Career Confidential: The Maternity Ward Nurse
What really goes down inside the delivery rooms of one of New York City's top hospitals? Grandmothers fight, Orthodox Jews can't look at their wives, and celebrities are not allowed to build out private suites, one nurse tells Amy Odell.
Our hospital is well-known, so if your baby has any issues your care gets transferred to us. We get a lot of 50-year-old women who have done IVF, and if you can afford IVF you’ve obviously got income, but probably 40 to 50 percent of the people that come in to have babies are very poor. We get a lot of Dominican women who are fresh off the boat, here just to have their baby. If you are foreign and your baby’s born here, the baby’s a citizen and she’ll be able to get the benefits of WIC and food stamps and stuff — WIC is a very basic program where you can get bread, milk, eggs and baby formula at certain grocery stores.
Some of the poorest of the poor who come in are just so expectant because their cousin told them, “You go to this hospital and they’ll treat you so well if something happens to the baby,” so they think they don’t have to put any effort into being kind and you’re just going to coddle them.
I learned the hard way not to assume anything about the family members. You see one who looks very young and you say, “Oh is that your sister, is that your cousin?” And: “No, that’s my mom.” That’s the norm for them. They get pregnant and they get excited and they’re 17, and people come in with balloons to celebrate.
You get baby daddy drama sometimes — the boyfriend is there while she’s delivering and the husband will be downstairs. I haven’t had that patient but I’ve seen security guards brought in to prevent fighting in the delivery room.
The mother-in-laws, I’ve seen them fighting in there. The women giving birth use this moral support nonsense, and they have everyone from their cousin to their father in the delivery room — when a woman’s got a bunch of people, we joke that the superintendent of the apartment building is in there with her. Why do you need your second cousin who happened to be in the area? Wait until the baby’s out or until you’re home. It’s such an intimate process and they don’t respect it.
The nurse decides how many people you can have. I like to keep it to three. But it depends on if they’re quiet and not asking dumb questions, or my mood that day.
Other people go through IVF, cycle after cycle. So when the fetus finally takes, as you can imagine if you’ve been trying so hard, you’re going to really, really cherish it. So they’re angry and psychotic. They’re very hard to deal with because they’re the ones who ask you questions and it’s in one ear out the other — you turn around and they ask you the same question again. They’re so frantic.
And the people with money, they’re entitled: “I’m rich, do this for me.” We’re there to take care of you and your child but we’re not your servants. And you do get some very lovely patients, too. We have a lot of celebrities. The thing Beyoncé did with building a suite and all that nonsense, that would not have flown in my hospital. Maybe they took the path of least resistance and went to the hospital that was willing to accommodate them.
But all of them want all this coddling from their husbands and us. And we get it, the woman’s in labor, it’s painful — you don’t want a husband there flipping through TV. But then they expect me to jump on board with it but that’s not my job. That’s not my fucking wife. I’m not rubbing her feet. If I’m asked to rub her back or something, I’m like I’ll get you a pillow and your husband’s here. Honestly I’m not going to massage your back — it’s insane. I’m not your doula or your midwife. Pass.
The religious Jews tend to be difficult. Sometimes they come in with their whole gowns because if they’re really, really religious they can’t expose their skin to their husbands and you can’t work with those things in the delivery room, and they don’t get it! So it’s like, can you relinquish that shit for now so I can take care of you? They can’t expose their arms to their husbands so obviously the vagina is like a whole new level.
We had a patient the other day, very very Orthodox — he wouldn’t even make eye contact with his own wife. He would come in with his head down, staring at the floor — he probably couldn’t even describe me, always staring at the floor. I never once saw him look at her. He was on the other side of the curtain as much as possible.
And it’s a disgusting process so it can’t ever be elegant. I mean, maybe if you’re the woman who doesn’t scream and hoot and holler, and people in the room don’t get splashed in the face with blood and amniotic fluid, then it might be elegant. If you don’t shit on yourself — you push like you’re sitting on the toilet, it’s the same muscles. And if you have eaten and you got food in you then it’s gotta come out. I had one woman who shat on the baby. There was so much shit coming out the baby just got covered in shit. It’s like, your mother shat on you. Happy birthday. That wasn’t my patient — I brought the scale in to help my friend and I smelled it and I was like I love you girl, but I gotta go.
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