I was slumped against the wall in the hallway of the labor and delivery department.
A classmate had just finished assisting in her first delivery. Though it was my second week of the rotation, I had not yet had the chance to take the lead during a delivery. I congratulated her, but also wanted to cry. Although I was feeling a bit disappointed about my lack of hands-on experience on L&D, I enjoyed the other aspects of the clerkship, like participating in the procedures at the outpatient clinic. On Friday night, I sat at the nursing station watching YouTube videos that showed the correct maneuvers to use when assisting in the delivery of a newborn. I recited the steps to another classmate with confidence, as well as to some L&D nurses who were kind enough to listen and give advice. On this particularly busy evening, my classmate and I were supposed to be relieved of our duties at 5 or 6 p.m., however, we decided to stay because there were multiple patients in labor. This seemed like the perfect chance to finally assist in a delivery.
We watched closely for any changes on the nursing board which listed the status of each patient: Gs and Ps, dilation, effacement, and station. We introduced ourselves to our respective laboring patients to determine if we were welcome to be involved in their deliveries. My patient was extremely gracious and had given birth multiple times before. As I exited her room, I felt elation at the prospect that this would be my chance. Her labor would likely progress quickly and I prepared myself to be ready to assist. I saw my classmate in the hallway and together we basked in anxious anticipation. Our decision to stay late on this Friday night was proving to be the right one.
In the moment, it felt life-altering. I made sure that I was with the patient well ahead of the time that she would deliver. The nurse instructed me to join when the patient started pushing. I entered the room already wearing full-length booties and a hair net. There was an extra gown, face mask, and a pair of sterile gloves laid out for me. I put on my mask and before I knew it, it was time to don the gown and gloves as well. Her labor progressed as quickly as I had anticipated. The baby crowned before the attending arrived in the room. Beneath the surgical gown, no one could see how quickly my heart was beating. I was sweating, slightly shaking, but I retraced the steps from the videos in my head: how to stabilize the head and perineum; how to deliver each shoulder; how to suction; how to clamp the cord; and finally, how to deliver the placenta.
My attending arrived. She stood by my side but allowed me to take the lead. I was nervous but beyond excited. I was surprised by how quickly the baby came out. I briefly suctioned her mouth and nose, then laid her on her mother’s chest. My attending began to coach me about delivering the placenta which would require a little more time. This gave me a few moments to realize the magnitude of what had just happened. The baby was out safely and without complications.
The placenta was finally delivered and my attending suggested that I inspect it. As I handled the warm, globby mound, I couldn’t help but think this had to be the coolest thing I had done in medical school and, perhaps, in life. The entire event seemed like an out of body experience. It was exhilarating. Though it had happened in a flash, I could picture everything in fine detail. I was aware of my shortcomings. The delivery wasn’t perfectly smooth, but the baby was healthy. I had assisted in bringing a baby into the world. I was humbled. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wanted immediately to do another delivery. I encountered my classmate in the hallway again. He had finished assisting in his delivery sometime before mine. Both of us were beaming from the excitement of having completed our first deliveries. Neither of us wanted to leave the hospital; we were jubilant.
Another patient, whom I had seen earlier at the outpatient clinic had been admitted and was being prepped for an emergency c-section. The excitement began to build in me again. I spoke with my attending who gave me the go-ahead to assist in the OR. Not only would this be my second delivery of the night, it would also be my first time scrubbing into the OR. My classmate and I didn’t leave until more than five hours after our scheduled time at the hospital. That was the night that I fell in love with the field of Obstetrics and Gynecology. I discovered a specialty in which I didn’t feel the desire to go home and that made me want to stick around for anything that might happen. It was thrilling. I walked out of the hospital smiling. I couldn’t wait to tell my family and friends how this had impacted me. I am so glad that I had this experience and am looking forward to the many experiences to come as I pursue a career in this field.
Illustration by April Brust
Taylor Howard is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine applying to residency in the field of Obstetrics and Gynecology. She enjoys doing Crossfit training and playing basketball when not studying or reading.