In the Room
by Izzie Roepke
I glance down the hall in passing and stop, turn back to look again. I see a pair of legs sticking out of the closet that opens between the room and the hallway. The closet is meant to give the patient privacy; to allow us to empty trash and change linens without actually going into the room. The top half of the body is in the closet, someone peering into this patient’s room. I hear the whispered voice on a cell phone “Yes, she’s in labor, I’m not supposed to go in the room. It is killing me to be out here!” Hearing me approach the woman turns her head, leans out of the closet, and glances at me. Then, without missing a beat, unashamedly goes back into the closet. Her daughter is about to give birth in that room, and she is not going to miss a second. Her daughter is hoping for an intimate birthing experience with only her husband in the room to share it. This mother, soon to be grandmother, reminds me yet again of the opportunity I get to share in one of the most vulnerable, intimate, and memorable experiences of a person’s life. I get to be in the room.
I am a labor and delivery nurse, a caregiver. A silent party, as available or scarce as needed, wanted, or warranted. I hold legs, apply pressure, console, reassure. My job is to encourage women through their birthing experience, whatever that may be. I have breathed through every contraction with a mother during a natural labor with dim lights, soft music, encouraging words; I have pulled the cords out of the wall hell bent for the operating room when a baby went downhill during labor. I have wept in the rooms of mothers who have lost their babies, held fussy newborns during the night when exhausted mamas needed a few precious minutes of sleep. I often come home exhausted myself.
It’s good to be reminded of the opportunity that I have. Sometimes it feels like too much. Too much to take care of my kids at home, to cook and clean and cuddle, and then get ready for the long night ahead of me. To don scrubs and stethoscope and pack dinner for my 12 hour shift that sometimes stretches to 13 or 14 hours. I feel weary before it even begins.
And yet, fulfilled. I am part of the beginning of their journey into parenthood. Teaching the very basics of changing diapers, burping and swaddling, and watching the emotional and overwhelming realization on every new parents face at what lies ahead. Being a part of this is why I can leave my house while my own babies eat dinner, take their bath, read books and say prayers before going to sleep. Why I can work long hours into the moonlit night, and try to sleep when the sun is shining high in the sky. Knowing how much I love my own inspires me to care for others.
One stormy morning at 4 AM a nurse wheeled a patient through our doors. Screaming and gripping the armrests, the woman braced herself through a contraction. When she was safely in bed between contractions she latched onto my arm, looked into my eyes, and demanded an epidural. After a quick check I knew the baby would come quite possibly before the doctor. Knowing there was little time, I avoided the question and encouraged her breathing, while others rapidly gathered warm blankets and a delivery tray. The woman continued to scream, demanding an epidural, desperate and frantic from the pain. She latched onto me and gave birth to her baby minutes after the doctor arrived. I will never forget the raw beauty of that pain, fierce and wild, that brought her baby into the world. When I returned the next day for my shift and walked into her room, she met my eyes. Holding her son in her arms, she apologized for how she acted, for her screaming and demands. I was completely taken aback. There is something sacred and real about a birth, for everyone to experience in their own way. It is a privilege to witness it, however it takes form. It’s my job to keep the mamas and the babies safe the best that I can. Everything else is details, moments that belong to the mother and those privileged few who get to be a part of it.
As I walk down the hall to my patient’s room I am intercepted again by another soon to be grandmother; I am reminded. “You’re the one!” she tells me with a huge teary smile. “Take good care of my babies!” And I do, just like I take care of mine.