It’s been a busy year on the obstetrics floor at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery — not for patients, but for medical staff.
In 2019, 14 labor and delivery, mother-baby, and neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurses and physicians gave birth. Some moms were first-timers. Others welcomed child number two, three, or four. An obstetrician/gynecologist (OB/GYN) had triplets. Two nurses gave birth elsewhere, and three more nurses are expecting any day now.
It’s not just a baby boom. It’s a baby Einstein boom.
Recently, many of these moms — several nurses and one osteopath — gathered at the East Norriton hospital’s shiny campus for a play date with their babies. (Parents of infants, of course, know that “play dates” aren’t for the newborns; they’re for their exhausted moms and dads.)
The Einstein babies — the youngest was 11 weeks old — sat on laps, rolled on blankets, sucked on pacifiers, played with balls, and got passed from shoulder to shoulder. They also yelled, cried, smiled, and doodled in their diapers. None napped.
Meanwhile, their moms recalled who had assisted in whose labor, who had visited whose room after giving birth a day apart, who had given whom a flower-shaped baby bathtub, and who had impromptu meet-ups while pumping milk in one of the floor’s four Mamava free-standing lactation “pods.” (The hospital has two more on order.)
The scrub-wearing mothers seemed so at ease and in the zone while swapping stories and soothing babies that a visitor just had to ask: When your job is to care for new moms and newborns, does giving birth yourself feel like just another day at work? And did you purposely time your pregnancies to coincide?
No and no, they insisted. Having and raising a child is hard, even for a pro. And they simply happened to grow their families all at the same time.
AnnMarie Papa is the hospital’s chief nursing officer, responsible for 600 to 700 nurses. She said Einstein’s infant escalation was a matter of probability.
“We’re a female-dominated profession,” she said, “so we always have someone on leave: Young moms having babies, older nurses caring for their grandkids.”
Luckily, scheduling time off for multiple maternity leaves has not been a problem. “The nice thing is you have nine months to prepare,” said Papa. “Some nurses work part-time; some work per diem; some work full-time. So you know when everyone is going to be out.”
The baby boom unfolded so uneventfully that at first the moms-to-be weren’t even aware of how many of them were in a family way. “I don’t think we realized it was happening until it was happening,” said Papa, “One day, they all just said: ‘Look at us!’”
Look at them, indeed: Every nurse and doc with every hair in place, every eyelash curled (granted, they’d been notified in advance that cameras would be there). Andrea Jensen is a labor and delivery nurse with three children ages 4 and under, including Rosalie, the 11-week-old. Jensen’s makeup may have been flawless, but, she said, working with women in labor and delivery during 12- to 14-hour shifts does not ease a pregnant nurse’s own journey into motherhood.
“I can coach a mom through labor and help them with pain and tell them, ‘You can do it!’ over and over, but when it’s your labor and your pain …,” she said, her voice trailing off. During her final weeks of pregnancy, Jensen kept delivery supplies in her car, “because I’ve had so many women who’ve delivered babies on the side of the road. It happens more than you think.”
At Einstein, mother-baby nurses care for newborns and moms from birth to hospital discharge, typically about two to three days. So when Rachel Sliwka, a mother-baby nurse, had her first child, “I knew what to do with babies for three days, because I’d taken care of babies for … three days.”
The women created a Facebook group for themselves, where they can ask for and share advice. They also text late at night (when someone is always awake with a fussy little one), cover for each other on sick days, and avail themselves of colleagues’ medical expertise.
“It’s amazing to have the resources we have. We have friends who are neonatologists. We have friends who are lactation consultants,” said Abby Deardorff, a mother-baby nurse. “I just came across a text from last year. My kids had been sick and I messaged Amy [Lembeck, the osteopath in the group], ‘My son has a fever. What should I do?’”
No question is off-limits — like the time Deardorff asked another nurse/mom, “Is my child’s poop different?” And no complaint is too common. “Oh, you didn’t sleep last night either?” sleepy-looking colleagues say to each other.
During their shifts, everyone makes sure their pregnant peers are cared for, said Jensen. “We’ll ask, ‘Have you had enough water today? Did you eat something today?’” As for their new-mom colleagues, everyone understands that they need milk-pumping breaks.
But knowledge and experience have a downside, said Lembeck.
“In general, we’re a more worried group of women, because we’ve seen so much. We know what can happen. We ponder on that more than the average woman.”
Deardorff, who struggled to get pregnant and also miscarried, agreed.
“The 20-week anatomy scan isn't as exciting for us. It's scary,” said Deardorff, who now has three little ones. “People are like, ‘Cool! You get to find out if it's a boy or a girl!' And we're like: ‘How's the back? How are the kidneys? Does everything measure right?’”
“Fortunately, for the most part, things turn out well,” countered Lembeck.
Being new moms has made the Einstein nurses better patient caregivers, said April Wine, a mother-baby nurse: “The word that comes to mind is ‘supportive.’”
Said Jensen,” I don’t think you have to have had a baby to take care of women having babies, but I think knowing what people are going through gives you a different perspective.”
“We advocate for our patients,” added Deardorff. “That’s something that we’re always doing. It’s part of our job that we love, because, obviously, we all love women and babies. But, in turn, we advocate for each other. It’s hard to be a working mom in this country. And so, any amount of support is amazing.”