Helping to bring a new life into the world as a labor and delivery nurse can be the best job on earth, says the people that choose this career each and every day.
“I know I will never do any other type of nursing because the thought of not being a part of this is unimaginable,” says Deb Marquez, 46. She has been a nurse for 22 years – 11 in critical care and 11 in labor and delivery. She works in the high risk labor and delivery unit at Nebraska Medicine in Omaha.
“We share the miracle of life with patients every day. Although that sounds trite and cliché, seeing patients holding their new baby after having been infertile for 15 years, seeing tears of joy coursing down the parents’ faces, or hearing a sobbed — “I have waited for you for so long” — there is just nothing that could ever compare to that,” she says.
Not every birth is joyous. There also lies a lot of sadness and heartbreak. But to give comfort and strength to grieving parents becomes a very important part of this crucial career.
A few labor and deliver nurses relayed their most touching moments they have experienced in their jobs that keep them coming back to care for these moms, couples and babies.
It’s easy to imagine the immense jubilance bringing a baby into the world can emote. However, it doesn’t take long as a labor and deliver nurse to know that it’s not all joy and happy outcomes here, Marquez says.
“Interspersed with the good– rarely enough to allow us to keep our sanity, but still there – are situations that no person should ever have to endure,” she says.
One such moment came early on in Marquez’ labor and delivery experience. It was the beginning of the festive holiday season. A young couple married just a few years were hosting a big dinner at their house. They had family fly in from all corners of the U.S. and were very excited to share in the joy of the season, as well in the anticipation that comes with welcoming a new baby into the world “any day now.”
The soon-to-be mommy arrived at the hospital and first conveyed to Marquez that in all the preparations for the holidays, she hadn’t really thought about fetal movement until that morning.
“She had not consciously felt the baby move for more than a day. I took her to a room and put on the monitors, expecting to hear the reassuring fetal heartbeat sound – the ‘thunka-thunka’ that means so much to expectant parents,” she says.
But there was just empty silence and no movement when Marquez listened to and felt the young mother’s abdomen.
“Despite our attempts to appear optimistic, the couple sensed something was wrong. I will never forget them staring wide-eyed at that ultrasound display, waiting, hoping, praying. There was nothing,” she says.
When the doctor told them, “I’m sorry, there is no heart beat,” the husband let out a cry of such pain that it echoes in Marquez’ heart to this day.
“I will never forget this broken young couple calling their family – all gathered at their house for dinner and sobbing brokenly, ‘He’s gone,’ ‘’ she says.
But through all the sadness and loss they experienced, this couple continue to send Christmas cards and photos every year to Marquez. They now are raising several healthy, thriving children.
“They always express thanks for giving them the courage and strength they needed to try pregnancy again, saying that without my genuine concern they would never have known what true joy is,” she says. “Little do they know that they gave me a gift, too – the courage to help patients face whatever comes next with compassion, the ability to cry with them when something really hurts and to truly connect on a human level to a stranger.”
“Having a baby is something that a woman or a couple remembers for their entire life. You don’t forget your birthing experience, and you don’t forget your labor nurse,” she says.
While working a few years at the John C. Lincoln Hospital in Phoenix, many of her patients didn’t speak English. But Erio had lived in southern Florida for a while and learned enough Spanish to understand enough to get by.
“A couple that didn’t speak any English came in to deliver their baby girl. She progressed very rapidly, so I ended up doing the delivery,” she says.
Erio has delivered 67 babies by herself without the doctor there.
“It happens. But I love it. This couple was thrilled to death that I was there. I was clamping the cord with my bloody gloves on and about ready to put the baby on the mom’s chest. She grabs my hand. She looks directly into my eyes and spoke the only words she knew in English, ‘Thank you so much,’ ” she says.
During the rest of her shift, Erio took care of the couple and the baby. The couple asked her where she lived. Erio didn’t think about it much.
Within a few weeks after their baby was born, the couple showed up at her home with a present – a paper mache rooster (which is a symbol of good luck) that the husband had made and placed on a platform.
“I will always keep it. I never thought I’d get a gift when I gave them my address. I thought I’d just get a thank-you card,” she says. “But I’m sharing their most intimate part of their lives with them, bad or good.”
She has seen thousands of births. Rachel Huber, 46, graduated in 1990 from nursing school and works as part of the labor and delivery team taking care of the newborn baby at Genesis East BirthCenter in Davenport, Iowa.
“It is a wonderful gift to be part of these people’s lives during one of the most intimate, happy and sometimes stressful parts,” she says.
She remembers one couple who came in to deliver their first baby with such amazing elation.
“They had been trying for four years to get pregnant. They had struggled with infertility,” she says.
After the baby was born, Huber measured, weighed, check vitals and cleaned up the infant to place in the mother’s arms.
“When I gave the baby to the parents, I could see what a gift this child was to them. They were crying and holding each other. It was so emotional and touching to watch so much love,” she says.
Each birth brings similarities and many differences.
“No matter how many times I am in the labor and delivery room, I still have a little bit of apprehension until I hear that baby cry, and I can see that it is healthy,” Huber says. “Labor and delivery isn’t a breeze. There are things that can go from good to bad in seconds. But I have to use my good clinical judgments and my skills.”
Being a labor and delivery nurse brings a mixture of really good days and really sad days. But it’s about being there for the mothers, the families and the babies with your compassion, your helpfulness, your knowledge and your skills. It’s a career that can bring exhilaration, contentment and pride, and sometimes, there will be tears.
By Lee Nelson
Lee Nelson writes for national and regional magazines, websites, and business journals. Her work has appeared in Yahoo! Homes and many Hearst publications such as Life@Home and Women@Work.