It’s a long-standing tradition that when a baby is born at Mercy, Brahms’ lullaby is played on speakers throughout the hospital to welcome the new life. “It still gives me a warm feeling, every single time I hear it,” said Kathy Bennett, RN, a 26-year veteran Labor and Delivery nurse.
Kathy discovered her passion for nursing when she took a job as a nurses’ aide at St. Joseph’s Hospice in Louisville to help pay for college. “I loved making a difference in people’s lives,” she said, adding that she soon switched her major from elementary education to nursing. “During rotations, I knew immediately that Labor and Delivery was my calling. Seeing a woman come in as an individual and leave as a family — I wanted to be a part of that transition.”
Kathy joined Mercy when she graduated from Walsh College, and except for two years when she lived out of state, she has been here ever since. “When I first started, I was advised to get some great experience before specializing, so I was in Medical Surgery (the Old 6 Main) for five years before transferring to Labor and Delivery.”
An immediate, trusting bond.
While nurses in other specialties might juggle multiple patients, Labor and Delivery nurses are typically assigned to only one or two actively laboring mothers each shift. This helps foster a strong bond between the patient and the nurse.
“When I first meet a mom-to-be, I go over her plan and goals for labor,” Kathy said. “While her doctor won’t be with her the entire time, I’m there to support her, answer questions and help her through labor. My goal is that she and her family trust me to guide them through what will be one of the most memorable days of their lives.”
Making a difference
Throughout her career, Kathy has been a part of countless deliveries at Mercy, and while all are emotional, there is one that holds a special place in her heart.
Many years ago, around Christmas, a young woman came to Labor and Delivery, accompanied by her boyfriend. She was from out of state and an area college student. Her mother didn’t know about the pregnancy and she was determined to put her baby up for adoption.
“My heart went out to the her immediately,” Kathy said, the single mother of three grown children, a daughter and two sons. “I told her that I had a daughter and that if she was in her position, I’d want her to tell me, no matter what.” After the baby was born, Kathy handed the new mother a sealed envelope filled with photos the nurses had taken of her baby. “I told her, ‘You might not be ready for this today, tomorrow, next week or maybe ever. You might tuck these pictures away and never look at them or you might throw this envelope in the trash as you leave the hospital. But I want you to have them.’”
About a month later, Kathy received a letter from the young woman, telling her that she and her boyfriend were married and had decided to keep their baby. “We’ve kept in touch for years,” Kathy said.” Each Christmas, the couple sends Kathy a poinsettia to thank her for being a special part of their family’s story. “I’m so glad that I was there to make a difference for them in probably their most vulnerable time.”
A shift to family-centered childbirth.
Since Kathy has been a Labor and Delivery nurse, Mercy Maternity Services has made several changes to create a more peaceful, family-centered birth experience.
The Golden Hour — a time immediately after birth — helps the baby transition from womb to world and improves bonding between the baby and mother. After birth, the baby is placed under the mother’s gown, over her heart. “With skin-to-skin contact, the baby recognizes the mother’s heartbeat and calms down almost immediately,” Kathy said. “It makes the delivery room a more peaceful, soothing place, very different from how it used to be or what you see in the movies where babies wail when they’re born.”
Young children can now visit with their mother while she’s in labor, making the birth experience more of a family affair. “One little girl was in the room during the whole labor and she fell asleep in a recliner,” Kathy said. “I got to be the one to wake her up and introduce her to her new sibling. That was a really special moment.”
Modern mothers are also encouraged to make the birth experience their own. “Many times, the moms come in with a plan,” Kathy said, “The use of essential oils is a trend that really does bring a sense of calmness to the room. Others play soothing music.” She said that hydrotherapy, warm water immersion, is also an option available to mothers who want a medication-free labor. “Not only is it relaxing, it helps to reduce the pain and discomfort.” Midwives are also being used more often by women who opt for additional hands-on, active support during the labor process.
The role of fathers has also evolved since Kathy helped deliver her first baby at Mercy. “The dads are much more a part of the birthing process. I like having the opportunity to educate them, along with the moms,” she said. “When their child is being born and I look up and see the guys speechless, with tears rolling down their face, it gets me every time. It’s wonderful to see how they want to be involved in caring for the baby.”
Like a family
Despite having nearly three decades of experience helping women deliver their babies at Mercy, Kathy is not the most senior nurse in Labor and Deliver. “The expertise is invaluable,” she said. “Because we’re with patients throughout the labor process, we’re the front lines. It’s the nurses who recognize problems and alert the doctors.” Young nurses benefit from the veterans’ experience and knowledge, she said. “We keep them under our wings and mentor them. Because we usually work on the same rotations with the same people, we’re like family, we watch out for each other.”
Though 12-hour shifts can be exhausting, Kathy never tires of helping young women become mothers. “It’s a privilege to be part of such an intimate event in a mother’s life, and so special to be there to welcome a new life.”