When first-time mothers make plans for labor, it’s a bit like planning on chaos. There’s only so much you can actually control. It’s a vulnerable time, fraught with anticipation, wonder, and most of the time, some amount of fear about the awesome changes our body will go through. You’re also planning on being very dependent on a woman you don’t know to take care of you. You hope she’ll be nice, skilled, easy to hang out with and compassionate. She’s your labor nurse.
Labor nurses know this and a big part of our job is helping mothers deal with these big changes. We have our medical skills, sure, but the biggest part of our job comes from our bag of emotional tools. Compassion is essential. We empathize with what our patients are going through. We’re honored to be included and we’re grateful when our patients are open to receiving our help. It’s a tougher day all around when the nurse can’t find her compassion and the patient can’t accept it.
We’re so tickled when our patients thank us for doing our job. Sure, we’re paid to provide our services but still, it’s exhausting work. In addition to the physical and mental toll it takes on us, we can get really worn out emotionally sometimes. There have been too many shifts to count where I come home at the end of the day feeling like a completely wrung out sponge. Sometimes, it’s hard to find the compassion we need to take care of a particularly difficult patient. When that happens, we turn to our coworkers for support. The encouragement we give each other to keep on keeping on is vital.
When one of our patients goes to the effort to give us special thanks, it fills our sponge back up and makes it easier to take care of the next patient. Sometimes all it takes are those two simple words: Thank you. Sometimes that thanks comes in a box of donuts for the unit. Sometimes it’s a card and once in a while, it’s a batch of cookies that arrives months after the birth with a picture and a note. We love that. It’s like a nice surprise that comes out of nowhere and more often than not, at exactly the right time—right when we need a little compassion of our own.
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It’s happened more than once that I’ve found myself working on fumes in my compassion tank. Patients have been especially challenging. Family responsibilities have been particularly demanding. I’ve been exhausted and drained. And yet, I still have a job to do and every patient deserves to be treated really, really, well.
When that oh-so-tired day came, it often was greeted by a thank-you present from either one of my own patients or just as often, from another nurse’s patient. I’d walk into the break room and there was a cake or a few bags of chips with a note that said, “Thank you for taking care of me.” That bit of gratitude filled my compassion tank back up and I was able to give that day’s patient a little more than I might have been able to otherwise. It’s a “pay it forward” thing.
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My suggestions for a thank you present for your nurse are these: Simple words, simple deeds, no cash or expensive gifts and maybe, something she can share with her coworkers.
We’ve received good coffee beans to brew up in the middle of the night when we just can’t see how we’ll stay awake until the morning shift comes. We’ve received bowls of fresh fruit and boxes of candy. Most of all, we've received thank you notes. Really, that’s enough and so appreciated. It’s even better when there’s a picture of the baby or maybe a shot with the labor nurse and the parents.
We understand though, that sometimes, the only thing a family can manage is to just say “thanks.” Believe me, that’s plenty. Your gratitude helps us provide compassion. Thank you.
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