It was early Monday morning, my first day working in Labor & Delivery while on my OBGYN rotation. After my last clinical experience, Family Medicine, when the workday began at 9 AM, waking up at 4:30 AM to finish responsibilities before rounds in the postpartum unit had me yawning and rubbing my tired eyes quite often. I was pretty excited to start L&D after hearing stories my wife, an L&D nurse, would excitedly tell from time to time. But in those first few moments, nothing seemed to shake the fatigue of an early morning. That is, until my attending’s pager started crying for attention.
My Wife & I, Team L&D!
I was warned that between all the students and interns, the opportunity to participate in a delivery might not present itself very often. But there I was, not 2 hours into my first shift and Loma Linda’s newest life didn’t want to wait for rounds to finish before making a sudden appearance. My attending took off, and not wanting to miss an opportunity, I followed, leaving the rest of our team behind in the postpartum unit. “Do you mind if I come too?” I asked, trying to catch up, “I’ve never seen a delivery before!” She motioned for me to follow, not slowing a bit.
Walking into the patient’s room, I discovered a very busy scene. To some, the room might have looked like chaos, what with the 4 family members crowded around the head of the soon-to-be mommy’s bed, a husband helping one of the nurses hold up his wife’s legs as she pushed, and 10 or so other individuals busy with something. But at this point in my medical education, I didn’t see chaos; I saw a well-oiled machine, each health care member working together as a team, covering every need. A senior resident, already gowned up and prepared to deliver the newborn, was standing at the foot of the bed, counting to 10, and telling his patient when to push. There was a small team of NICU pediatricians, ready to assess the newborn (there was some concern for fetal distress). And there were several nurses monitoring vitals and ferrying items to and from mom.
Taking it all in, I was suddenly surprised as a surgical gown package was smacked into my chest. “Better hurry and gown up,” my attending was telling me, “you don’t want to miss this! What’s your glove size?” Wait, she expected me to do more than just watch? Seeing the question on my face, she spoke up again as she pointed toward the senior resident, “You did well on this in the simulation lab, Dr. Brown* will do it with you now.” She smiled a warm look of reassurance. “Now get that gown on or you’ll miss it!”
Suit up! Typical Delivery Attire
Just as I had learned earlier in the year (à la My Laparoscopic Camera), I had no time to question. I put on surgical boots and a mask, and then carefully and quickly self-gowned and gloved, making sure my outfit stayed sterile. A nurse came up behind me to help tie my gown, quickly followed by the inevitable jokes about my height and how hard it was to reach the Velcro tie at the nape of my neck. But I barely even heard, I was too busy going over the steps of delivery in my head.
As I approached the foot of the table, the senior resident acknowledged my presence and stepped to the side. Now, from here on out, I won’t go into too much detail; as most of you moms already know, some could consider birth a gory experience! At the point I joined the delivery, you could already see the very top of baby’s head, and two or three more good pushes would have us celebrating a birthday. Dr. Brown took my hands, positioned them over baby’s head, then placed his own over top of mine as he helped me guide baby into a new world. “Alright, give me one more good push!” Dr. Brown instructed, looking up at mom with encouragement.
Next thing I knew, a tiny face was staring up at me, looking surprisingly peaceful. We checked to see if there was an umbilical cord around her neck, then delivered each shoulder, one after the other. With one more push and a gush of fluid, I was suddenly holding a baby girl! For a moment, time froze; it was the most disgusting and yet beautiful thing I had every seen. She was perfect, with her tiny fingers, eyes, ears, nose… “Clamp!” I snapped out of the brief moment and held baby as her cord was clamped in two spots, daddy coming over to cut. He was a brawn looking man, and I could tell he was trying pretty hard, and pretty unsuccessfully, not to cry.
Normally, baby would have immediately gone to her mommy’s chest. The practice of immediate “skin-to-skin” helps with bonding, provides warm, and eases baby into easier breast-feeding (among other things), but in our case, the NICU team wanted to assess the newborn due to some meconium present during labor (meconium is baby poo while in the womb; it can indicate distress). As I handed baby to the NICU team, she gave out a hearty, strong cry, and I knew everything was going to be ok. After a quick check, the NICU team confirmed my relief by smiling and bringing baby over for some of that important skin-to-skin time. At this point, dad had pretty much lost his composure as he and his wife embraced their brand new daughter. It’s tough finding words to describe the moment that was in front of me. 100%, unadulterated love. Pure joy.
For me, there was no time to get caught up in the emotion of it all as we still had to do some stuff you never really hear about after a delivery. The placenta still needed to be delivered and inspected, mom’s uterus had to be massaged to help stop postpartum bleeding, and any lacerations from delivery needed sutures. This happened without problem, and because I mentioned my plans of specializing in emergency medicine, I even got to do the suturing! As I took off my soiled gown, Dr. Brown and my attending both affirmed I had done a good job, which frankly, felt pretty awesome. I then washed my hands, gave congratulations to the new family (along with receiving a grip-crushing handshake from dad), and stepped outside the room.
Me with Some of the Coolest Nurses in the Hospital
That’s when it hit me. Oh my goodness, I just pulled a new life into the world!! Pretty cool. I’m so grateful that even though I’ve less than a month left to go in my third year, even with another huge board exam looming over my head, I’m still finding moments like these. Not to mention in 17 short weeks I’ll be doing this again as the dad!
My Son at 22 Weeks. 3D Ultrasounds are Amazing!
Even though I thought I couldn’t have any more respect for my mom, I certainly do after participating in that first delivery. Props to my mom and all the moms out there that have the strength to carry us and the patience to raise us into respectable men and women. And with that, there’s less than two weeks to go until I’m a 4th year medical student! Stay tuned!!
*Name changed to protect privacy.