THE BLOG
02/17/2015 05:29 pm ET Updated Apr 19, 2015

In Labor and Delivery, Nurses Know How to Fight

My first month of orientation on a labor and delivery unit, I watched someone almost bleed to death. I was getting my labor patient more ice chips when I heard someone yell from down the hall that they needed the crash cart. Startled, I looked around. There was no one around me. I knew where the cash cart was, but I had never touched it, much less moved it. I stuck my head into the break room and repeated the request for the crash cart, and the only nurse in the room jumped up. As she ran with the crash cart down the hall, I did the only thing I remembered from nursing school I knew would have to be done... I quickly got all the stuff needed to start another IV.

When I walked into the room, nurses and scrub techs were ping-ponging around the room in an effort to accomplish every single task that needed to be done. The baby was in the radiant warmer next to the bedside, perfect and pink and crying, as if she knew something was wrong with her mother. The patient's family encircled the warmer, laughing and snapping pictures of their new baby. But the patient's mother stood fixed in the corner, staring at her daughter as buckets and buckets of blood poured all around her. Against her dark skin, the blood was so shiny and brilliantly red. My hands trembled as I started her IV. As her bed was pulled out of the room and taken to the OR, my name badge caught on her blanket, snapped off, and fell to the floor. It landed in a puddle of blood, splashing through my scrubs. As I bent over to pick it up, I could see my reflection in all of its glossy fury. Her mother was still transfixed in the corner, standing next to the crash cart. As I guided her to the waiting room, I looked back. Tracked in her daughter's blood, you could see every single footstep we had taken.

When I thought I wanted to be a labor and delivery nurse, I never imagined mothers dying, of babies dying or of women getting inconsistent care. Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. I don't understand why there is such a disparity, and not just related to maternal morbidity and mortality. Infant mortality for black infants is doubled. How does that happen? How does one group of women suffer greater from pregnancy and childbirth?

If you're a nurse, and you're lucky, you've never seen a maternal death. But every single one of us have seen too many close calls. Every nurse I know fights for their patients every single day. I want to know who is fighting for all women. We have got to band together and we have got to demand change, because no one knows what we see every single day we go to work. This provider does it this way, and this provider does it that way, and we're all fighting to find out what way is the right way.

We're exhausted, and many of us are short-staffed. Our bodies hurt and our legs ache, and some days, our hearts could burst because we're so emotionally shattered. But every day, all of us still fight for what's right for our patients. We have got to keep moving forward. We all have to speak up and demand change and voice how unacceptable this all is. We are witness to so many things, and what we know to be true is that far too many women die from childbirth, and there are far too many close-calls that no one knows about. I have seen the work of nurses save so many women and newborns. I have seen what we can do with little time, with little resources. Think of everything we could do if we just did things together.

Learn more:

Advocacy & Health Policy: Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health (AIM): Improving Maternal Health and Safety

Same Care No Matter Where She Gives Birth: Addressing Variation In Obstetric Care Through Standardization