“But we had this for dinner LAST night” the five year old says. My joke with the nine year old falls flat because he’s too busy sighing over his lack of clean socks. “That’s IT!” I tell my husband with a wink, “I’m running away from home and going to work where I’m appreciated!”
I’m one of the luckiest nursing students in the world. By day I drown in books and deadlines and elementary school paperwork and laundry, but by night I work as a CNA at the birth center of my local hospital. I know, while the little efforts at home might go unnoticed, no small kindness is missed by our patients.
We tuck those small kindnesses into our hearts and carry them around, forever grateful.
As a young first time mom I was lying in a military hospital room staring at a pepto bismal pink wall and a broken television. I was waiting for what I was pretty sure was The Best Baby Ever to be Born after The Most Painful Delivery Any Human had Ever Withstood to come back from the nursery, where a tech had taken him for his 2am vitals. The door finally creaked open, and the young tech pushed my sweet baby back to me. He began to leave, and then turned back. He looked at the bassinet. “He really is a cute little dude,” he said before closing the door.
Nine years later I can’t quite remember the exquisite pain of unmedicated childbirth or the sound of that baby’s perfect first cry...but I remember the tech—An Expert in Newborns, mind you–telling me that my baby was cute. It affirmed every suspicion I had that my baby was the best baby ever. And in those days of rollercoaster hormones and constant feedings and sleep deprivation, I held that gem of praise and encouragement tight. It’s been nine years and I haven’t dropped it.
My story is one of so very many.
Jenn Osario never thinks of breastmilk without thinking of the nurse whose words encouraged her through the long days of pumping for her twins in the NICU. “When your milk comes in and you refrigerate it, you’ll see the cream settle at the top,” the nurse told Jenn.
I was totally ready to give up on pumping and I remember opening the fridge to bring what milk I had pumped that night to the NICU for the girls and there it was, the cream on the top. It’s silly, but it really helped encourage me to keep pumping.
The nurse was very calming and said “You seem to be doing great and you really aren’t feeling any pain, why don’t you just wait and I will check in on you.” She told me if I felt like pushing or my water broke to call her. I was like, “Yeah, okay… that isn’t going to happen.” Two minutes later my water broke and I was desperate to push. She rushed in and checked me and I was 9.5 cm. I was totally freaking out (exactly what I was trying to avoid) and she was very good with helping me breathe and wait the few minutes for the doctor to arrive and fully dilate. Two rounds of contractions and two pushes and Dallon was born.
I was so grateful that she was in tune with what was needed rather than just going with whatever I wanted to make her job easy. I attribute that entire birth experience to her and every time I talk or think about his birth, she is in the forefront of my mind and I say a little thank you to her each and every time.
After a long labor Melissa Scholten-Gutierrez gave birth to a baby with low blood sugar who was more interested in sleeping than eating. The doctor wanted to give the newborn formula, but Melissa wanted to establish breastfeeding. The doctor threatened a NICU admission and IV feedings. Melissa’s nurse proposed a compromise between physician and patient—allow the baby to breastfeed first and then top that off with a formula feeding.
She told me that she would try to help me find a way to do it that would really foster our breastfeeding relationship. She spent a lot of time with us over my son’s next few feedings helping us find a way to get him to wake up enough to nurse, and then a way to get him to take the formula. At shift change, she made sure that we had another nurse that would be supportive.
Ultimately, this nurse helped me make it through a very stressful first three days, and allowed me to have confidence in my ability to breastfeed. (Of note, my son was a great nursling and still loves it at 16 months. And, I wound up having an oversupply and was able to donate to four other babies!)
Earlier this summer my sister-in-law, pediatrician Dr. Heather Henne, delivered two of the most perfect baby girls ever to be born. (I might be a tiny bit biased. Except that they really are.) Early in the day Heather confessed to her labor nurse at the University of Washington Medical Center that she was nervous about pushing. The nurse had recently given birth, and shared her own experience with what effective pushing felt like.
Listening to her story made it possible for me to visualize my own experience and gave me so much confidence. In fact, when the obstetrician asked if I wanted to try a couple of practice pushes I agreed, but felt like it wasn’t even necessary. I felt like I’d already worked through it with the nurse by hearing her experience. It was incredibly generous of her to share her own personal story instead of just saying “some patients find that this works” or “many patients feel this way”—making it personal made it real to me.
Heather’s positive experiences continued into the postpartum unit where her nurse’s proactive approach made her more comfortable and confident in her first days as a new mom.
My nurse knew what I needed before I needed it. And I don’t just mean the Q6 Motrin, but things that I wasn’t even thinking about showering. She asked me if I wanted to take a shower and it hadn’t occurred to me to take one so soon after delivery, but it was amazing. It was the best shower of my life. It made me feel so much better. It was incredible to have someone there who was not only with you, but two steps ahead of you. She knew what I needed before I knew what I needed, and she was so right about it all. I had been nursing the girls individually, but she suggested and helped me to do a tandem feed. Never in my imagination did I think I would be tandem nursing on day one in the hospital. That suggestion meant that when I went home I felt so much more successful and confident because I had tried tandem feeding in the hospital and wasn’t just doing it on my own.”
So as I walk into work every night, I do so with a smile. I’ll never know what it is that sticks with a new mom, but each shift is an opportunity to pass on a kindness that will glow bright through many sleepless nights.
While pregnant with her first child and serving in the Air Force as an aircraft maintenance officer, Traci dreamed of returning to school and eventually becoming a Certified Nurse Midwife. A decade later, Traci is finally in nursing school and is delighted to be working as a CNA at the Birth Center of Penrose St Francis Hospital in Colorado Springs.