High-Risk OB Nurse Provides Emotional Healing Through a Beautiful Birth ExperiencePublished: March 31, 2022
For the first few months that followed her son’s birth, Ashley Erwin, MSN, RN, a high-risk OB nurse at Methodist Women’s Hospital, found herself awake many nights, thinking about her unexpected C-section at hospital where she was working at the time.
“I wouldn’t say I was traumatized because of it,” Erwin said. “But I’ve never wanted that for my mamas. I’ve never wanted them sitting there in the middle of the night, questioning why we did what we needed to do. Patients don’t always understand things from our perspective, and I think that’s important.”
Erwin, who’s been part of the Methodist family for less than eight months, has learned the importance of educating her patients through their labors and deliveries.
“Knowledge is power,” she said. “I tend to overinform my patients because there’s so little that we can control in labor. I think being armed with all the information possible helps them feel in control. It helps ease their fears.”
That was certainly true for Kara Foster and her husband, who found themselves at Women’s for the birth of their third child in January – just two years after “a very traumatic experience” with their second baby.
“He wasn’t tolerating contractions very well at all,” Kara said. “We had to do an amnioinfusion – or put fluids back in to keep him a little more buoyant. Lots of interventions. And I just had this feeling that maybe I wasn’t going to be OK. He also ended up having the umbilical cord wrapped twice around his neck and once around his wrist.”
Although that challenging birth led to a healthy baby boy, Kara was terrified of going through it all again. Her nurse, Erwin, wasn’t about to let that happen.
A ‘Transformative’ Experience
“One of the first things Ashley did was ask what my dominant hand was,” Kara said. “And she put the IV on my other arm. Nobody had ever thought to ask me that before. Such a small detail, but it made me feel a lot more comfortable – even just walking around.”
“When baby comes, I don’t want them to be all tangled up,” Erwin said. “I just want to make it easy for them to love on their baby. Like I said, there’s so little that we can control, but when I can, I like to give some of that control back to my patients.”
Knowing Kara’s birth history, Erwin knew she needed to be prepared for anything while providing Mom and Dad continuous updates on Baby. She knew the couple needed extra encouragement. And she knew she needed to keep the mood light.
“She was induced on her due date, January 31, which was actually my grandma’s 97th birthday,” Kara said. “Ashley asked what the baby’s name would be – if she’d be named after my grandma. I told her, ‘My grandma’s name is Irene, and she’s not going to be Irene.’ So from there on out, she called her Baby-Not-Irene.”
Kara’s laughter over the memory of Erwin’s humor eventually subsided as she recalled the nurse’s loyal presence when things quickly progressed. Baby was coming – and fast. But more memorable than the nerves Kara began to feel were the ways Erwin kept her informed, encouraged her, listened to her and included her husband in every step of the process. After Baby’s arrival, Erwin looked Kara in the eyes and asked if this was the birth experience she had in mind.
“That’s when it hit me,” Kara said. “This experience was transformative.”
This time around, Kara felt safe and comfortable. And that was healing, she said.
“The way that she listened made me feel comfortable advocating for myself in a setting where normally I’d just let the providers take over,” Kara said. “It’s just not something I’m good at. It’s hard for me to speak up for myself in that kind of setting, but she made me feel comfortable – like I could say, ‘Actually, I feel like I want to be in this position.’ She never pushed me into anything. She always asked me first, like, ‘Is it OK if we try this?’ She was just really attentive and personal. I felt so empowered with her.”
A ‘Deeply Personal’ Thank-You
Baby Briar, was born beautiful and healthy, weighing 6 pounds, 11 ounces.
“I think being the youngest with two older brothers, she’ll be pretty go-with-the-flow,” Kara said with a snicker. “But she’ll also hold her own. Just like she did during labor. It was time to come out, and she wasn’t waiting. She wanted out.”
Now, when Kara looks at her daughter, she can’t help but see Erwin – who’s forever part of Briar’s beautiful birth story. It’s for this reason that Kara nominated Erwin for The DAISY Award – an honor that recognizes the extraordinary skill and compassion of nurses nationwide.
“I don’t ever expect a thank-you, but when one is given, it means the world,” said Erwin, who recently received the award at a celebration in her honor. “This was emotional. This was deeply personal.”
And so is her job of providing The Meaning of Care.
“It’s a sacred thing – what nurses get to do,” she said. “We help take care of complete strangers in a very intimate way. When I’m assigned to Room 10, Room 10 automatically becomes my family. Room 10 is my sister. So Room 10 gets all of me. They get me asking what hand they write with. They get me coaching them through labor when they feel scared. Kara didn’t know me from Adam. She was simply at the mercy of whomever was at the hospital that day. But I will always remember her name, her face, her baby and her birth. I will always feel connected to her.”