Monday, November 24, 2008
on being born
Yesterday I explained birth to a pregnant woman.
Well, at least part of the process. Me, a guy with no kids and no chance of becoming pregnant. How, I ask myself, could I possibly be qualified to teach a pregnant woman anything about having a baby? In the past three weeks I've seen one vaginal birth and one Cesarean, and have done assessments on a few newborns and new moms. I doubt if I could even get a small part on Gray's Anatomy with that resume.
As I've mentioned here before, nursing school has thus far, for various reasons, ranged from being disappointing to discouraging to despairing. I've been disappointed in the quality of the school and of the clinical experience. I've been discouraged about not being inspired by my experiences in the hospital (although I've really enjoyed the occasions when I was able to get to know my patients). And I've felt despair at the prospect of my experience never changing, that I would never become passionate about nursing.
And then I saw my first birth.
For those who have witnessed this miracle, you know that words cannot do it justice. I've tried to describe it to friends, but it's been like trying to describe God or Goddess or maybe even chocolate. One is appropriately humbled by the attempt to get one's mind around birth, the human manifestation of creation. Sure, we can come up with all sorts of polysyllabic words to help us think we understand what's going on here, but I think we're only fooling ourselves.
It is not the understanding which inspires such awe in us, it is the feeling that comes with witnessing the phenomena of birth of which I am speaking. It is this feeling that allows us to know that something amazing and incredible and beautiful has just happened. Beyond words. Beyond art. Perhaps it is our connection to the experience of birth, our most shared experience, that has kept us from really messing things up. Perhaps, conscious or unconscious, this connection is the real source of our hope.
The power of birth isn't just about the new life of a child coming into the world. It's about the unbelievable strength and courage of the mother, bearing such pain as she has never known, and knowing the deepest of love. It's about a man learning what really matters. And it's about the love of friends and family, coming together to support this mother and welcome this baby. All of this is part of what has made my one weekend working in labor and delivery the only time I have been truly excited about becoming a nurse.
The very first patient I was with in L&D needed a cesarean section. They were clearly disappointed at this dramatic change in their birth plans, but also grateful for the technology that would be safely bringing them their baby. I worked with the Advanced Life Support (ALS) nurse, a women passionate about her job and eager to teach me. The baby was immediately brought over to us, quickly cleaned and evaluated. The father of a child born via c-section gets to see the baby before the mother, and this dad was right there with us, speaking to his child. I was amazed that dad's voice immediately caused the child to stop crying and turn in the direction of his father. Newborns cannot see, yet this child seemed to be looking right at his father, his familiar deep voice a beacon of comfort amidst the noise and lights of the OR.
Prior to starting this rotation, I had wondered if women would be comfortable having a male nursing student take part in their delivery. I remember thinking that at least I would be able to connect with the fathers. I couldn't have been more wrong. During both of the vaginal births I attended, the mothers and her family were completely welcoming and appreciative of my presence. When I left, they gave me lots of appreciation and compliments, telling me I was going to be a great nurse. But not the dads. They barely spoke to me, but I don't think it had much to do with me. They seemed to be in shock. But once that baby was in their arms, they lit up and even smiled at me.
This past Sunday a few of us sat in on a class for expecting couples. All five of the couples were having their first child, full of excitement and questions. The nurse educator led the class in exercises to try out some of the possible positions for labor and we, the nursing students, were encouraged to work with the couples during the activity. I worked with two couples, and much to my surprise and delight, was able to answer all of their questions. I felt completely comfortable and confident talking with them about the birth experience, and left knowing that I had done my little part in supporting them.
What makes all of these positive experiences even more meaningful is the fact that in one weekend I had more excitement, enthusiasm. and inspiration than in the entirety of the program up until then. I am no longer discouraged about having chosen to pursue a career in nursing, and am really looking forward to my upcoming weekends working in labor & delivery.
I used to think that the only significant way to really "make a difference" was to save a rainforest or stop a war or reverse global warming.
Who coulda known?