‘If you feel like no one believes in you, remember that I do.’: Single mom, abuse survivor graduates top of her nursing class thanks to nurse whose kindness saved her life

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Disclaimer: This story contains details of abuse and suicidal ideation that may be upsetting to some.

The Trauma & Darkness

“The color black is the only thing I can think of to describe the darkness that had overcome my life just two weeks leading up to the delivery of my son. It makes me physically sick to think about how effortlessly I was just going through the motions of every day. I would wake up, make breakfast for my daughter, give her a bath and then eventually make my way to my room where I stayed the majority of the day, watching Lifetime movies to make me feel like someone else’s world was a little more messed up than mine. I prayed that the last few weeks had just been a nightmare I was going to wake up from any second.

mom holding her bump
Courtesy of Sarah Merkel

I was home folding clothes when I got the phone call that changed my life forever. To this day, I still replay those words in my head over and over because truthfully I will never not blame myself.

‘Are you sitting down?’

The words that came next took all of the light out of my life and air from my lungs. A suicide. It didn’t seem possible. It didn’t seem real. I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want to begin to think about the darkness this person must have felt in the days leading up to this tragedy. I could not even begin to imagine – until it was me.

The only thing I could possibly compare the last nine months of my life to is a movie, a very twisted and dark movie. You know, the type of movie that starts off great, gets a little rocky and then BOOM they hit you with the most unexpected ending. My three-year-old daughter and I had just fled a horrible situation. We left with nothing but the clothes on our backs, and all of our stuff was burned. The last nine months started with friendship, and quickly escalated into drinking, partying, and intercourse. After intercourse came control, violence, fear, restraining orders and police escorts, and now death. My world had never been so dark. I was a pregnant, scared, single mom, and just wanted someone, anyone, to wrap their arms around me and tell me it was all going to be okay. To comfort me somehow. My heart was so broken and I honestly never felt more alone.

announcing the pregnancy
Courtesy of Sarah Merkel

After hearing the news, I became a shell. I had no emotion, I felt nothing. I didn’t cry or talk to anyone. I felt alone in a world full of people. I went through the motions every day because I had to. I felt like someone had put me in a dark mirror maze, like the ones at the carnivals, and then left me to find my way out. Which was impossible. I was at the lowest possible part of my life. If you could get lower than rock bottom, I was there.

Birthing My Son

The day I delivered my son started as a normal day. I was 40 weeks, in so much pain, and felt like I was ready to explode. My daughter was already awake watching TV in the living room. As soon as I stood up to check on her, I felt a gush. I rushed to the bathroom and saw blood. Shortly after finding the blood, the intense pain began. It radiated from my pelvis to my back and grew more intense with every step I took. This didn’t feel normal. Two hours later I was at the hospital where they confirmed I was not in labor and suggested it was my mucus plug and that I go home and schedule an induction for Sunday night. I was so frustrated and tired of being pregnant. I begged them to keep me, but they couldn’t because they needed the room. What I didn’t know was just two hours later, I would meet the person who would save me and my son’s life.

It felt like as soon as I left the hospital, I was right back there. Except for this time, I was in full-blown labor. An elderly man pushed me as fast as he could up to the Labor & Delivery floor. I don’t know why but I was so scared to go through those doors and feared I would be met with judgment for being there earlier and begging to stay. As soon as I got to my room, my nurse was already there getting everything ready. She greeted me and handed me a gown and a urine specimen cup. I didn’t say anything except, ‘Do I really have to do this all over again?’

She froze, stopped folding the sheet, and just stared at me. Her face wasn’t mad, and her eyes weren’t narrowed but instead, she looked concerned, like she was trying to read me. I looked at the floor when I realized how rude I was being, apologized, and slowly made my way to the bathroom. Clearly, my people skills were out of wack ever since I decided to isolate myself two weeks ago.

mom in labor
Courtesy of Sarah Merkel

My labor progressed normally for about an hour or so. With my daughter, my labor was a breeze. I got the epidural and slept the whole time. This time, however, was the complete opposite. The contractions grew strong very quickly and I was progressing even quicker. I felt like as soon as one contraction would end, I would go right back into another one. It was singlehandedly some of the worst pain I have ever felt. I was praying we would get through the admission assessments quickly so I would be able to get some pain medication. I know for a fact that I was a difficult patient to take care of, especially with what I was mentally dealing with on top of the severe pain.

My nurse took every bit of attitude I dished out with a grain of salt. She was kind, patient, and calm. She coached me through breathing, wiped the makeup from my face, and told me stories from her own labor to help distract me from the pain. When I felt like I was able to control the pain enough to rest a little, I opted to try to sleep to conserve some energy. It wasn’t even 30 minutes later that my labor took a wild turn.

I told my mom to call the nurse. I didn’t feel right. I felt dizzy, and the room was starting to spin. Before she could push the call light, two other nurses ran into the room. They put a non-rebreather on my face and rolled me on my side. They were trying to get my son’s heart rate up. An alarm started going off to notify them of my blood pressure. It was 87/48 and dropping. My O2 sat was sitting at 84%. Out of fear, I grabbed my nurse’s hand, and the other two nurses made sure I was comfortable on my side. Quickly removing her eyes from the monitor she said, ‘It’s okay, just breathe, I got you guys.’

son's heart rate going down
Courtesy of Sarah Merkel

My son was born just an hour later. It was the most painful thing I have ever experienced. At some point during practice pushes and waiting for the provider to get there, it was noted that my son was in distress again. At this point, the pain and urge to push were getting hard to ignore. My nurse begged me not to push as she sprinted out of the room and yelled down the hall that she needed him NOW.

Another nurse stood next to my bed reassuring me and coaching me through breathing. As minutes passed and the provider was still making his way to my room, my nurse knew that every minute or even second counted at this point. Knowing that time was going to be working against us soon, we began to push.

I have never seen so much competence and confidence in one person as my nurse had reassuring and counted me through pushes. We got through two pushes and the provider finally made it to my room. Two more pushes and my son was born. As soon as he came out I remember seeing the sheer terror on everyone’s faces. He was purple and had the nuchal cord wrapped twice tightly around his neck. The provider unlooped the nuchal cord from my son’s neck and after what felt like the longest few seconds of my life, my son finally cried.

mom holding new born
Courtesy of Sarah Merkel

They placed him on my chest briefly, cut the cord, and then brought him to the warmer to assess and work on him. I looked over at the warmer and asked if he was okay, to which my nurse responded, ‘I’ve got him, momma, he is okay, and you did great.’ Before leaving the room, the provider looked at my sweet baby boy and then at my nurse, nodded at her, and said, ‘Great job.’ It was then I realized that if it wasn’t for her, the outcome could have been so much different. Her quick thinking and competence just saved my son’s life.

The Nurse Who Saved Me

It was around 2 a.m. on January 8th when my life changed forever and I realized absolutely everything happens for a reason. I was still up, holding my baby boy and just staring at him. I remember thinking about how beautiful he was and how he didn’t ask for this to be his life or his story. It was then I started to cry. How could something so beautiful come out of such a sad situation?

It was the first time I had allowed myself to cry in such a long time. I was attempting to put my baby back in his bassinet when my nurse walked in. I put my head down so she couldn’t see that I had been crying and I pretended to fix his swaddle. I hate crying in front of people. At this point my baby was awake. Probably from me moving him so much in my attempts to hide my swollen eyes.

mom doing skin to skin with son
Courtesy of Sarah Merkel

‘Can I hold him?’ my nurse asked. I nodded and watched as she swaddled him and made her way over to the chair by the window. She smiled down at him as she rocked him. ‘You are a cutie but you gave us quite the scare there little man,’ she said to him. I kept my head turned slightly in the opposite direction to avoid an awkward conversation about why I was crying. I knew she noticed and I knew the question was coming.

‘You remind me of myself,’ she said. I looked around the room as if there was someone else she could be talking to. Clearly, she wasn’t talking to my three-hour-old infant. I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything and faked a smile before looking away quickly. ‘Are you okay?’ she asked.

I wasn’t okay. I was sad, broken, feeling alone and my world had completely shattered just two weeks prior. I blamed myself for someone taking their own life and I was now a single mom of not just one but two babies and felt completely unprepared. I was scared, I had no direction in my life and frankly, after the chain of unfortunate events that my life had been in the last few months, I didn’t want to be here.

mom receiving flowers for birth
Courtesy of Sarah Merkel

This was the first time anyone had asked if I was okay or even noticed that I wasn’t. I tried so hard to hold the tears back but it was a fight I could not win. I put my head in my hands and cried. I cried for the first time in 9 months. Seeing this, my nurse returned my now sleeping baby to his bassinet, sat next to me, and gave me the biggest hug as I continued to cry. I had just left a terribly abusive situation, was listed as a private patient, alone, a single mom, and now grieving a death that I believed was my fault. On top of it all, I had just delivered a baby. I was crying from fear, shock, stress, anxiety, sadness, and loneliness. I was a complete stranger to her, but she didn’t care. She hugged me tight and once the tears finally subsided, she let me talk it out. I opened up about everything because suddenly I felt safe to do so.

Before returning to work, she helped me wipe the makeup and mascara off my face and get cleaned up. Before leaving the room she gave me one more hug, looked at me, and said something I have carried with me for over three years now:

‘I know a strong and good person when I see one. You were given this life, not by accident but because you are strong enough to live it. You were given those babies because they need you to be their mom. You can let your struggles destroy you or you can let them motivate you. It’s not the struggle that defines us, but what we do after that matters.’

And with that, she smiled, took one more look at my sweet baby sleeping in his bassinet, and walked out of the room. As soon as she walked out of the door, she quickly returned and said, ‘If you feel like no one believes in you, remember that I do. Go back to nursing school, finish your degree, and make your kid’s proud. They need you.’

son after the birth
Courtesy of Sarah Merkel

Rebuilding My Life

They say never judge a book by its cover, and I think that goes for people too. My attitude and mannerism during our first interaction reminded my nurse of herself at my age and that’s how she knew something was wrong from the second I walked into the room.

7 months after delivering my son, I fell into a dark patch again. I thought I had found love when I really just trusted the wrong people. What I thought was love turned into violence once again. After a disagreement one morning, I went to work. On my lunch break, I received a text stating that I was being thrown out and I could come to get my stuff and my children on the porch.

I immediately left work, frantic, thinking who would put an 8-month-old and 3-year-old outside. When I got there, there was a young girl sitting with my children and a police officer waiting for me. My kids’ belongings were destroyed. Spoiled milk and mashed bananas, baby food, paint, covering all of our things. The officer helped me get my kids in my car and then asked me where I was going to go. I had no idea, but I knew I had to figure it out quickly.

I spent hours in my car, sobbing. My three-year-old wrapped her arms around me and kept telling me it was okay, and not to cry, and how much she loved me. I had hit rock bottom once again. I checked into a hotel room, tucked my kids into bed, locked myself in the bathroom, and cried. This is not how it was supposed to be. I had lost everything. A few days later, I voluntarily surrendered my kids so I could get my life back on track for them.

This was the hardest thing I had to do and I don’t wish it upon my worst enemy. Seeing someone drive away with your children and not knowing if you will ever see them again or if you will ever be what they need is the absolute worst feeling in the whole world. I remember feeling numb. I went back to the hotel room, closed the curtains, and lay in complete darkness for two days straight. I will admit in some of those dark moments, I thought of every way to end my life after losing absolutely everything, failing as a mother, and thinking I would never get ahead again. I wanted to give up. I just wanted to get It over with and end it quickly because I never saw myself coming out of this dark hole. My children deserved so much better than me. I remember looking at the bottle of hydroxyzine I had. That would be quick.

But, I didn’t do it. And do you want to know why? Because in those moments of replying to the events that took place in the last 8 months, I remembered exactly what my labor nurse had told me just 8 months ago. I remembered my kids needed me, and someone believed in me, and that I cannot let my struggles destroy me, I had to get up off the floor and let them motivate me. So, that is exactly what I did. I got up, got dressed for my night shift, and went to work. At work, I made a plan. I started applying for apartments of my own and applied to take my entrance exam for nursing school. I missed my kids like crazy but I was ready to give them a better life.

new born in his stroller
Courtesy of Sarah Merkel

I had not lost faith that we would all be together again one day, and happy. A few weeks later I had an apartment, was accepted into nursing school, and was ready to turn my life around. I worked out a plan with my family to see my kids and have visitation with them and got to spend time with them on weekends and long holidays. I worked 12-hour night shifts and went to school during the day, and clinical rotation on the weekends. I saved every dime I could, missed a lot of sleep, and was exhausted almost 24/7. But 12 months later, when I had my diploma in my hand and graduated top of my class with honors, it was all worth it.

I passed my NCLEX exam on the first try and secured a great job. I was finally ready to give my kid’s the beautiful life they deserved and more. I was thrilled and excited. But something was missing. I felt like there was still one more thing I had to do before I could officially close this chapter. Someone I needed to thank, but also someone I hoped would be in this next chapter. The person who believed in me when I felt like the world had turned against me.

mom posing against a rail
Courtesy of Sarah Merkel

When I got home from work one night, I started going through all of my folders where I kept important records. I was looking for my medical record from my son’s birth. I was determined to find this nurse and thank her. It might have seemed silly to some, but to me, it was a big deal. People like that don’t just get placed in your path for no reason. This I was sure of. My medical records were no help. Everything was whited out.

So, I decided to go to social media. Social media has found people who were missing for years, I was sure they could find someone whose last name I just didn’t have. I posted to a nursing group and within hours I had a midwife, and two nurses who knew exactly who I was talking about, one of which recalled the exact night I had my son. I could finally thank her for saving my son’s life and my own in many ways. For this reason, my daughter has both my son and me here today.

In May of 2022, we finally got to meet after 3 years and my heart was so happy. My son automatically connected with her like he had known her his whole life and this wasn’t their first time actually meeting. To see my children interact, play, and laugh with the person who not only saved my son’s life but is the reason they still have their mother and it made my heart so full. They say people are placed in your life for a reason. I am so grateful we have crossed paths once again. She has been the biggest light in our lives and a huge part of my support system as a single mother, student, and nurse. I am so beyond grateful for her being by my side three years ago during some of the hardest and scariest times, and now she gets to be by my side during my transition to RN and hopefully a career in Labor & Delivery in which she inspired me to pursue.

The Importance Of Kindness

Today, I am working as a travel nurse and am almost done with my RN bridge program. My children are happy, healthy, and thriving. I am able to put a roof over our heads, food on the table, clothes in their closet, and fund the extracurricular activities they enjoy. We live in a small beach town that I never want to leave. We are safe and happy. We read bedtime stories, bake cookies, and take family trips. We go hiking and spend lots of time outdoors at our favorite parks. Three years ago I dreamed of this being my life and never imagined I could achieve it. To think I almost threw my whole life away and would never get to experience the smiles on my kid’s faces, or them running to me and yelling mommy after school, or hearing their laughter.

woman becoming a nurse after hardships
Courtesy of Sarah Merkel

Our story is a perfect example of why it’s important to always ask if someone is okay. If you have the extra few minutes, offer them a safe space to talk or a hug even if they are a complete stranger. I promise it will save a life because it saved mine. People may not remember your name or what you looked like, but they will always remember how you made them feel. The words you say, they might carry with them for the rest of their life. I was very broken and so lost, and she was the light when I needed it.

If you are reading this, and you are someone who is struggling, and can’t seem to dig yourself out of that dark hole, I’m going to leave you with this, the same words that kept me going in my darkest moments.

‘You can let your struggles destroy you or you can let them motivate you. It’s not the struggle that defines us, but what we do after that matters. If you feel like no one else believes in you, I hope you remember that I do.'”

son turning three after traumatic birth
Courtesy of Sarah Merkel

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sarah Merkel. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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