As Ashley Stevens discovered in the minutes and days after becoming a mom for the first time, the experience comes with infinite joy and wonder but also a healthy dose of anxiety.
Delivered at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center, daughter Bexley Stevens had an infection demanding immediate attention when she entered the world. Working as a team, doctors and nurses reacted quickly. In the days that followed, the staff tended to both mother and daughter in a way Ashley and Cody Stevens will never forget.
“I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, how much all you did for her and our family means to us,” Ashley wrote in a letter to the nurses in charge of Bexley’s care. “I know you see far worse things come across your path on a daily basis, but for a first-time mom, even an infection can make you immediately fear the worst. Every member of the staff was so comforting.”
Comforting a new mom
Ashley, Cody and Bexley were beneficiaries of a system that saves lives but also touches them. A healthy baby Bexley, now more than eight months old, was the ultimate reward, though it came with comforts along the way that made a stressful stretch for the family easier to endure.
“Right away after delivery, it was recognized that Bexley, the daughter that was newly born, was having some problems,” said Dr. Mark Colliton, an ob/gyn in Bemidji for the past 25 years. “And our nursing staff and as well as pediatricians were able to recognize this and provide the appropriate care for her so that she would be able to make the quickest recovery and be able to get home with Mom and Dad as fast as possible.”
The Medical Center has 10 rooms set aside as a special nursery for babies needing extra care. They’re tailored and staffed specifically for babies like Bexley and their understandably hyper-concerned parents.
“I think they could see the fear, they could feel the anxiety — they did everything in their power,” Ashley said. “We had so many from the nursing staff that I could mention that just made such a personal impact on the family.”
Tough first week
The separate room allowed additional privacy for Cody, Ashley and Bexley, who was destined to have a difficult first week.
Bexley was born with too much fluid in her lungs, which the staff remedied quickly. Hours later a dropping body temperature suggested an infection. Blood tests followed, then came heart monitors, oxygen monitors and periodic doses of antibiotics.
Meanwhile the new parents stood by worried but also essentially helpless.
“I would call her and say, ‘She’s up!’ and Ashley would be there,” remembers Shelly Ward, an RN who spends much of her time working the night shift at the special care nursery. “I don’t think I would even put the phone down and she would be at that nursery door. She’d make it down there in record time.”
The nursing staff tended to Bexley but they also tended to Ashley. It wasn’t “special” in that sense — it is how they do their jobs every day.
“For us as delivery nurses, it means answering any questions and being there for our patients and being that support system for them while they’re going through this new stage in their life,” said Abby Neis, an RN who works on the ob/pediatrics floor. “Especially for a lot of first-time moms, it can be really scary.”
Assuaging those fears becomes part of the job. For Ashley, it meant that a dedicated staff recognized her circumstances and provided comfort.
“It’s really important and I think meaningful for them if we’re able to be there for them,” Neis said. “Be that support person for them during this entire process and really just be there for this new experience and bringing a new life into the world.”
Each pregnancy is different. An important part of the process is to respect and accommodate the distinctive details of every delivery. In Ashley’s case there were two prior miscarriages, in addition to her being a first-time mom.
The care of Dr. Colliton and the attention of nurses like Neis and Ward many others concluded with Ashley and Bexley leaving the Sanford Bemidji Medical Center healthy and happy.
Months later, nothing has changed on that count.
“Bexley is absolutely amazing,” Ashley said. “She is just so wonderful. She’s unbelievably healthy. She’s so happy all the time. I feel like for a baby that’s been through so much, we should give her allowances. Like you’re allowed to be upset, you’re allowed to cry. But she’s the happiest baby. We feel so blessed.”