The Weight That Weakens Nurses

No one told me that labor and delivery would be hard. Even though my mother was a nursery nurse, I don’t ever remember her talking about work growing up. She complained of hard days and of being exhausted, but I never heard her talk about her patients, her coworkers, or her deliveries. I don’t know what I thought she did all day. I knew there were babies involved, and I remember thinking how hard could that really be!? But now, a nurse myself, hard days and exhaustion blur the memories of my last past shifts. Bits and pieces of my days swirl around my head like a whirlwind. Parts of my work week were awesome. Parts of my work week were awful. There’s a constant pressure, building up throughout each shift.  We all want what’s best for our patients. We all want to do the right thing, to make the right choices. We all feel the weight of the work we do. We’re in a constant struggle to be everything to everyone. Every single day we put on our scrubs, we witness so many miracles and so much heartbreak. Every day we seem to work harder. And then we go home, where we aren’t supposed to talk about work, where we’re definitely not supposed to talk about our patients.  This is the weight that weakens us. And no one warned me it would be this hard.

Recently, we were having one of those shifts. Every labor room was full, we couldn’t discharge a triage patient without getting two more, and although we had started off our day well-staffed, admission after admission had pushed every nurse to their limit (and then some). When my tenth triage patient in four hours walked through the door, inwardly, I groaned. I remember glancing at the clock to note the time, calculating the amount of minutes it would take to obtain a reactive NST. I had started assessing the patient the moment she walked through the door. She looked term, but she didn’t look like she was in labor. She didn’t appear to be in any distress. While she used the bathroom, I cleaned a triage bed myself so I’d have somewhere to put her and thought about what I was going to eat for lunch.  When she finally got into bed, I placed the fetal monitor on her belly, expecting to hear the galloping beats of a 38-weeker.  Instead, I was greeted by the deafening sound of silence. She was talking about the baby shower that she’d just had, how excited her parents were to finally be grandparents, and how much she loved being pregnant.  I remember it took her a moment to figure out what was going on. I asked her what brought her to triage, and her voice quivered. By the time I put the fetal monitor down, she had stopped talking and was crying silently, staring at the ceiling. In that moment, the only thing I knew was that she was alone, triage was full, and she had only come in for a headache.


She stayed in triage until we had a room we could admit her to. As she sat there, I knew she could hear each triage patient come and go. I knew she could hear the galloping broadcast of every other baby’s heart beat. I knew this day would also end up being a blur to her. When I was finally able to wheel her to her own room, she looked at me and told me that she wanted to have a cesarean delivery. My whole body hurt so bad for her. There were so many things I wanted to say, but so many things stopped me from saying them. Instead, I told her that her physician would be able to discuss all of her delivery options with her.  After all, I was only her nurse.   If I wasn’t a nurse, I would have told her my opinion.  Instead, I weighed my words carefully. After all, I didn’t want to influence her choice, a choice that could have so many different consequences, and I especially didn’t want to influence it unknowingly in the wrong direction.  I told her whatever decision she made would be the right decision for her. I understood she wanted everything to be over as quickly as possible, but nothing would make this be over quickly. And I told her everyone on our unit was so sad for her, I told her the only thing I could say was I’m sorry, even though that wasn’t really good enough. As her physician walked into the room, I walked out to give them privacy. I no longer felt like eating lunch. I quietly gave report to her new nurse, chased down two Excedrine tablets with a cup of water, and then I went back to triage.  And for the rest of the day, I continued to see patient and patient, each with their own story to tell.

When I got home that night, no one noticed, but I was more quiet than usual. I couldn’t tell anyone much of anything about my day. I wouldn’t have known where to begin and no one would have understood anyway. So after every shift, I’m left alone at home with my family, thinking about work and my patients and my deliveries. I won’t talk about my day, because my family just won’t get it. At the end of every day after every shift, I think about the same things, the blurred memories swirl around my head like a whirlwind….I don’t know if she remembers me, but I know I’ll never forget her. I pray that every decision I make at work has the very best outcome. My legs hurt, and I don’t think anyone other than a nurse can understand what that really means.  I hope good always outweighs bad. When you witness labor and delivery day after day, the magic of birth is even bigger and brighter than you could ever imagine. I’m so very thankful for my coworkers, because they live it with me. The work we do as nurses is so important. The care we give changes everything. I couldn’t imagine being anything other than a nurse, but I still never knew it would be this hard.


Until my next delivery ❤

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5 Comments on "The Weight That Weakens Nurses"

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Cathleen Burke Zuabi
This was my story 23 years ago, I was 41 weeks pregnant. You are correct in saying that I do not remember the nurses that day, I only remember the unimaginable heartbreak, the entire day and the weeks and months to follow were a blur. I remember when the nurse was searching and searching for a heartbeat and nothing I do’t remember her but I remember her silence. She didn’t need to say a word, I knew…I insisted on c-section, I just couldn’t imagine going through hours and hours of labor to push out my dead child. It was horrifying… Read more »

All so true. I still remember patient situations from well over 35+ years back that broke my heart then and now.


SO much yes to this. I love my job more than I imagined I ever would but when it’s hard it’s oh so hard.

For a mom who has lost a child, it is honestly easier mentally to have a c-section than a vaginal delivery. As a nurse I agree that a vaginal delivery is better, but not in this situation. I did not connect as much with c-section vs having to go through labor and a vag delivery. Mentally that was easier and you wake up with just the sense of having abdominal surgery and not the mental trauma of not hearing a crying baby, or seeing a blue baby at the moment they come out. It is hard no matter what. But… Read more »
Supporting patients and families during this process is heartrending. I was taught to have empathy so I could function and be supportive as the nurse. One of our nursing instructors taught us that being sympathetic rather than empathetic keeps you from being able to support your patient and care for them. Sympathy is different than empathy. In 30 years I have been through this with numerous families, it is not just the mother but her whole world that is affected. All of them stay in my mind. I have not forgotten one of them. Give them whatever they need or… Read more »
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