated all of it. I can still see your face—confident and compassionate, focused on me but glancing at the contraction monitor. And I can still hear your voice in my ear: “You are doing so, so good! Hey, it’s normal to shake like this, don’t worry!… I know you are cold, we will get you comfortable soon… Breathe with me, there you go, you’re doing great. Slow deep breaths, we’re almost there… You are rocking this! OK, give me two more contractions and you won’t feel any more… One more… Last one….”
And just like that, the pain was gone. My only reaction was amazement—how did you know that?! And how did you know to answer the questions that I couldn’t ask?
After extra blankets and ice chips and tons of pre-push questions, you walked me through how delivery would work. Heck, you and the doctor helped me practice pushing! You made sure I understood everything that was about to happen—and then the main event arrived.
When I was starting to become faint after 45 minutes of pushing, you smoothed my hair back before putting the oxygen mask on my face. You taught my husband how and when to jump in—and all of a sudden, you two were my biggest cheerleaders.
When you sensed that I was starting to feel overwhelmed, you advocated for me, telling the doctor that I needed to take a quick break. And when my baby girl was close, you encouraged me to go beyond what I thought I was capable of doing.
Simply put, you weren’t just my nurse.
You were my friend, my coach, my therapist, my guide, the family member we didn’t know we had.
You calmed my fears and endured with me through my pain—and then you pushed me to go past both. You cooed with me as I laid eyes on my little girl for the very first time. You were the first person, save my husband, to tell my daughter that she’s beautiful. You celebrated and hugged me—and then got me a sandwich because you knew I was starving. The best sandwich I’ve ever eaten.
I know you do this job day in and day out. I know that you are on your feet for hours on end and you have a ton of procedures and protocols and methods to follow. It’s probably so tempting to live by charts and treat parents like exam room numbers, especially at 3 am.
You deal with women in labor—and we are not a lovely bunch. It’s messy, it’s chaotic and sometimes it’s scary. You have probably been sworn and yelled at by the very women you are trying to help. You’ve had to explain why the birth plan isn’t going to work or do your best to support a medical decision you don’t agree with. You work under pressure among panicked parents who just want to know if their baby is okay. You have to go from comforting a mother whose baby was stillborn to celebrating with a first-time mom, maybe even in a matter of minutes.
You not only treat the body, you treat the soul.
You may not remember my name, but I remember yours. I remember how you told us that you made sure to take your break before I started to push so you could be there for it. I remember how you smiled and celebrated with us when our daughter was born. I remember how you anticipated all my needs and addressed them before I knew to ask. I remember.
Thank you for the incredible work you do and how tirelessly you do it.
When I look back on the amazing memories I cherish about the birth of my daughter, you are there as a quiet background player who was actually the one who made it all possible.
Thank you for being with my husband and me on one of the greatest days of our life together. It would not have been the same without you.
A version of this post originally appeared on April 26, 2016. It has been updated.