An inside look at Melrose's maternity ward

Melrose Free Press

May 9, 2013

By Jessica Sacco

Ever since I was young, I’ve had an idea (based solely on what I’ve seen on TV and in the movies) about what’s like to have a baby.

We all know there are times when it’s not pretty. There’s the nine months of weight gain, hours of intense labor pains and then it comes time to push.

But there’s also the magic of bringing new life into the world, which has to be one of the main reasons the practice continues. Right?

I recently got a more in-depth look at pregnancy, delivery and being a mom by spending an afternoon in Melrose-Wakefield Hospital’s maternity ward.

It’s a crisp afternoon on Friday, May 3 when I greet Jesse Kawa, communications specialist for Hallmark Health System, in the lobby of the hospital.

We head up to the sixth floor — Maternal-Newborn Services — where moms go once they’ve had their babies.

There we meet Carol Downes, director of Maternal-Newborn Services, who asks me what I’d like to experience while at the hospital.

I’d like to see a baby being born, but Carol tells me it’s unlikely anyone will deliver while I’m here. Instead, we decide our first stop will be on the second floor, to meet a soon-to-be mom.

The waiting game

As we’re heading downstairs, we pass by the nursery and I’m shocked to see it’s empty. I expected to see rows of tiny cribs lined up and on display for passersby to fawn over, but the space is vacant.

I learn this is an old practice no longer in use, and make note to find out more information later.

Jesse then tells me about one of the hospital’s long-standing traditions: Playing a lullaby over the intercoms, throughout the building, after a mom delivers.

“It’s a nice, fun way to celebrate a new baby being born,” she says.

There are seven delivery rooms in the hospital and Carol tells me more than 1,000 babies are born each year here.

Before we head in to room 5 to meet Vanessa and Chris Surette, I’m introduced to Jane Flaherty, clinical leader for the Maternity and Special Care Nursery, who’ll also join us to help answer questions.

Once inside the room, I see Vanessa in bed, hooked up to the baby monitor. She looks calm in her blue-patterned hospital smock, with her dark curly hair pulled into a bun.

I ask if they know what they’re having. They tell me it’s a girl.

“Do you have a name yet?” I wonder.

“I have several picked out,” Vanessa says, but adds she’s going to wait until the baby is born before she chooses. “It’s hard to make a decision. I just have to see her.”

Chris and Vanessa came in at 7:45 a.m. to be induced. Vanessa tells me she has hypertension (high blood pressure), so the baby needs to come out.

“The only cure is to deliver,” explains Catherine McClellan, Vanessa’s labor and delivery registered nurse (RN).

With the hope in my head that I might be able to see the process, I ask when she thinks it will be time push.

“In this field, you never know when the baby is going to come,” says Catherine. “Everybody is different. It could be a couple hours. It could be a few days. It’s not uncommon for a patient to be here for three days.”

I stare back in terror. Three days is a long time to wait.

I turn to Chris. “So, Dad, what was your reaction when you found out she was pregnant?” I ask.

“I was pretty shocked,” he says with a laugh. “I just said, ‘you’re not pregnant.’ She was.”

Despite their nerves, Vanessa and Chris say they’re ready to meet their daughter.

“We’re really excited, we’ve been together 10 years,” says Vanessa. “For some reason we thought it was going to be a boy, but we’re really excited it’s a girl.”

I ask Catherine if there’s any truth behind the notion that if a woman carries higher it’s a girl, and lower, a boy.

“I don’t really think so,” she says. “There’s no proven fact that happens.”

We say goodbye to Vanessa and Chris, wish them luck and decide to head back upstairs to meet a couple moms who’ve recently delivered.

In with the new, out with the old

We’re in front of the empty nursery again. I go inside to talk to Sharon Julien, an RN who is a certified lactation consultant.

We get comfortable in two rocking chairs and I tell Sharon I’m kind of disappointed there aren’t a bunch of babies lined up in the nursery.

She explains that nurseries were designed to allow moms to rest after delivery and to prevent any cross-infection from sick patients.

“We thought if they were in a clean, sterile environment, they wouldn’t get sick,” Sharon says. “That wasn’t even evidence-based.”

Now, as part of the hospital’s Baby-Friendly certification — a recognition they received last year by Baby-Friendly USA, which encourages and recognizes hospitals and birthing centers that offer an optimal level of care for breastfeeding mothers and their babies — moms and newborns are rarely separated.

“They really aren’t in the nursery, unless the mom feels she needs a break,” Jane adds.

Before we go in to meet some of the moms on the floor I ask Jane another question.

“So, does the whole process of slapping a baby after it’s born still happen?”

She tells me, “no,” so I continue, “they just start breathing on their own?”

“Yeah,” she says. “They have biological cues to start breathing.”

A blue-eyed blessing

We then proceed down the hall and peer into one of the rooms, where Revere resident Susan Lightbody is curled up in bed with her daughter, Brooklyn Rose Lightbody.

“How are you doing?” I ask, tiptoeing over to her bedside to get a better look at the baby.

“I’m doing good,” she says.

I sit down in a chair beside her bed and ask how everything went today. Susan tells me Brooklyn was born that morning at 7:57 a.m. through a Caesarean section.

Curious, I ask what prompted the c-section, and Susan explains she had one with her first daughter, Jessica Rose.

“I started labor with my daughter and it ended up in a c-section, so my doctor did it this way,” she says about Brooklyn.

Jesse and I comment that both children have Rose as their middle name.

“My family’s name is LaRosa, so, just the Rose, we liked the way it sounded anyway, but it had meaning,” Susan says.

I peer over to Susan’s husband, David who is lying in the spare bed.

“We had to leave the house 4:30 this morning,” he tells me.

“How’d everything go for you?” I ask him.

“It’s been good. Everything went exactly as planned,” he says. “As far as the second baby, I’m excited to see how she is.”

I move to Susan’s bed to look at Brooklyn again. She’s wearing a pink hat with blue stripes, a perfect complement to her piercing blue eyes, which sleepily open and close.

She has blue eyes,” I say.

“For now,” Susan responds.

“Jess was born with blue eyes and then they turned brown,” David says.

I make note to ask about this, and as we leave the room and head back over to the nurses’ station, I ask Jane if all babies born with blue eyes.

“All babies are born with grayish/blue eyes and over the first few months of their lives, they switch over to what color they’re going to be,” she tells me. “And that’s all the genetic mix.”

I’ve also heard babies are colorblind when they’re born, so I ask Jane if that’s true.

She tells me newborns, in fact, do not see color, but can distinguish between black and white.

“That’s why they’re interested in your face,” she says. “They look at the contrast from your eyes, your hair, your skin. You could surmise that’s God’s or nature’s way of bonding.”

Learning the truth

Just then, Lauren Nolfo-Clements, a Wakefield resident with long brown curly hair cascading down her back, waddles out of her room in a green dress.

The hospital staff asked her if she’d be interested in talking to me about her pregnancy and since her son, Griffin Clements, just drifted off to sleep, she’s ready for her interview.

“I’m walking around barefoot because my feet don’t fit in shoes,” she says, approaching us.

We head back into the nursery and sit down in the rocking chairs. At the same time, the Free Press photographer, Nicole Goodhue Boyd, arrives and heads in to photograph Susan and the baby.

I ask Lauren about her delivery, which ended in a c-section on May 1.

“What happened with Griffin is my water broke,” she says. “I started dilating, but he didn’t descend to my pelvis. If he never goes to the pelvis, you can’t push him out. After waiting four hours fully dilated, the doctor said he’s not going to come out.”

Three years ago Lauren gave birth to her first daughter, Holly Clements.

“When I had her, I was in labor for four days and I had to push for three hours,” she says. “I was hell-bent on delivering her naturally.”

And although Lauren wanted to do the same with Griffin, she tells me the c-section wasn’t what she expected.

“It wasn’t so bad,” she says. “It’s the most bizarre thing. You can’t feel any pain, but you can feel the kid coming out.”

Lauren then starts explaining some of the differences between a vaginal delivery and a c-section. (Warning, if gory details aren’t your thing, skip over the next few paragraphs.)

“When you have a vaginal delivery, there’s stuff that happens to your vagina — you have a lot of trouble sitting,” she says.

With a c-section, although there’s lower abdominal pain, it’s treatable with an over-the-counter pain reliever, she continues.

“I can sit all I want,” she jokes.

She also tells me that with vaginal deliveries there’s more blood that needs to be flushed out of the body, resulting in heavy bleeding for four to six weeks.

“They say to you, ‘only call if you pass anything larger than a grapefruit,’ and you say,’ a grapefruit?’ and they mean it.”

Completely horrified at this point, I’m unsure why I asked her to continue with the horrors of pregnancy.

“‘The horrors,’” she laughs. “I lucked out, I was fine.”

After some more chitchat, in which Lauren tells me Griffin looks like her, as opposed to Holly, who “came out and it was my husband, but a girl,” we walk back to her room so Nicole can get some pictures.

I hear wailing as we exit the nursery. “Oh, he’s crying!”

“It’s because the doctor is checking him out,” Lauren says.

Inside, pediatrician Elena Gorlovsky is doing just that. She is using a portable ophthalmoscope to examine Griffin’s eyes and he is not enjoying it.

“He doesn’t like to be —”Lauren pauses.

“Manhandled?” Nicole interjects.

“Yeah,” she says.

“One more second…” Elena says as Griffin continues to cry and squirm.

“Griff! Griff! Griff! It’s OK,” Lauren coos. “We need to see your pretty eyes.”

Once Elena finishes and Griffin begins to settle down, we excuse ourselves so Lauren and her son can have some alone time.

Bye, bye babies

As my time draws to a close at the hospital I stand with Jane and Jesse, wracking my brain for last questions I may have.

“Do you any crazy baby stories?” I ask.

“There’s always crazy stories,” says Jane. “Every day in labor and delivery is an adventure.”

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