Constance Lalikos died February 5 in Danvers, Massachusetts. She was 85 years old, and had helped deliver thousands of babies over 40 years as an obstetrical nurse. To patients and their parents she was always “Auntie Connie.”
Auntie Connie came from a large Greek family, sixth out of eight siblings over a span of 20 years. Her immigrant father worked in a leather factory until he was fired, after losing an arm in an industrial accident. There was no compensation, no insurance, and little income for the family — so her mother went to work in the same factory.
Connie began her career on a surgical ward for men. She liked it there. Then a position on the OB/GYN unit opened, and, reluctantly, she was transferred into the specialty that became her life calling. She became, as one relative said, “the greeter to the world.” “You have a son,” she would tell new parents, “and he looks just like me!” Newborn daughters did, too. It was as if she were both Adam and Eve, spawning the world — though she never married or had children of her own.
Severe childhood scoliosis should have made the physical requirements of labor and delivery nursing difficult. But Connie never went home when a shift ended if a patient hadn’t delivered. Each arrival was as imperative as the last. Dozens and dozens of thank you notes, with tiny pink and blue ribbons attached, testified to it. Some mothers remembered how she referred to labor as “pain with a purpose.” Others wrote about how she taught them to focus on a spot on the wall; a simple tip, and salvation in the moment.
Meanwhile, in the field itself, obstetrical eras came and went, and Connie adjusted creatively. When she started out, women were anesthetized through birth, with no memory of what had occurred. Then came natural deliveries. Connie learned Lamaze technique and taught classes. In the beginning, men were forbidden into the delivery room; eventually — though Connie had her doubts at first — they were expected to attend. To prevent imminent fathers from fainting in critical moments, she made certain they ate crackers and drank juice first.
Twenty-four hour shifts and sleeplessness aren’t endlessly sustainable. But the world’s greeter wasn’t ready to give up her role. After retiring, she taught Lamaze, even when she came to classes with a walker.
Neither the scoliosis nor the walker stopped her from family weddings, Foxwoods slot machines, and traveling fearlessly. When her extended family drove cross-country one year, Connie manned the wheel through the highest Rocky Mountain passes.
Auntie Connie assisted at the births of three generations within her own family. Each of the 16 babies looked just like her.
Did you know Constance Lalikos? Share your memories in the comments section.
This segment aired on May 12, 2015.