Obstetrical Nursing: The Good, Bad, and the Insanely Crazy

Updated on June 22, 2019
Deb Vesco Roberts profile image

As an obstetrical RN of 27 years, I have a ton of insight to share. I hope this article is insightful for current and future nurses.

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The Crazy: Leaving Corporate America to Pursue a Dream

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a nurse. But, because I wasn't the most confident gal on the planet back in 1985, I followed the path of least resistance and headed for a business major.

I earned an Associate's degree in Business Administration in 1987 from a local community college, left my small hometown for the "big city, and an entry-level office job that paid peanuts. It also happened to be the company my father worked for, which made him proud; which at that time, is what I thought life was all about...making your parents proud; living to please others. I was a people-pleaser extraordinaire.

For four years I worked in a typical office environment, with drama and politics. I got married in 1988 and pregnant with my first child six months later. I kept thinking that something had to give. I didn't want my baby to be in daycare, but neither of us made enough money to survive on one income.

Fast forward to my Labor and Delivery room in 1989, giving birth to my sweet baby boy. I was in awe of the experience and asked 100 questions of my nurses, most likely being annoying. It was then, I decided this is what I want to do for a career; a heat-of-the-moment decision. Because I was "caught up in the emotions", my family did not take me seriously.

During my maternity leave, I applied to the closest college of nursing I could commute to from the office and home and was accepted in a pre-nursing curriculum. I began chipping away at the prerequisites needed to apply for the actual program. I had no science classes to speak of, having come from a business background. It was hard starting with basic chemistry, algebra, and biology, but I was determined to make a better life for my family and live the life I wanted, not what others wanted for me. I set my sights on being a labor nurse and never looked back.

The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, and don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.

— Steve Jobs

The Good and the Crazy: Nursing School and Night Shift

During my maternity leave, I applied to the closest college of nursing I could commute to from the office and home and was accepted in a pre-nursing curriculum. I began chipping away at the prerequisites needed to apply for the actual program. I had no science classes to speak of, having come from a business background. It was hard starting with basic chemistry, algebra, and biology, but I was determined to make a better life for my family and live the life I wanted, not what others wanted for me. I set my sights on being a labor nurse and never looked back.

I continued taking classes in the evenings and weekends. In 1991, I gave birth to my daughter. With a newborn and a toddler keeping me busy, I left the business world during maternity leave, took on three part-time nursing-related jobs, and was finally accepted into the nursing program.

For the next two years, I would work for my kid's pediatrician 8-12 hours a week, a busy cancer unit at a local hospital every other weekend,16 hours, and a mother-baby unit at a different hospital, whenever I could fit hours in—all while attending nursing classes and clinical rotations for 20 hours per week.

I felt like I was dying a slow death and was more overwhelmed than one could imagine. I kept my eye on the prize. Never again, would my children spend 40 hours a week with a babysitter, because nursing would allow me the flexible schedule to raise my own children.

In 1993, I graduated and was oddly excited to don a nursing cap for my pinning ceremony—even though I'd never actually wear one. All I could think of was working in Labor and Delivery. But, I didn't get hired there initially and was devastated (new graduates rarely got hired in Labor and Delivery back then). I was instead, offered a position working 12-hour night shifts on the postpartum unit, where I was already a nursing assistant, and that was close enough to pacify me...temporarily.

For most of my career, I would sacrifice sleep following many long night shifts, to stay up with my kids during the day, and that was where things really got rough. I’d come home and nap a few hours while they slept or watched Disney movies with me in my bed, and then I'd stay up until it was either time to go to work again or time to go to bed for real. My days and nights were always mixed up, but it's what worked best for the kids to not go to a babysitter.

Many days I was difficult to live with, but my family didn't hold it against me. They knew not to push my buttons and if I was grumpy, it was from being flat-out exhausted. I give them credit for putting up with a tired, run-down mamma. They knew how important it was to me and that I did it to give them a better life, not to be shuffled to a sitter.

The Bad: Trial by Fire

Moving along to 1995 and having child #3, a son, I went into labor just as I was getting up for work (I was on a temporary day-shift rotation). I managed to make it nine hours before finally succumbing to a labor bed myself, where I would proceed to endure my longest labor. At this time, I'm still working on the Postpartum unit and getting more anxious by the day to make my move to Labor and Delivery.

Little did I know that six weeks into that maternity leave, I would finally get the phone call on Friday: “We have an immediate position in Labor and Delivery and we need a nurse who can start now. The catch is, you must start on Monday, or we will move on to other candidates.”

What the hell! This was not happening now!? With six weeks to go in my 12-week leave, I was left with a very hard decision. I was not mentally or physically ready to go back yet but I was being tested to see how badly I wanted this position. If I passed it up, I'd likely blow any near future chance to get in. After a weekend of tears and mental anguish, I decided to go for it. I bargained with the "powers that be", that if I cut my leave short per their request, I would be granted my remaining six weeks later that year. I was shocked when they agreed to my terms, but they were also very desperate for help. Little did I know what was about to happen.

I showed up to work that following Monday morning as requested, totally pumped and ready to learn...and was thrown straight to the wolves; left to make it on my own, without any bit of orientation, and here is why:

Labor and Delivery nurses almost always have, at a minimum,12-weeks of orientation before working independently. As luck would have it, staffing was very short from a recent turnover, and the nurses were angry hey had hired someone without experience. In fact, the staff was so upset, they refused to help me acclimate to my new position. I had to teach myself the ins and outs of labor and birth, where supplies were located, the doctor's preferences, and the general flow of the unit. I wanted to crawl in a hole and never come out, but at the same time, I was not about to admit defeat. I'd waited too long for this opportunity, so it was "game-on".

I cried on my way home after every shift and felt so alone. I spent hours reading my obstetrical college textbook, trying to learn and understand what had happened that day—Google simply wasn't a thing back then, and I was not about to be broken.

I eventually learned the ropes and this made me stronger and helped immensely with my confidence, despite it being the hardest thing I've ever done. It was unconventional, and to this day, I’ve never seen another nurse put through this type of learning torture. I wanted to quit so many times, but it was my mission to learn and be the best nurse I could be. The experience made me more attentive and helpful to new nurses I would eventually help educate. It took nearly two decades to embrace this experience in a positive light. I rarely spoke about it, because it was embarrassing, and I wanted to forget, but I couldn't. I know and understand it's place in my life and try to look at the experience as a positive contribution to my growth as a nurse, a co-worker, and a friend.

This never gets old
This never gets old | Source

Being a Pregnant Labor Nurse

In 1997, I gave birth my 4th and final child at the age of 30. It's amazing how long you can be on your feet running up and down the hallways of a busy delivery unit until the last second of pregnancy. There are no special treatments for making sure the pregnant nurse gets to eat, drink, pee, or even use the breast pump after returning from maternity leave. Your back hurts from lifting heavy patients with epidurals and pushing patient's in their beds to the operating room.

The Good and the Crazy: Cutting the Cord

In 2006, It was time to move on and look for more opportunity and growth in my career. I needed a fresh start, where no one knew me or my crazy story. I wanted to be accepted and part of the team. I felt like there was nothing new or exciting left for me.

I made a call to the manager at my current hospital and bypassed Human Resources and the usual application process, to ask if she would meet with me to discuss a contingent position. I wanted to get my foot in the door before first. She agreed to meet and after a brief tour and some favorable responses from some of the physicians I already knew, she hired me on the spot.

I kept both jobs until 2008 when I felt confident to "cut the cord" after 17 years. It’s tough to be the new person, especially when you really know your stuff. Thankfully, this time, it was different. I was given a second chance to make a great first impression, to be accepted, respected, and to fit in.

As a bonus to having made the move to another hospital system, I was able to finish my degree and advance to BSN with a BA minor, fully paid for by the hospital!

The new girl once again, but this time, with experience and a much better fit!
The new girl once again, but this time, with experience and a much better fit! | Source

The Good: Opportunities For Growth and Change

I've spent all but 1.5 years of my nursing career in Labor and Delivery. I've also worked in Maternal-Fetal Medicine and Antepartum, caring for high-risk and medically challenged pregnant patients.

I've also had the exciting opportunity to be part of a national television reality series called One Born Every Minute for two seasons. The series was filmed at our hospital and aired on Lifetime Television. Two of my episodes are S1E1: "To Medicate or Not to Medicate"; and S1E5: "Mission Impossible". Working with a major television production crew was an amazing experience. The show is narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis and is still showing reruns today and is available on iTunes. What you will see is the real deal. These are not actors and nothing was rehearsed.

I've helped with the opening of a brand new hospital within our system and the biggest and most exciting stepping stone is being part of a new branch of OB nursing in the telemedicine field called “Electronic Labor and Delivery” (EL&D). Today, I get to enjoy this new and innovative method of patient care, by closely observing fetal monitor tracings and watching for heart rate and contraction pattern changes that can lead to an unfavorable outcome for the baby. This change came at the perfect time, as I had begun to experience serious burn-out. Changes in healthcare, insurance requirements, malpractice, and patient health conditions, and staffing issues are the primary cause of my burn-out.

The filming of “One Born Every Minute”, talking with the producers and crew
The filming of “One Born Every Minute”, talking with the producers and crew | Source

The Good: The Best Part Being an OB Nurse

Someone once asked me, “What is the best part of your job?” For me, it’s being able to help my friends labor and deliver their babies. I have been fortunate to have assisted in the birth of over 40 of my friend’s babies! I’ve come in special for every one of these beautiful births. I love the special bond I have with these women, who were already some of my closest friends or coworkers. It gives us something to share and reminisce about that most people will never understand or experience. I love giving them that extra bit of TLC and expertise. For many nurses, taking care of friends is frightening or uncomfortable, but for me, it’s special, unique, and loads of fun!

Another favorite part of my job is when babies are coming fast and the doctors don't make it in time. I love delivering the baby. When they come that easy, it's rare to have complications. It's an adrenaline rush to catch the baby and hand him or her to mom and dad for the first time!

I also love natural, unmedicated labors and births. Women today do not know how strong and fierce they and their bodies are and 90% of women don't even want to try a natural birth. We live in a world of instant gratification and pain control, so only about 10% of women today experience an unmedicated birth. These women are prepared from the get-go, or their babies come fast. I love coaching and encouraging women who opt for natural labor. Being a runner, I often compare it to running a marathon. The first 20 miles are fun and somewhat easy, you're talking and moving along with ease. The next six, you hit the wall and the last 0.2 miles you wish you were dead!

I've also made lifelong friendships with some of my patients. Most women forget about their delivery nurse and can't even remember our name. But every once in a while, I instantly click and know they will always be a special part of my life.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Very special triplets that I helped deliver…another story, another time, but it’s a good one!Another baby I helped deliver!
Very special triplets that I helped deliver…another story, another time, but it’s a good one!
Very special triplets that I helped deliver…another story, another time, but it’s a good one! | Source
Another baby I helped deliver!
Another baby I helped deliver! | Source

The Bad and the Crazy

Not all aspects of being a delivery nurse are smiles and roses. There are times of intense sorrow and times you go home and swear you can't endure another day. We care for women with current medical conditions, women who develop serious conditions while pregnant, and women who will never take their baby home, or will endure a lifetime of special needs. We see traumas and save lives; both mothers and babies. We see family dysfunction at it’s worst and frustrating language and cultural differences we will never understand.

We rarely eat a normal meal or even take even a ten-minute break. If we get a chance to go to the bathroom, it's only after we've held it forever. Our meals consist of grabbing whatever we can between cervical exams, because our patient's needs come before our own, without exception.

All said I loved working in one of the busiest labor and delivery units in the country. The options and versatility of nursing are endless, the rewards are plentiful, and it toughens up the weak. I learned conflict resolution, time management, how to deal with bullies, and how to bite my tongue. I work holidays, weekends, and miss countless family events. I hate that part the most. I travel in level III snow emergencies to get to work and are crazy jealous that everyone else is cozied up at home, safe and sound. I get speeding tickets because it's better than dealing with the attitudes when late to relieve my coworkers. I actually got out of some of them, because cops seriously respect nurses. I work for other nurses so they can do things with their families and when I need help, those same people won't reciprocate. I get annoyed with my coworkers for 1000 reasons, yelled at by doctors, and feel unappreciated by patients and managers. Yet somehow through it all, there’s still nothing I'd rather be doing, but being an OB nurse.

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Debra Roberts

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      • profile image

        Live Learn Better 

        2 months ago

        Thank you for sharing. I have witnessed a labor room drama before and a nurse lost her tooth while separating feuding boyfriends. It could be rough, and I cringe anytime I remember that scenario.

        Thank you for your love and care to those adorables.

      • profile image

        Snehal @ Beauty Tending 

        2 months ago

        Wow... I did not know you did nursing! I wanted to be a nurse too but back then I was kinda scared of the ahem watching all "organ" stuff. Damn I wish I could have got passed through that. Well... Thanks for sharing your beautiful experience with us! :)

      • profile image

        Erica (The Prepping Wife) 

        2 months ago

        You are an incredibly strong woman, Deb! I loved reading this because I learned so much about you and who you are. Your store is inspiring. Most people would have given up easily. But you just kept pushing and advancing. Thank you so much for sharing!

      • profile image

        Joyce Osiango 

        2 months ago

        Thumbs up for you, I saw the first photo and got chills I can imagine the courage you have to handle this every moment of your day. You guys are a big help.

      • profile image

        Despite Pain 

        2 months ago

        I'm glad that you pushed and pushed so you could be doing your dream job, but wow, what a tough time you had. Unfair of the other nursing staff. Their argument should have been with management, not you.

        Nurses really are incredible people. I used to work in a maternity hospital (just in an office) and I know how important and special each nurse is. I also know how hard they work. Like you say, the patient always comes first.

      • profile image

        Scott DeNicola 

        2 months ago

        Nurses are the back bone of a hospital, no doubt in my mind. Labor and delivery especially. When my wife gave birth to our first I was amazed at how little work the doctor did and how much the nurses were involved. They were all terrific and got her through a tough delivery. The doctor basically came in at the end and caught my daughter and got all the credit. We personally thanked each and every nurse. Every interaction I’ve ever had with nurses has been positive. I’m glad you followed your dream even though it was a tough road.

      • profile image

        Tracy @ Cleland Clan 

        2 months ago

        I love this. I’ve always thought that Labor and Delivery nurses do all the work and then the doc just swoops in to catch the baby. I’m sorry your coworkers didn’t help you when you first took the job—that was terrible of them. My daughter just got her MSN—she’s 25 and has two babies of her own. She’s constantly been working and going to school for the last 7 years; the difference now is that many of the classes can be taken online.

      • Deb Vesco Roberts profile imageAUTHOR

        Debra Roberts 

        8 months ago from Ohio

        Thank you Lovelli for such kind words. I often wonder why my own children's perspective is/was with having grown up with a nurse mum. I know I wasn't easy to live with sometimes and I'm sure they got tired of my dinner-time work stories!!

      • Lovelli Fuad profile image

        Lovelli Fuad 

        8 months ago from Southeast Asia and the Pacific

        What an awesome story about a wonderful career, Deb. It's always a positive to read about the experiences of people working in healthcare, the behind-the-scenes. My mum was a nurse, and she and the other nurses are probably the most interesting people I have ever met in my life!

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        8 months ago from UK

        This is a fascinating article. Have you ever thought of writing an autobiography? I admire your grit and determination to reach your goal.

      • Darin Waugh profile image

        Darin Waugh 

        8 months ago

        Awesome story Deb, you managed to find your passion and raise a wonderful family!

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