Obstetrical Nursing: The Good, Bad, and the Insanely Crazy
The Crazy: Leaving Corporate America to Pursue a Dream
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a nurse. I wasn't the most confident gal on the planet back in 1985 so since I seemed to have a head for business, that's the direction I took.
I earned an Associate's degree in Business Administration in 1987 from a local community college, left my hometown for the "big city, and an entry-level office job earning peanuts. It was also the company my father worked for, which made him proud. I thought that's what life was all about...making your parents proud. I was a people-pleaser extraordinaire!
For four years, I worked in a typical office environment, with drama and politics, and figured this was as good as it got. I got married in 1988 and pregnant with my first child six months later. I didn't want my baby in daycare, but neither of us made enough money to survive on one income.
Fast forward to my Labor and Delivery (L&D) 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. It was a heat-of-the-moment decision. I was "caught up in the emotions," and my family didn't take me seriously.
During my maternity leave, I applied to the closest college of nursing I could commute to from my office and home and was accepted in a pre-nursing curriculum. I began chipping away at the prerequisites to apply for the nursing 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. Still, 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
I took classes in the evenings and on 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 worked at my kid's pediatric office, a cancer unit at a local hospital every other weekend, and a mother-baby unit at a different hospital, whenever I could. All the while, attending nursing classes and clinical rotations for 20 hours per week.
I felt like I was dying a slow death and was beyond overwhelmed, but I kept my eye on the prize. Never again, would my children spend 40 hours a week with a babysitter, because nursing allows a flexible schedule perfect for raising children.
In 1993, I graduated and donned a token 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 initially and was devastated (new graduates rarely got employed in Labor and Delivery back then). Instead, I offered a position working 12-hour night shifts on the postpartum unit, where I was already a nursing assistant. That was close enough to appease me...temporarily.
For most of my career, I sacrificed sleep, following many long night shifts, to stay up with my kids during the day, and that's where things 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 challenging 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 provide them with 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 as I was getting up for work (I was a temporary day-shift rotation). I made it nine hours before finally succumbing to a labor bed, where endured my longest labor ever. I was working on the Postpartum unit and getting more anxious by the day to make my move to Labor and Delivery.
I would never have guessed that just weeks into maternity leave, I'd get the phone call. It came on a Friday from the L&D manager saying:
"We have an immediate position in L&D, and we need a nurse who can start NOW. The catch is, you must start on Monday, or we'll move to other candidates."
What the hell! This wasn't happening now! I still had six weeks left with my baby! I had a tough decision to make. I wasn't mentally or physically ready to go back yet. It was clear I was being tested to see how badly I wanted the position. If I passed it up, I'd blow any future chances to get hired.
After a weekend of tears and mental anguish, I decided to go for it. I bargained with the "powers that be," if I cut my leave short per their request, I'd be granted my remaining six weeks later that year. I was shocked they agreed to my terms, but they were also desperate for help. Little did I know what was about to happen.
I showed up to work that following Monday morning as requested, pumped, and ready to learn. I was thrown straight to the wolves; left to make it on my own, without any bit of orientation. Here's why:
L&D nurses generally get, at minimum, 12-weeks of orientation before working independently. Unlucky for me, staffing was short from a recent turnover. The nurses were angry that management hired someone without L&D experience. In fact, the staff was so upset they refused to acclimate to my new position. I taught myself the ins and outs of L&D, where the supplies were located, the doctor's preferences, and the unit's general flow. I wanted to crawl in a hole and never come out, but at the same time, I wasn't about to admit defeat. I'd waited too long for this opportunity, so it was "game-on".
I cried after every shift and felt alone. I spent hours reading my obstetrical college textbook, trying to learn and understand what had happened each day on my new job. Google wasn't a thing back then, and I wasn't about to be broken.
I eventually learned the ropes, which made me stronger and helped my confidence, despite 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 often, but it was my mission to learn and be the best nurse I could be. The experience made me more attentive and helpful to other new nurses as time went on. It took 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 look at the experience as a positive contribution to my growth as a nurse, a peer, and a friend.
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 opportunities 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 called the manager at my current hospital. I bypassed Human Resources and the usual application process, to ask if she'd meet with me to discuss a contingent (per diem) position. I wanted to get my foot in the door. 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 know your stuff. Thankfully, this time, 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 a move to another hospital system, I was able to finish my degree and advance to BSN with a BA minor, fully paid for!
The Good: Opportunities For Growth and Change
I've spent all but 1.5 years of my nursing career in L&D. I've also worked 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 a fantastic 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. 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 enjoy this unique and innovative method of patient care. I carefully observe fetal monitor tracings and watch for heart rate and contraction pattern changes that can lead to an unfavorable outcome. This change came at the perfect time, as I'd begun to experience burn-out. Changes in healthcare, insurance requirements, malpractice, and patient health conditions, and staffing issues are the primary cause of my burn-out.
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've been fortunate to have assisted in the birth of over 40 of my friend's babies! I've come in special, during my time off, 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. For me, it's exclusive, 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. It's rare (about 10%) for women to experience 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 made lifelong friendships with some of my patients. Most women forget about their delivery nurse and can't even remember our name. Once in a while, we click and will always be a special part of our lives.
The Bad and the Crazy
Not all aspects of being a delivery nurse are smiles and roses. There are times of intense sorrow when you go home and swear you can't endure another day. We care for women with medical conditions, those who develop severe conditions while pregnant, and women who'll 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 its worst and frustrating language and cultural differences we'll never understand.
We rarely eat a regular meal or even take even a ten-minute break. If we get a chance to go to the bathroom, it's after we've held it forever. Our meals consist of grabbing whatever we can between cervical exams and emergencies. 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 have missed countless family events. I travel in level III snow emergencies to get to work and am crazy jealous when everyone else is cozied up at home, safe and sound. I 've gotten speeding tickets because it's better than dealing with attitudes if late to relieve a coworker. I've gotten out of some because cops seriously respect nurses. I work for other nurses who want to things with their families, and when I need help, those same nurses don't reciprocate. Nurses get annoyed with coworkers for 1000 reasons, yelled at by cranky doctors, and feel unappreciated by patients and managers most days. Yet somehow, there's still nothing I'd rather be doing, but being an OB nurse.
If you enjoyed this personal story, please check out my advice in my article that discusses my advice for laboring women.
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.
© 2018 Debra Roberts