of a Maternity Nurse
There for one of the most joyous events in life, we stepped into the shoes of our maternity nurses to see what it’s like to be there from contractions to delivery, through sending "their moms and babies" home together for the first time. Here’s what we learned during a shift on the Capital Health maternity floors.
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When we arrived at 7:30 a.m., it was quieter than one would expect on a busy labor and delivery unit. It was a deceptive calmness.
As Labor and Delivery (L&D) nurses watched monitors, spoke on the phone to physicians, and collaborated
with other nurses on the postpartum floor, women in the private labor and delivery rooms nearby were in
various stages of delivery.
In a room across from the nurses’ central monitoring station, one mom was in her final stage of pushing. Two more moms to the right were in labor. One would, in the hours following, start an infusion of Pitocin to move her labor along, and the woman next door would be a first-time mom by late morning.
A few doors down, another woman was recovering from delivery and getting ready to move to the postpartum floor. Down the center corridor were operating rooms where yet another patient was waiting for a scheduled c-section. For each of them, there was a L&D nurse prepared to get them through every step.
We spent the next seven hours trailing registered nurses Barb Mizenko and Colleen Mazzella and some of
the other nurses on the L&D and postpartum floors as they calmed, coached, monitored, delivered, and educated.
What hits you in an instant is that, from the moment a mom-to-be enters the hospital, maternity nurses
are an integral part of the team. From helping moms in labor through contractions, monitoring vital signs,
administering medications and consulting with physicians, and assisting during the birth and providing
critical education, maternity nurses are confident, calm, and reassuring with an appreciation for the miraculous. They also don’t do well sitting still.
“If I didn’t work in Labor and Delivery, I’d probably work in the Emergency Department because I like the change,” says veteran L&D nurse Barb Mizenko. “It’s different every day and I don’t like to sit still for long.”
Barb Mizenko has been a maternity nurse for 34 years. A mother and grandmother herself, she’s heard it all, seen it all, and at this point, not much surprises her.
What was clear as we followed Barb and two other L&D nurses, Michelle and Anita, is that in every room you walk into there's something different waiting for you. Every woman may be there to have a baby, but the road to get there can take many different routes with twists and turns along the way. These nurses have to be ready for everything.
“We have a great team here,” says Barb of the Capital Health maternity team. “We have a fantastic group of nurses. At any given moment if you need help, it’s there at your fingertips.”
Every patient’s delivery is different. Are they moving quickly through labor or does it seem like there’s a long road ahead? Are they comfortable with their pain level or are they starting to consider an epidural? And, sometimes, there are more complex deliveries: breech babies, a baby's shoulder getting stuck during delivery and prolapsed cords to name a few, and these nurses are there for the duration with the hospital’s obstetricians.
“People would be surprised to know how physically challenging it [being a maternity nurse] is and how often people come in and don’t really understand the birthing process,” Barb says. This is why education is another critical component of their day.
Women come in with all different levels of education about childbirth, Barb says. Some with very little knowledge of what childbirth involves, others have read every book on earth.
Labor and delivery nurses also help patients who come in with a very specific birth plan. From Barb’s perspective, it’s her job to help provide the laboring mom with all the tools she needs to follow her birth plan, and then if she needs to make a change, to help her through that. Barb says she tells moms that it’s
okay if they thought they wanted to do a natural birth and then, at some point, decide to proceed with an epidural. “We don’t give any gold stars at the end as far as whether you’ve gotten an epidural or whether you haven’t,” Barb tells moms. “We don’t care. At the end of it, all we want is a healthy mom and baby.”
Nurses on the postpartum floor check vital signs, help with breastfeeding, check incisions, monitor pain, and answer questions that cover parenting 101 to clinical questions about healing from a c-section.
One of Barb’s c-section patients from a couple days before is now two floors up, under the watchful eye of nurse Colleen Mazzella, a seasoned mom of four. When we caught up with Colleen, she was getting ready to send the first-time parents home. Another family under her care was getting to know their little boy.
Mazzella was a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurse before becoming a “mom and baby nurse” on the postpartum unit.
What appealed to Mazzella about maternity nursing were “the new beginnings, the happiness and the fresh starts.” It’s clear that Mazzella has a passion for her job, beaming an enormous smile as she hovers over the newborns and reassures parents.
Colleen and her fellow nurses, step in after delivery when mom and baby are transitioned to them from the labor and delivery floor. In moments, Colleen can go from checking on feedings, to doing assessments and managing pain and medications, to answering questions about swaddling and diaper changes, to talking about discharge planning. She also reassures new parents, “to let them know they’re doing a good job,” says Mazzella. “They need to hear that.”
There are also more challenging days, she says, like when a mom or baby is sick. With both Level II and Level III NICUs, and a Maternal Fetal Medicine Department, Capital Health gets routine deliveries but also high risk ones, and the nurses on L&D and postpartum work closely with their colleagues in the NICU.
ONE OF THE FAMILY
Mazzella says she does sometimes shed tears on the job; sometimes with joy, other times when a mom or baby are sick, or when a mom is struggling and needs comfort.
When you talk to her, Mazzella uses the word “my” and “our” a lot: “my parents,” “my moms and babies,” “our babies.” So we asked her how hard it was to leave at the end of the day. She said what makes it easy to leave is the confidence she has in the nurses to whom she is handing off her patients.
“We’re like a little family. And we talk a lot about the needs of all the patients, because they vary,” says Mazzella.
When asked about moments that have stuck with her, Mazzella pauses because there are so many great moments, but she says, “Moms who have struggled with infertility or have had multiple losses and then finally have their baby and they’re just over the moon, it’s the best thing. It’s great. Or there is something that clicks for them [the moms]. The first time that a baby latches great and has a great feed and she’s like ‘wow, I did it.’ You know, those stick with me.”