Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Baby Nurse

Before I had kids, I thought a "baby nurse" was just a nurse in the hospital who took care of babies.  I suppose that may be true.  But a baby nurse also refers to a person who is not a nurse at all.  Rather, it is a title for a lady who comes to live in your house when your baby is born and hangs out with your baby all night.  Unless you have a spare bedroom, they sleep on the couch, or on the floor in the baby's room.  They hang out with you and your family during the day.  They eat with you.  They sit with you.  They teach you all things baby, but an actual nursing degree is not required.

Oh, and did I mention you have to pay them for all this hanging out?  Somewhere in the area of $200 a day.

Baby nurses are very common in New York, so when I was pregnant with Braden, and my mother in law asked me if we were getting a baby nurse, I answered with a big, "Huh?"  It had never dawned on me.  And I quickly decided no, I did not want some random stranger coming into my home when I was emotionally fragile and bleeding and recovering and my baby was only 3 days old.  No, I wanted to experience the sleep deprivation and night feedings and exhaustion first hand.  It was a rite of passage I wasn't about to pass off to some random woman in white scrubs (yes, they actually wear those).

Granted, I did have a bit of help during this rite of passage, which came in the form of assistance from my mom and dad.  But save for a few days here and there, my husband and I beared the brunt of it all.  And, as any mom knows,  it was HARD.  Those first few weeks are brutal, but there was a sense of pride in knowing we had done it.

When I got pregnant with Casey, I again got the questions from my New York family - "Surely you're going to get a baby nurse this time?"  "No," I would reply with conviction.  We did it once, we could do it again.  And we did, but as I have written about in this blog, it was even harder this time around.  I have to admit, there was a point when Casey was about 4 weeks old that I had a breakdown and begged my husband to hire a baby nurse.   It was a weak moment, and my husband talked me down.  A few weeks later, things settled down, and I was thankful we saved ourselves some big bucks.

I have always been a tad bit judgmental of people who got baby nurses.  I'm not sure why.  Maybe it is because I went through hell, so I want everyone else to experience it too.  I remember my sister in law telling me that the night she got home from the hospital with our niece, she got 11 hours of sleep, thanks to their baby nurse.  Let me repeat that.  ELEVEN HOURS OF SLEEP!  I don't think I've gotten 11 hours of sleep in three years.  When I heard that, I have to admit I felt a twinge of jealousy.  But still, I couldn't imagine having a stranger in my home taking care of my brand new baby.

Last week when I went to New York for my nephew's bris, I got to meet a real life baby nurse.  She came to the bris, and then my husband and I drove her, along with my brother and sister-in-law and nephew, back to Manhattan, where we able to hang out with them for a while and spend some time with the baby.

The woman seemed nice enough.  She was in white scrubs with a little lace edging (love it), and had earphones in her ears the majority of the time.  But she took full charge of the baby at the bris, feeding him and keeping a watchful eye over him sleeping.  My brother and sister in law said things had been going well with her, though my brother in law mentioned that he had had a showdown with her that morning over the proper way to install a carseat.  He said that she was a bit of a "know it all," which I suppose is part of her job.

When we got back to Manhattan, I tried to make conversation with her.  I asked her if she had any children, and how many.  She responded that she had three boys.  Trying to keep the small talk going, I told her that we had two boys, and if I decided to go for a third I would assume it would be another boy, because they say that if you have two of one gender, you are more likely to have a third of the same.  At that point she removed her earphones and told me that no, I was wrong.  She then proceeded to explain human biology to me, which went something like: "Actually, men determine the sex.  Men's sperm have either an X or Y chromosone, and the sperm fertilizes the egg, which has an X chromosone.  Y is dominant, so there is a 50/50 chance of either gender."

Let me pause for a moment while I commence my deep breathing exercises.

I listened, and I nodded.  I thought about bringing up the acidity of a woman's vagina, or the Shettles method, but I restrained myself.  This, I thought, is the reason I will never get a baby nurse.

Oh, but things got worse.  The main reason for us driving everyone back to Manhattan was a selfish one - we wanted to hang out with this adorable newborn baby.  The bris, while beautiful, was a circus, and we knew that we wouldn't get quality time there.   I couldn't wait to get to that apartment and snuggle that little munch.  Once the baby woke up, the baby nurse changed him and performed the wrap for his poor little raw penis.  It was feeding time, and my sister in law asked if I would like to feed him.  Um, did she have to ask?  I reached out my arms, the orchestra music was playing, and just as he was within a couple of inches reach, the baby nurse said:

"I don't think you should do that."

The orchestra music abruptly stopped.  She went on to explain that since the baby had been circumsised that day, he shouldn't be "passed around."  The mother should really feed him.  My sister in law gave me a look and rolled her eyes, but she complied.  I think my arms remained outstretched for a good 10 seconds until I realized this woman had stolen my nephew from me.  Now she was really pissing me off.  I was able to restrain myself from mentioning that I had been through this TWICE, and passed my boys around far more than I would have liked, and somehow their penises have remained in tact and they have turned out normal (so far - if they don't, I guess I now know why).

I should mention that I don't blame my sister in law.  As a new mom, you heed every warning and piece of advice.  And afterall, she had hired this woman for her expertise.  And I have to acknowledge, she did have expertise, in the form of stints with 17 sets of twins.  SEVENTEEN!

I have to admit, as the afternoon went on, this woman did know what she was doing.  She showed my sister in law techniques on how to burp the baby, positions to calm him down, and how to care for the circumsision.  I realized that this could be kind of nice.  The parents were able to open baby gifts, clean the apartment, and just relax a bit, while the baby nurse tended to the random and frequent baby tasks.  And though my sister in law was no doubt exhausted from recovery and waking up during the night for pumping sessions, she looked rested.  She looked together.  She looked calm.  She looked nothing like I felt during those first few weeks of my sons' births.  So what if this woman was a know it all who took up quite a lot of room in their two bedroom apartment.  She was making their life a little bit easier, and easing them into an overwhelming new life.  Maybe this whole baby nurse thing wasn't so bad after all.

That being said, I am not a convert.  If we ever have another baby, we will have yet one more rite of passage on our own (with a little help from grandparents).  It isn't because I think I'm a superior mom, or because we have exceptional baby caring skills.  The truth is, I am just too damn anxious and too much of a control freak.  If I heard my baby up in the middle of the night, I wouldn't be able to sleep, even if there was someone there to do the job for me (and even if that person is a grandparent).  If my baby was crying, I would want to be the one to comfort them, notwithstanding the fact that I'm sure I could use a break.  If a baby nurse wrapped my baby's raw penis, I would worry she did it wrong and undoubtedly sneak away to redo it myself.  This is not a trait that serves me well.  If anything, especially with Casey, a little extra help would have gone a long, long way for my sanity.

In any event, the baby nurse is now gone, and my brother and sister in law are in it on their own. And they are doing splendidly.  But the next time I am in town, I am feeding that baby.  Do you hear me, baby nurse?  I am feeding that baby!


  1. I find the whole baby nurse phenomenon pretty fascinating. I hate to make reference to Bravo, but Bethenny Frankel had a baby nurse when she gave birth, and it seemed from that show that she had a very similar baby nurse to your sister in law's.

    One of my co-workers works nights as a nurse in the NICU and likes to tell me what to do a lot, and that's already too much inteference for my taste. And she's an actual 'Baby Nurse'!

  2. Frenchie - please don't ever apologize for referencing Bravo. It occupies a huge part of my psyche. In any event, yes, it is kind of like Bethenny's baby nurse. Except she didn't talk about sex all the time. And she only stayed with my brother and sister in law for a week. And she didn't take them to some weird witchcraft/religious ceremony.

  3. There are baby nurses that are real nurses with university degrees and many years of experience caring for moms and babies.
    I am one...and my husband is also a lawyer.
    Some of us prefer to care for one mom and one baby at a time..instead of working with 40 moms and babies at a time. I did that for many years. :)
    I certainly would have corrected the "newborn specialist, or newborn nanny" in your sister in laws home. The Board of Nursing insists they do not call themselves nurses. Just like legal secretaries may not call themselves "lawyers". Thank you for the reminds me how much I adore my mothers and my babies.

  4. Yes, these women in white scrubs calling themselves "nurses" when they do not have the degree and the license are really practicing the profession w/o a license, which is a felony.

  5. This is exactly why I started a company offering postpartum doulas instead of baby nurses in the Philadelphia area. Baby nurses are there JUST for the baby, they are trained in all things baby, and that's about it. But postpartum doulas are professionally trained to understand the needs of and care for the entire postpartum family. Including everything from understanding the emotional needs of a mom who's just had a baby and all the hormones that go along with that, the physical needs of a newly postpartum mom which include but are not limited to sitz bathes, special diets, c-section comfort measures, etc etc. as well as the needs of the baby, AS WELL as the needs of everyone else in the family(ie dad's adjustment, pet adjustment and sibling adjustment). A postpartum doulas job is not to teach her values and instill them on the new family, but rather to discuss with the new family their values and help them achieve their dream postpartum period. So for example, a postpartum doula very quickly know how important it was for you to hold your new nephew and help you with that. A postpartum doula will also have great social skills to understand when information giving would be appropriate and when it wasn't needed. The postpartum doula would have a great understand of the entire family and extended family which we discuss in our initial family needs assessments.

    We don't take over the role of mom or dad(or Aunt!), but rather nurture you so you can nurture your baby.

    Although this response is way way late, I hope I've given you and your readers some helpful information about alternative postpartum helpers.
    Aliza Bancoff
    Main Line Doulas


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