I graduated from St. Scholastica in 1980 with a degree as a Registered Nurse and took the nursing boards that summer. In 1987 I graduated from Law school after being a nurse for almost seven years. I have said many times since 1987 that it was a lot more challenging education, and much more difficult to do the classes and exams to become an RN, than it was to become a lawyer. An apology to my lawyer friends, but it is the truth. The bottom line is that it took a lot more studying to become a nurse. As a nurse you hold lives in your hands. As a lawyer you are almost always fighting over money, and while it is important work and I am proud of it, I have been most touched by my work in nursing.
Nursing is one of those things that once you are one, no one can take that away from you. Once a nurse, always a nurse. You cannot undo that state of mind and education, so even though I have been a lawyer for many more years, I am still proud of being a nurse and I feel like I think like a nurse and my relatives and friends think of me as the nurse. My nurse friends will understand that.
I have had people in my law office that ask nursing questions and I cannot tell you how often employees and other lawyers have said, “Can you take a look at this, I know you are a nurse.” I don’t want to tell you all of the things and body parts I have seen on coworkers and family members, but it is kind of like the attorney client privilege. As a nurse I keep their secrets. I even took out stitches in one of my law partners eyebrow’s because he did not want to take the time to go back to the doctor to have them removed. I was also the one they called into the office when one partner appeared to be having a heart attack. He was not, but after that I insisted upon getting a defibrillator in the office, because if that guy’s heart would have stopped, I had no equipment to help him and would have been left with only CPR.
Right out of college in 1980, my first job was in OB/GYN at Ramsey Medical Center in St. Paul. I really wanted Labor and Delivery and it was a good choice for me. We had a level three center at the time, which meant that we were capable of giving the highest level of care possible and we received transfers of high risk mothers from all over our state and western Wisconsin. We had a very competent perinatologist and a great group of OB doctors and nurses and we were a residency site for the University of Minnesota. The nurses were top notch and I was excited to learn from them and become part of the team.
The learning curve was steep in that Labor and Delivery was a very specialized area and we had a lot of high risk cases, and twins, and just a high volume of babies being born. It was exciting and scary all at the same time for a new nurse. I had great mentors in the nurses who were experienced. They trained and watched over me. Bonnie, who has been a lifelong friend, was known as the queen of the night shift in Labor and Delivery, and we new nurses were afraid of her. She ran a tight ship, ruled with an iron fist, was one of the most competent L & D nurses of any hospital, and demanded perfection from the other nurses and doctors. She was famous for pointing her finger in the new doctor or nurses’ face and saying after training you, “If you screw anything up, I will kill you.” She was demanding, but an excellent teacher and she had immense courage, competence and calm in the face of adversity. She remains a good friend today.
I had been in Labor and Delivery for only a few weeks when one of my other favorite nurses, Mary, told me I would have to learn to deliver a baby on my own to work there. My heart leapt with both excitement and fear at the same time, but I figured I had to get my feet wet to become comfortable and I had to be comfortable doing a delivery to work there. I had helped deliver animals on the farm, but this was very different. I had seen quite a few births at the hospital in the first few weeks there, but did not know if I was ready for this.
Mary chose a birth that was going smoothly and we had our Doctor back-up for safety. It was a
teaching hospital, and so teaching nurses and doctors was a big part of the program. As the patient became closer and closer to delivery, I became more excited and of course nervous. I did not want my hands to shake and I wanted to do a good job and make my mentors proud. But the bottom line was that I would have a life in my hands, and while everyone was there to ensure a safe birth, it was still me alone who would have my hands on that child for the very first time. Mary ran through the process with me in a separate room for a final time as the patient was close to delivery. I can still hear her, control the head, check for a cord around the neck, and let the baby rotate itself to the side once the head was out, then push down on the head slightly to gently deliver the top shoulder and then up on the head to deliver the bottom shoulder and the rest of the baby follows easily. Keep a good grip on the baby and keep its head down to drain its lungs, clamp the cord and let it take that first breath. I felt ready. I still remember exactly how it feels to deliver a baby and I could do it with my eyes closed.
When the moment arrived I was full of butterflies, but tried not to show it. I stood at the bottom of her delivery bed and tried to sound confident in directing her to push and then stop pushing as I delivered her baby girl. I consider myself a passionate person, but not an overly emotional person, but as I delivered that baby the tears rolled down my face. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever done. I was overcome with emotion, holding her as she glided out. I felt her wind up for that first breathe and let out a cry that instantly made her entire body pink and flush with oxygen. My tears were tears of joy and amazement at the miracle of life as I placed that crying, breathing new life on her mother’s chest. I will never forget the look on the mom’s face. It was one of calm, because the pain was now gone and she had this beautiful new life on her chest, looking healthy and perfect. She named the baby June, as she was giving birth in June of 1980. I often wonder how June turned out. I have an image that she is healthy and happy and gorgeous and now in her mid thirties, and has had a good life and a family of her own. The experience was overwhelming and even today, now over 30 years later, I remember every minute of what happened and how I felt inside.
I delivered a lot of babies by myself over the next seven years in Labor and Delivery, but there was no other one as memorable as the first. We had a lot of women come in and deliver so quickly that there was no time to call a doctor. Yes, that happens more often than you think, especially in a high risk level three center.
I loved my work in Labor and Delivery. After a few years, my bother and his wife came to Ramsey to deliver their baby girl. It was great to help her into this world and even though I did not get to do the actual delivery, I was able to be in the room and be a part of her entry into this world. She was cute as a bunny, dark hair and long legs. She was a beauty then and turned into a gorgeous and successful young woman, who is now pregnant with her own child. The circle of life is amazing!
Over the years I was able to do all kinds of fun things. I was lucky enough to go on air ambulance transport and I worked once for 72 hours during a winter storm and received a snow team pin from the hospital. We had undiagnosed twins come in a few different times, we had severely ill mom’s with preeclampsia-high blood pressure and protein in the urine which could lead to death or stroke in the mom and death of the baby in utero, and we sometimes, unfortunately, lost some babies. I learned that there is no deeper sadness than the loss of a baby. There was no more difficult case then to induce a mother to deliver a stillborn. The sadness was indescribable. This is going to sound odd, but this was also a lifetime experience for which I am grateful. I felt like I could help make a difference for this very sad couple, by trying to make them as comfortable as possible and do what they needed and be respectful of their feelings as they went through the saddest event of their life.
Luckily we had more joy than sadness in Labor and Delivery. We became very close to the nurses and doctors that were on our team. When you go through the joy of birth together and the loss of life, even when we had all done our best and worked our hardest to save them, you become very close to each other. There were times we left a room having lost a life with little discussion, but with hugs and support for each other. Everything in our being made us work towards saving the life, but not everything was in our hands and you learned that very quickly. We held life in our hands, but in so doing we realized that there were powers greater than ourselves. We were a part of a big universe where some things were not meant to be and every birth was a miracle no matter how many you experience.
Having my own children was an indescribable joy and a miracle, and assisting other women in their birth experiences was the privilege of a lifetime. In my life, I have been so lucky to have brought new life into this world and to have held life itself in my hands. There is no greater emotional connection with one’s own life and purpose, then to see, witness, and assist in the birth experience.