Since I work at a very large urban hospital here in Dallas, people often ask me if I know a friend or relative who is also employed there, like there is some kind of hospital-wide nurse coffee date program where I mingle with nurses from all floors and disciplines. I usually barely even consider the name, not out of insensitivity, but because most likely out of the thousands of people who work there I don’t know this person. If they work in trauma, it’s likely. If they work in surgery, it’s possible. But then someone asks me about a labor and delivery nurse and I jokingly reply, “oh no, they are from a completely different side of the world.”
In hospital terms, my trauma intensive care unit is as distant from the world of babies and breastfeeding as it could possibly be. We don’t see the same kinds of patients, we don’t have any nursing common interest except basic human pathophysiology (which we share even with the psych people) and we are in totally different towers of the hospital. And on those rare occasions when I do encounter someone from those mystical few upper floors, it is for some catastrophic patient who required a total hysterectomy and massive blood transfusions and resuscitation. Needless to say, we aren’t introducing ourselves and exchanging credentials in this scenario. In a few words, no, I do not know your friend, although thank you for asking.
But even though I have never stepped foot onto those floors, never cared for a laboring patient, and honestly still feel somewhat awkward holding my friend’s children, I have now found myself smack in the middle of the baby world by experience. Since the moment that plastic stick said “pregnant,” I’ve been suddenly inundated with the world of pregnancy and childbirth and found myself completely overwhelmed.
On one hand, I was completely (and unknowingly) ignorant. Whenever you tell someone you’re pregnant, whether that’s your physician or your mom or the check-out person at Trader Joe’s, everyone has a piece of invaluable advice, the diamond-in-the-rough of pregnancy that you cannot live without. Heed my words carefully and memorize them because this one thing will save you. This specific swing or this book or this food to avoid indigestion. It’s like the underground railroad of communication, like no one has figured it out the way they have and you’ll be desperately lost if you don’t register for these five life-saving products.
So I eat all this advice up, jotting down notes in my phone for a book to read, a blog to peruse or a tip to remember. And it quickly becomes a vast mountain of electronically stored information that seems random and disjointed because at ten weeks, I had not investigated my parenting strategies yet. And more than that, how much was I expected to know about the world of pregnancy before I got pregnant, especially being a nurse? What exactly are the expectations of my knowledge at different stages of my pregnancy? What should already be routine to me as a nurse, even though I have not seen a baby being delivered since nursing school? What the heck is the difference in all these strollers that look identical to me?? If you could see inside my mind, it’s somewhat of a comedy of errors that cycles back and forth between complete confusion and rabid internet consumer investigation. Because I am not going to gamble my crib mattress decision on the fifteen year-old Target employee’s advice.
On the other hand, I did have some experience working in labor and delivery as a nursing student: a whole month of shifts during my last semester of nursing school in fact, and that provided me with a deceiving amount of pride (that was immediately squashed by the influx of baby-related questions). In school I had seen a C-section, a vaginal delivery and even a STAT c-section. What more could there be to it? How hard could it be when women do it everyday across the world in a grass hut with nothing but a dirty towel and absolutely no hand sanitizer. What essential keys could I possibly be missing for an activity that is as vintage as Adam and Eve? HOW HARD COULD IT BE?
So I slacked on voracious reading in my first trimester, mostly due to the fact that I was physically asleep the majority of the twenty-four daily hours, and trusted that my innate nursing compass would lead me in the right direction towards the scenario where I have an effortless labor, a healthy baby, and butterflies floating around my perfectly sweat-less head. The OB would ask me what questions I had and I would simply shrug, not yet worried about making a decision about cord blood banking or epidurals. I simply wanted to know if we could still travel to Italy at the end of my first trimester and was it normal for me to cry because someone honked at me at a stoplight.
But as soon as I recovered from the foreign and uncomfortable world of nausea (those six letters cannot begin to contain the range of experiences listed under that title), I realized the epic and infinite amount of information at my fingertips and how much knowledge I lacked, even as a nurse. Just because everyone puts in an IV the same way did not mean that I knew what to expect for labor or how to care for an infant. Simply because I had seen a handful of labor experiences did not indicate that I knew a single thing about how the process will go depending on whatever situation I end up in for my delivery. I bow to you L&D nurse and repent of my pride. I admit there is more to it than verbal encouragement and listening to fetal heart tones.
Since then, I’ve started stalking my friends who have recently had kids and those who I distantly know are labor and delivery nurses. I want some kind of reassurance that I won’t be completely inept as a mother and I won’t freak out during labor causing them all to look at me like the crazy ICU nurse who knows just enough to be too much. Looks like there’s a lot more to it than pushing and cutting and swaddling.
Thankfully, I’m not alone. Every first time mother has told me of similar reactions and panic attacks and their children are alive and healthy. And I’m still banking on my internal, female mama-bear instincts to help me out when the time comes. Despite my initial pride, I’ve been humbled to a new level of ignorance that cannot be founded upon my nurse abilities to participate in a code without an ounce of anxiety or do six beside procedures in one shift. Yes, we’re going to go to the childbirth preparation class that I initially thought would be absolutely superfluous. Yes, I’ve started reading and asking my doctor in-depth questions about birthing scenarios. And yes, I’ve gained a whole new level of respect for those nurses who navigate the intricacies of the “baby side of the world” and I’m sure that will only vastly increase when I actually go through the whole labor experience. Looks like I’ll be a writing a “Part Two” to this post in four months.
In the end, I will be changed. I will be completely and utterly transformed because of this tiny human who will enter the world with my tears of joy and an entire waiting room busting with family members. I will be a better friend because I can relate to people in another gigantic and universal way. I will be a better daughter, daughter-in-law, granddaughter, sister, and wife because I can now step into another set of life shoes. And I will be a better nurse because not only will I have gained a valuable perspective of an area I had previously essentially ignored, but I will also have a deeper respect for those nurses who (literally) keep the patients alive and coming.
In the meantime, feel free to contribute your diamond-in-the-rough piece of advice and I promise to faithfully google until I have a sufficient answer. Third trimester here we come…