What is it like to be a Labor and Delivery nurse?

What is it like to be a Labor and Delivery nurse?

Author: Kathleen Melancon, BSN, RNC-OB

If I had to be brutally honest, Labor and Delivery was not my specialty of choice during nursing school. I always thought my vocation was oncology as those patients hit very close to home for me. During nursing school, I completed my final semester preceptorship in oncology, and I was even offered a job on the unit once I graduated. Pretty cool, right? Isn’t that what every new graduate wants? Before I answer that question, let’s rewind to the previous semester.

The Difference of a Day

In my nursing program, obstetrics was only covered in a few weeks – our obstetrical clinical was only THREE DAYS! Of those three days, one day was spent in NICU, one in Mother/Baby and one in Labor and Delivery. I enjoyed my NICU rotation; I saw some of the smartest, kindest, most gentle nurses caring for the little ones that needed someone to fight for them. Mother/Baby was similar. To see the impact that nursing education can have on a new mother trying to change a diaper or breastfeed is gratifying. I thoroughly enjoyed my two days on these units.

Intimidation and Strength

Then, there was Labor and Delivery. I would be lying if I said walking on the unit was not intimidating. I’d heard horror stories from my classmates, and I was terrified. Labor and Delivery was intense and very busy that day. My professor walked me to the unit, and I met my student nurse preceptor. She answered questions and allowed me to do a few things hands on, such as checking a cervix which at the time felt so completely foreign. The technical aspects were great because I was able to check-off on some hard skills that I didn’t complete in a clinical, but what really hit home for me – what really stole my heart away from oncology nursing – was the patient we cared for.

She was our patient for the full clinical. She was relatively young, pregnant with her first child and ultimately alone. She told me a bit of her history regarding the father of her baby and how he was no longer in the picture. He was not good for her or for her child. I remember thinking how strong she had to have been to make that decision and how strong she had to be to have the strength to do this alone.

I was a late bloomer in nursing school. I’d graduated from another university prior to attending nursing school, so I was a bit older than my classmates. It worked out in this instance because the patient and I were roughly the same age. Since she was my only patient assignment, I spent a lot of time with her and we got to know each other a bit. She told me about how scared she was when she found out she was pregnant, how scared she was to tell her family, and how much she loved this child she’d never met. I was in awe of her strength.

We labored her all day. She made steady progress and eventually the time came for my clinical rotation to end. We hadn’t had a baby yet. I knew that I probably should have left the unit with my classmates and that my nurse preceptor was probably tired of me by that point. But, I asked my preceptor and my clinical instructor if it would be okay if I stayed for a little while longer. They both agreed…only a few more hours. Those few hours went by, and she finally made it to 10 cm. I’d never seen a birth before. I know now nursing students typically stand in the background and watch. Some faint, some cry, some throw up. It’s just a part of it. You either love it, or you don’t. That day – that delivery – standing next to that patient holding her hand and cheering for her while she welcomed her miracle in the word….I fell head over heels in love with Labor and Delivery. That day, I decided that was where I was meant to be.

Seconds and Satisfaction

Fast forward, I turned down the job offer I had from the oncology unit, got a job at Woman’s as a Nurse Tech, graduated from nursing school, and accepted a position in Labor and Delivery. A few years after I started, my story of why I chose this path came full circle when I saw the same beautiful momma back to have her second baby. I sat with her and told her how her delivery and the birth of her sweet boy changed my vocation…changed my life. I thanked her for allowing me to be there with her years before, and she told me that she’d never forgotten me either. She never forgot the support she felt delivering her baby alone and the sense of friendship that was developed in only those few short hours.

I could go into detail about the technicalities of being a Labor and Delivery nurse. But, every nursing job is technical. We all know how to place a catheter, start an IV, and position. It’s the patients, the families, the relationships that we as nurses build with our patients in the 12 hours we have them that make the lasting impressions. That’s why there are babies out there who have all been delivered by the same nurse. We remember them, and they remember us. We love them, their stories, their struggles and their sweet babies.

Today, I am no longer at the bedside. The discipline and passion I’ve gained from working on a unit like Labor and Delivery gave me the push to go back to school so that I can make even more of a difference in the lives of our patients and the nurses that take care of them. But, my heart is there in every delivery, with every momma who feels like she can’t do it, and with every broken hearted family who struggles with loss. My Labor and Delivery nurse heart is with them all, always.

Woman’s. I love this place. I am blessed to have found my vocation here. No matter where I go in this life, a piece of my heart will always stay.

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