“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
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a nurse. My friend Diane and I used to play “desk nurse” during our sleepovers when we were little (not sure what that is exactly, but it’s what we called it) and that game always stuck in my head. Fast forward many years, many fears and people telling me that I would not be able to handle being a nurse; only to find myself in college for Business Administration instead, wishing that it was nursing school (I won’t get into how I ended up there). Fast forward another 3 years and being in an unhappy “business” job and ecstatically pregnant with my first child. Fast forward 10 months later to the labor and delivery room in June, 1989. I was totally taken in by the entire labor and delivery experience. At that moment, I decided that this was what I wanted to do. Despite many comments from others about how it was a “heat of the moment decision” or me being “caught up in the emotions” etc. etc., I threw caution to the wind and contacted the closest college of nursing and enrolled in a pre-nursing curriculum, to start that following September. This is where the journey would begin, chipping away on my pre-requisites that were necessary before I could finally enter the actual nursing program. (I had never even taken high school chemistry or algebra!). Fast forward another 21 months to 1991 and the birth of baby #2. With a newborn and a toddler keeping me busy, I up and left the business world, during my maternity leave, in exchange for 3 part-time nursing-related jobs and final acceptance into the nursing program.
Why three part-time jobs? Well, I wanted to start getting some nursing experience, so I applied for 3 jobs and was offered all 3. Instead of picking one, I took them all and worked them around my 20 hours a week of nursing school plus marriage and motherhood. I worked for my kid’s pediatrician on Thursday and Saturday mornings and a local hospital Oncology floor from 4-midnight every other Saturday and Sunday and at another hospital in the postpartum unit from 3-11 and any other evening that I could squeeze in. I was busy. I was stressed. I was missing out on some of my kid’s “firsts”. I was a mom, a student, a wife, a nursing assistant…I was one hot mess with index cards taped to the bathroom mirror so that I could study while getting ready for each venture. I carried those index cards with me every place I went. I wondered how long I could keep up that crazy schedule and pace. I questioned whether I had the guts to finish. I questioned whether I’d be any good at it once I finally got done. I questioned everything. This went on from September 1989 – June 1993 when I finally completed the program and graduated. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, yet the most rewarding. Nursing programs are cut-throat and they look for ways for you to mess up and fail. It’s how they weed out the bad prospects. In some ways, it felt like the military.
In 1993, I graduated. From this point, my children would no longer be stuck with a baby sitter full-time, (and there had been 7 sitters until I finally found the perfect ones to care for my children) other than a few hours a week when I would need to get a few hours of daytime sleep from working the night shift. I opted to work 12-hour night shifts on the postpartum unit, full-time, so that I could be home with my kids during the daytime hours. I sacrificed my sleep; a lot of sleep. I’d come home and nap for 3-4 hours and then stay up until it was either time to go to work again or time to go to bed. My days and nights were all mixed up. I know some days I was difficult to live with, but my family knew why and they were good to me; the kids knew not to push my buttons and that if I was grumpy, not to take it personal, that I was flat-out exhausted. I give them a lot of credit for putting up with a tired, run-down mamma. They knew I was doing this for them and how important it was to me that they be raised by parents and not constant babysitters. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. I was never so glad to don that nursing cap for the pinning ceremony. It felt like it would never come! Another great part about nursing school is that you will make friendships that will last a lifetime and before you know it, you’re helping them deliver their babies!
I wanted a job in Labor and Delivery in the worst way; after all, that was what drove me into nursing. They simply did not hire new graduates back then for Labor and Delivery; it was unheard of to do so and since I was already a “nursing technician” (fancy name for nursing assistant, that also meant you could do some of the procedures and tasks that you’d been checked off on in nursing school to that point) on postpartum. I was easily hired there; but not really all that thrilled with the idea. I knew it was a stepping stone, so I sucked it up and did the best job that I could so that I could get the attention of the labor and delivery nurse manager and so she would think of me when a position opened. I took state boards in July and on October 1st, got the word that I had passed and was officially an R.N.! Back then, you worked at a “graduate nurse or GN” while you awaited your results. It is a very long 3 months; I will say that. Basically, we were allowed to begin our nursing orientation under the direction of a tenured nurse and instead of signing your name “RN” you signed it “GN” followed by a very long assigned number. Today this is no longer necessary because the boards are taken via computer and results are almost immediate.
Fast forward yet again, to 1995 and birth to child #3. This was an interesting day that’s kind of fun to share. I got up to go to work for a 12-hour day shift (at some point, I had finally gotten away from night shift for a brief time). I was contracting and it was clear that labor was starting. I went on into work and made it until about 3:00 p.m. before things started to get intense. My doctor so happened to be making her afternoon rounds, so we stepped into an empty room where she checked me and found me to be 5 cm. I gave up my patient assignment, crawled into bed, got my water broken and proceeded to have a natural labor without an epidural, finally delivering close to 4:00 a.m.! I was not yet a Labor and Delivery nurse, but I had bugged management nonstop to give me a chance. Ironically, the labor and delivery nurse manager as well as my postpartum nurse manager both popped into my labor room to visit me, which I found unusual, especially since the labor and delivery nurse manager barely knew me. (there was an agenda, which you will hear about shortly). Lo and behold, 6 weeks into my maternity leave, I got the golden phone call. “We have an immediate position in Labor and Delivery and we need a nurse NOW…but the catch is, you must start on Monday or we will have to move on to other interested candidates.” With another 6 weeks to go on my 12-week maternity leave, I was left with a very hard decision to make. I was not mentally ready to go back. I had taken advantage of the new “Family and Medical Leave Act” that allowed new mothers 12 weeks of maternity leave. I had been beyond excited about this, so this was a kick in the pants. I gave it some thought and then I bargained with them that if I cut my leave short, they would need to agree to let me take my last 6 weeks off when I wanted to during that year. They agreed and I was ecstatic and very nervous. Little did I know what was about to take place. I showed up to work that following Monday morning and was thrown to the wolves; left to make it on my own in Labor and Delivery without any bit of orientation. Here’s why…
Labor and Delivery nurses must go through at least a 12-week orientation before being out on your own. The staffing was terrible and everyone was angry that I had been hired, because what they really needed was an experienced labor and delivery nurse, not a postpartum, fairly new graduate nurse who was not of immediate help to them. In fact, the staff were so upset, they refused to help me acclimate. I was supposed to do simple tasks such as admissions, discharges and be a second set of hands to the other nurses until I could receive a proper orientation. Instead, I was given full-blown assignments and was left to fend for myself, to teach myself by trial and error. It was a cluster #$%^ if I ever saw one. I was not about to admit defeat, and as I cried my way home after every shift, pulling out my OB textbook and reviewing the types of cases that I’d handled that day, I eventually learned the ropes and ended up strong and confident. It was unconventional and to this day, I’ve never seen a new nurse put in this type of situation, thankfully. It was horrible and I wanted to quit so many times. I was frightened. Babies were flying out and I did not know what to do, where to find equipment, whom to call and when or how to chart it all…but I made it my mission to learn and to be the best nurse that I could be. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…I have come to believe that!
Almost 2 years later, I gave birth to child #4. It is amazing how you can work on your feet, running up and down the hallways of a busy delivery unit until the last second of pregnancy. There is no special treatment for making sure the pregnant nurse gets to eat, drink or pee. You get so dehydrated and crampy, you constantly feel like labor is starting and you pray that it is so you can finally get off your feet! Those last few months can be torture!
I love my patients, the birth process and most of all, the flexibility that comes with being a nurse. I raised my own children, mostly sitter-free except for random times that I needed to sleep after working night shift. I have dabbled in a few other fun things as well. I was chosen to take part in a campaign for nurse recruitment by the Ohio Board of Nursing, where a select group of nurses were featured on billboards, in commercials, the OBN website and in nursing publications sharing our stories about why we because nurses. (That is my son, child #4 in the photo shoot below; he even looks like he is not feeling well. He played the part quite well I thought!)
In 2006, I decided it was time to move on and look for more opportunity. I called the manager at my current hospital and asked if they would consider hiring me in a contingent position. She agreed to meet with me and after a brief tour and a few favorable recognitions from some of the physicians who knew me, she hired me on the spot, but I had to agree to come in to a part-time position. I kept both jobs until 2008, when I decided that one job site was enough and finally cut the cord. I miss my co-workers terribly as there is definitely a comfort level that takes years to achieve. It’s tough to be the new person and here I was, 15 years later, doing it all again. The experienced nurse, yet still a newbie.
Today, I still love labor and delivery and for the last 9 years, have worked a bit with Maternal-Fetal Medicine, seeing high risk pregnant patients in an office setting. I have also had the exciting opportunity to be part of a national television series, in random appearances for 2 seasons called “One Born Every Minute” that was filmed at our hospital and aired on Lifetime Television. I have earned a nursing scholarship and the hospital footed the bill for me to complete my Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree, which I just finished this year. I have been part of a new pilot program in telemedicine called “Electronic Labor and Delivery” where I spend my shift closely observing fetal monitors and watching for pattern changes that can lead to a potential unfavorable outcome for the baby. This came at the perfect time in my career as I had begun to get burned out with my job. The EL&D pilot saved my career and now when I pick up shifts in labor and delivery at random, I enjoy my job again. It’s sad to say, but changes in healthcare, insurance requirements, malpractice and changes with patient health conditions have been the cause of my burn-out.
Someone asked me once, “What is the best part of your job”? For me, it’s been being able to help my friends labor and delivery 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 babies. I love that special bond that it has created between these women, who were already my closest friends. It gives us something to share and reminisce about that others don’t understand and will never experience. I love that I can to do this for my friends. I love giving them that extra bit of TLC and expertise in the hospital that they might not otherwise receive due to how busy, short-staffed and chaotic a labor and delivery unit can be, because when I’m there for them, I’m able to focus on just them. For many nurses, taking care of friends is frightening or uncomfortable. For me, it’s special, unique and loads of fun. These are just a few of my most treasured deliveries. I have also made lifelong friendships with some of my patients as well. Most women forget about their delivery nurse or don’t even remember our names, but every once in a while you meet one and you know you will always be a special part of their life…that’s the other amazing part of my job.
I think it’s important to mention, that not all aspects of being a delivery nurse are smiles and roses. There are times of intense sorrow and times when you go home and swear you are never going back. We care for women with serious medical conditions who have become pregnant, women who develop conditions while pregnant and for women who know they will either never take their baby home or will endure a lifetime of special needs for their child. We see traumas and we save lives; both mothers and babies. We see family dysfunction at it’s’ worst and frustrating language barriers and cultural differences we will never understand. We do not eat a normal meal most shifts and rarely get to take even a ten-minute break. Our meals consist of grabbing a donut or a handful of chips and scarfing them down between patient checks.
All that said, I love 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 will toughen up the weakest of hearts and minds. You will learn conflict resolution, time management, will work holidays year after year and miss countless family events due to weekend requirements; you will hate that part; there is no getting around it. You will travel in level III snow emergencies to get to work and be crazy jealous that everyone else cozied up at home. You’ll get speeding tickets when you’re late (because being late to relieve your coworkers is never good) and you will often be let out of them because cops generally respect what you do. You will cry with your patients and that does not mean you’re weak, it shows that you are human and compassionate. You will work for other nurses so that they can do things with their families and when you need it in return, those same people may not return the favor. You will get annoyed with your coworkers, yelled at by doctors and often times feel unappreciated by your patients. Yet somehow through it all, there’s still nothing I’d rather be doing but being a nurse.