Years ago, even before LPN school, I spent a summer working the night shift in the Neonatal Nursery at Kalispell Regional Medical Center. It was one of those banner years, when everyone seemed to be in labor. We helped deliver dozens of unexpected babies. Moms on vacation from places like Texas, New York, California, British Columbia, (and even one from Germany) were delivering babies in Kalispell, Montana.
We were filled to capacity. Our nursery was designed for 13 well babies and 4 NICU babies. All of our beds were full. We were medevacing women to Libby, Missoula, and Spokane. And it wasn't just well babies that were coming in record numbers. Even with the 4 NICUs, we had to send sick babies to Salt Lake City and Seattle. (We had one born 21 weeks gestation, and another whose mom presented placentae abruptio.)
I mean we were busy, with a capital B. We even had contracted, Traveling Nurses from Quebec and New Zealand to help staff the NICUs.
Consider this a preface, a mural, a backdrop to what I'm dying to tell you. For like 14 weeks straight, there were babies everywhere; Nurses rushing from room to room; Women screaming; Docs, midwives, tribal elders all talking at once. Patients and family speaking Blackfeet, Crow, English, French, and German - medical jargon, pleas, profanity, yelps of joy...everyone in blue scrubs and blue paper shoes.
And in the nursery, wee babies. Bundles of love who had no clue what mayhem their arrivals wrought.
As with most hospitals, our policy regarding post-surgical, bottle-feeding moms (C-sections, tubal ligations) was to let them sleep that first night. When it gets down to it, back then, unless mom specifically asked that she be wakened to feed her baby, we pretty much let her sleep the night through, anyway.
It was the nursery staff who feed their babies. Me. I got to feed their babies.
I worked the 11 to 7 shift. And I spent a good half of it with a bottle in my hand, cuddling babies to my breast. I spilled so much oxytocin, I'm surprised I didn't start producing milk. The sensation of letting-down was certainly there. I called it phantom at the time, but actually, the reflex was real. There just wasn't any milk to secrete.
Every morning I came home to my husband, yearning for these babies. And when each of them went home with their mothers, I grieved.