By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org
You might have seen the photo – the exhausted labor and delivery nurse in Texas who broke down in tears after a particularly brutal shift.
The picture, taken by the nurse’s sister and shared on Facebook, went viral in mid-October. It captured the emotional release of a 29-year-old nurse who ended a long work week by assisting as a patient delivered a stillborn baby.
While most labor and delivery units are filled with happy tears when babies are born, the work is exhausting and sometimes heartbreaking.
Meg Merriman, a labor and delivery nurse for seven years at IU Health Methodist Hospital, said the photo resonated with her.
“I have had days like that when you just go home and cry because you feel so much for your patients,” she said. “We love our patients. When they hurt, we hurt for them.”
In fact, the same week she saw the Facebook post, she had had a tough week herself at work.
“We had bereavement patients on our unit. It was an emotionally draining week.”
Merriman came to nursing later in life after deciding a career in journalism wasn’t for her. When she delivered her oldest son, now 11, her own labor and delivery nurse was so amazing that she was inspired to go back to school and get her nursing degree.
“I just knew that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to support new moms.”
Merriman, who went on to have three more children, said giving birth – no matter how many times you do it – is “a defining moment for women.”
So she wants to help her patients have the kind of labor and delivery experience that they want.
“I want to ensure we have a healthy mom and healthy baby at the end of the birth process. I want to support them, to care for them, to let them know they’re not alone. Because it is sometimes scary if you don’t know what to expect in labor or during your C-section,” she said.
“Having someone there guiding you through and supporting you, somebody you can look to and trust, is really important.”
Methodist, which delivered 3,005 babies in 2018, recently celebrated its Baby Friendly Hospital re-designation from Baby Friendly USA. The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative focuses on providing optimal clinical care for new moms and their infants.
Brittany Gipe, a labor and delivery nurse at Methodist for four years, said she is proud of the fact that the Downtown Indianapolis hospital is known for delivering high-risk pregnancies.
“We take care of the sickest moms and babies in the state,” she said.
She often sees that first-hand because she flies with LifeLine to transport pregnant women from hospitals that can’t support a high-risk mom to Methodist, where they can be better monitored and treated before and after delivery.
Pregnant moms who want a more nontraditional childbirth such as a water birth can have that at Methodist, where midwives are an integral part of the team, Merriman said.
“I love that we give such great labor support, especially to moms who are seeking out natural childbirth,” she said. We deliver such great care because we have really good collaboration between our OB-GYNs, midwives and nurses.”
Merriman sought a job at Methodist after doing clinicals here in nursing school.
“I witnessed the nurses here and how much they supported the patients, how caring they seemed, how they used evidence-based practices to make sure they were giving the best care to patients,” she said. “I saw a water birth and a nurse supporting a first time mom who was only 16 through a water birth, and I was just in awe. I knew I had to be a part of this.”
Women are definitely the stronger gender in Gipe’s mind. Labor and delivery proves it, she said. And she is their biggest cheerleader.
“I call them superwomen.”
At the end of a 12-hour shift though, she is exhausted, emotionally and physically. When she read that Facebook post about the nurse in Texas, she had just been part of a team diagnosing a fetal death, she said. Events like that stir up all the emotions, but she tries to keep those feelings in check so she can fully support her patient.
Sometimes that means “just being there with them and letting them know they’re not alone and it was nothing they did that caused it,” she said. “And sometimes they just need you to cry with them. I try to feel the room and see what is best for the patient.”
The same is true for Merriman.
“When you have those sad times when babies are lost, we are there to offer comfort to those moms, just to sit with them in their pain and tell them it’s OK to feel what they’re feeling,” she said.
“It’s about sitting with them and letting them know they’re not alone. Even if they have family, sometimes they can’t understand what they’re going through. We can support them through that. Our team does a really good job of letting them know how much we care.”
That kind of empathy is exactly what makes both women such good nurses, said Caitlin Ernst, clinical manager in labor and delivery for Riley Maternity and Newborn Health at Methodist Hospital.
“Meg is a wonderful bedside nurse and charge nurse who continuously aims to provide the best patient-centered care possible while also promoting a positive and collaborative culture for her teammates,” she said.
And Brittany has taken on multiple roles to help the department function at the highest level, including charge nurse and high-risk OB nurse for the LifeLine team, Ernst said.
“She has excellent clinical skills and knowledge and uses her skill set to provide outstanding care to some of our sickest moms.”
Both nurses say the entire labor and delivery team at Methodist is like a family.
“I’ve never worked in a place where it’s actually felt like family,” Gipe said. “We’re there for each other, we always know we have each other for support. It’s definitely a special connection.”
Even after the hardest days, they know there are brighter days ahead.
“It’s honestly the most rewarding experience when you hear the first cry from a newborn and then mom just saying ‘thank you for helping me through this,’ ” Merriman said. “That’s what keeps me coming back.”
Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, email@example.com