Having worked with obstetric, postpartum, and NICU nurses over the last couple of decades, I can honestly say that aside from the birthing/new mothers, nurses are the hardest working folks in the hospital.  I have developed amazing relationships with many of my local nurses over the years.  Honestly, having seen many a nurse catch a quick baby with skill and compassion when a doctor didn’t get there in time, I know the whole system would fall apart without the skill and compassion of nurses.

These are my top reasons for wanting to shout out my love and appreciation to nurses this National Nursing Week.

1)  Nurses tend to REALLY understand birth

Because OB nurses spend far more time with a woman in labour than other medical folks, they usually have pretty developed Spidey senses when it comes to birth,  While a new medical resident may be apt to say things like, “You were 4 cm dilated only twenty minutes ago, so according to the progress of labour charts, it’s not possible you want to push now,” a nurse will rush around preparing the room for delivery, knowing that the sounds the mother is making means Baby isn’t waiting for any chart.

I have seen doctors walk into the birthing room brusquely to ask questions of the birthing mother, and witnessed the nurse put up her hand and say, “Wait, she’s having a contraction…let it end first before talking to her.”  They get it.

2) Nurses set the tone

Nurses have immense power in the birthing/postpartum/NICU room.  When oxytocin flows in a relaxed way, birth and motherhood often unfold more smoothly.  When a nurse has respect for the birth/early parenting process and the family, no matter how the situation unfolds from a medical perspective, women often remember the FEELING of being tended to by a caring nurse. They carry that feeling in their hearts forever.  Even if the doctor on call that day is busy and doesn’t take the time to connect while they do their medical tasks, the parents don’t take it personally as long as the nurse meets the basic love and connection needs of the oxytocin besotted family.  Nurses have the opportunity to serve as the crucial emotional anchor,

Years after birth, reflecting upon their hospital experiences, my clients will go all melty and gooey when they speak of the nurse who was a kind presence in the room.   They will call her by name and use adjectives like “angelic” and “saintly” when describing her.  If nurses could only fathom the amount of love their happy patients carry for them, based on the few hours they spent together during the peak transformational experience that is the creation of a family, they would glow brightly with that beautiful sense of meaningful service.

3) Nurses are some of the hardest workers in town

Where I live, we generally do not have one on one nursing care when a woman is in labour or with her new baby.  A nurse may have two or three patients with intense needs at the same time. When things get really busy in their department, you will literally see nurses jogging from room to room.

I’m always quite amazed to see the nurses, some of them far older than I am, break apart the delivery bed and set things up with remarkable strength and speed.  As a doula, I know that supporting women in birth is a very physical job, and nurses do this ALL the time.

A nurse, in the midst of dramatic birthing or new parent/ baby moments, manages all her clinical tasks at the same time as listening to and supporting her frightened patient.  This is no easy feat.  To have head and heart engaged at the same time in the unique way nurses do, takes a level of skill I bow to.

I have also seen many nurses stay at a birth or with a tiny new patient an hour beyond their shift, because they knew their patient or little patient’s parents were attached to them.  They committed to seeing them through until things settled.  In the throes of labour or worry, many parents don’t notice their nurse is there after her shift has officially ended.  But I notice.

4)  MacGyver has nothing on nurses

If you want to be really impressed at the comfort measures that can be whipped out of thin air for in a pinch, come see a nurse in action.    I learn really cool tips from nurses constantly, like how to make a super efficient heating pad out of a wet towel and a placenta bag, or an ice pack out of an examination glove, or a peanut ball out of a stirrup and a pillow.  The fact that as a doula I carry very little with me in my bag besides  mouthwash and a change of clothes is because nurses have taught me the art of comfort measure innovation.

Where I live, supplies can often be low.  I have seen Baby’s first diaper be made out of a Chux pad and medical tape by a savvy and apologetic nurse.  I have even seen nurses think to place a blanket near a sunny window (if the blanket warmer is busted) so it will be toasty and cozy for Mom and Baby after birth.

5) Nurses are Grace under fire

When a hospital staff runs smoothly as a team and everyone gets along, this is obviously the ideal situation for everyone. But I have witnessed shabby treatment of nurses sometimes by other staff members, or by those who manage them.  And, let’s face it, not all patients are easy going and appreciative. Or, a nurse at any given moment may be reeling from a recent tragedy. As professionals, most nurses don’t let on to their patients that they’ve experienced something crappy.  They dive into their work, and hopefully process it all later. I have sometimes walked out of a birthing room to get a coffee and beheld a nurse having a private teary moment in a stairwell.

Nursing can be a high stress, high drama job at times. It can be common for people to lose their tempers when challenged.  In my experience, it is usually the nurses who do the best job of keeping their cool.  They usually manage to continue their compassionate care of their patient no matter who is acting out that day.

The moments that have touched me most as a doula in regards to nurses are when their Grace comes through in the most human of ways.  When a birth is clearly traumatic to a mother, or if a mother has experienced less than glorious treatment by other staff members, or if there is a tragedy, I have sometimes witnessed nurses enfold their patients in their loving arms and share tears of sorrow with them, honouring their patients with their silent acknowledgement of sad truths.

To all the nurses who work with birthing and new families, I bow to you in honour for what you do.  I see you as you go about your jobs, and you have my respect and regard.  May all of you be plied with wine, chocolate, massages, and love this week.  I am grateful for you.  I celebrate you.  We at MotherWit Doula Care say THANK YOU!