A black-and-white image taken through a doorway went viral. It shows the knees of a woman, sitting, and in front of her is a nurse, kneeling down and helping her step into a pair of underwear.
The first woman just gave birth, and the second is her labor nurse.
When I first saw the photo, taken by @MommaKT Shoots, I nearly began to cry. I’m not in the hormonal morass of being immediately post-partum, or the existential angst of watching my last child go off to college. No, I’m still smack in the middle of raising kids, with a 6-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son.
But that photo slid me all the way back to the moments immediately before and after their births, when I was at my most terrified, my most vulnerable, maybe my happiest, and, on many levels, my most taken care of.
And I credit my labor nurses, both times, on all the shifts. They were quiet when I was anxious, moved quickly when I was in need, spoke softly when I was scared. They were competent and confident and the way they managed me and the room and the baby meant that all I had to do was worry about getting from point A to point B – the one with the baby.
Both times I had to be induced for low amniotic fluid, and both times I hoped to make it all the way through without an epidural – the thought of not being able to feel my legs scared me too much. My nurses were beyond helpful – they had me walk the halls, they helped untangle my IV, they helped me out of my clothes when I insisted on keeping them on, more modest at the start than I’ll ever be again. They let me come into this new life on my own terms, as much as I could, and did everything to make me comfortable.
Things you wouldn’t imagine.
One of them put my hair in a ponytail for me, when I couldn’t think straight enough to do it myself.
Made sure I ate something while I still could.
Dried me off as I stood there helplessly, waves of contractions with every step from the bathtub back to the birthing ball. At first, she handed me a towel. I just looked at her.
“Can you just do it,” I asked.
And she did. I can’t remember her name. But I remember how gentle she was, how dignified I still felt, as I stood there like a child while a stranger took care of me.
When I begged for the epidural, they didn’t judge me. And when it was too late to get it, both times, they held my hand.
When I turned to one and said, “I thought this medicine was supposed to take the edge off,” she just replied, softly, “It did.”
That’s just how things escalate. But because of her ability to be so calm, I didn’t escalate. And that was the real gift of my labor nurses. They took the terrifying and made it seem normal.
Because of that, I was able to believe in the wonder of giving birth, focus on being transformed from a woman expecting a baby to a new mom, or to a mom of two. These women fought for me, helped me learn how to nurse a baby, helped me learn how to do the very first things in a very new life.
So when I saw that photo, that nurse kneeling on the floor, looking gently up at the face of a new mom, a face I couldn’t see but I could feel, because I’ve been there, I wanted to weep with gratitude.
I can’t imagine how difficult their jobs are – especially when things take a turn or there are circumstances they can’t predict, outcomes nobody wants. Not every labor and delivery goes as well as mine. I know that.
But I also know that the memories I have of those two days are made so beautiful in large part because of these women, who were unobtrusive yet confident and competent, kind and gentle. Because they did their job, I could do mine.
So thank you, for allowing me the moments of raw emotion, of bliss, of pure love.
You were more than a witness, you were part of the reason.