PITTSFIELD — At the Mother Baby Unit at Berkshire Medical Center, every day is Mother's Day. Or, at least, about 800 times a year it is.
"It's a special privilege to be able to spend time with a new family," said Mary Melanson, RN, clinical leader of the Mother Baby Unit at BMC, with 44 years of nursing experience — 36 of those years helping deliver babies at the hospital, and in turn, helping moms become moms.
"Our goal here is to make each patient's birth experience their best one," said Kim Beisiegel, RN
It's a goal shared by the 40 to 50 different staff members who work on the locked unit, where newborn babies test their lungs in the nursery and doctors can be heard opening a patient's door asking, "So, are we ready to have a baby today?"
It's where moms are essentially born.
The delivery room is a special — sometimes frightening — place, where often a mom's only connection is what is portrayed on television. If one is to believe the fictionalized version of the miracle of birth, your water breaks (in an embarrassing public place, of course), you barely make it to the hospital and then your beautiful, clean baby is plopped in your arms minutes later. But the reality is far from the hair and makeup version.
"Our job is to put somebody at ease," said Beisiegel. "Most are very nervous when they walk through the door ... it's not like what you see on TV."
Instead, it can sometimes be hours of waiting for labor to progress, working through contractions and making medical decisions based on the birth experience you want. But new moms and dads aren't alone, a team of nurses create a network of aid, ready to help catch your baby.
"I always tell my patients, on that day, your nurse is going to be your personal guide," said Dr. Lauren Slater, OB/GYN of Berkshire OB/GYN Associates at BMC.
In 2014, according to statistics provided by the hospital's website, the Mother Baby Unit delivered 795 babies, with 74 percent vaginal births and 26 percent cesarean births. A registered nurse is assigned to every patient once she is admitted and stays with the mom-to-be throughout the birth experience and is in constant communication with the physicians, according to Slater.
Helping usher a new mom into the world on the Mother Baby Unit requires scheduling, team work and experience, something the staff at BMC is fortunate to have a lot of, according to department director and RN Melissa Canata. Many of the nurses have been helping to deliver babies for more than 20, or even 30, years, which means they often see repeat costumers rolled into the delivery room.
"Some of us have helped deliver families, essentially," said Diane O'Brien, an RN who has been a nurse for 42 years. "One family, I was there for all three children, and now I'm seeing their children being born."
O'Brien, a mother and grandmother herself, finds the most rewarding part of the job is taking care of moms "from start to finish." On a recent Friday afternoon, she was helping second-time mom Rebecca McConnell, of North Adams, who had recently given birth to Felicity — a 9-pound, 5-ounce baby girl with full cheeks and an even fuller head of hair.
As a mom of a 3-1/2-year-old daughter already, McConnell said she thought she'd know what to expect this time around.
"But we quickly realized different babies mean different experiences," she said. "But we've enjoyed how well we've been taken care of here. ... We know we're in really good hands."
These are the hands of nurses who for decades have had a front row seat to families being born.
"Placing that baby skin-to-skin on mom and watching that baby feed for the first time — it's amazing how those babies just know what to do," said Beisiegel with a smile. "It's very cool."
"It never gets old," agrees Melanson.
But Beisiegel also knows the job can come with heartaches, too. Part of their work as nurses on the Mother Baby Unit means helping moms deal with and recover from loss, when they don't get to leave the unit with a healthy baby. Though difficult, Beisiegel and the other nurses, who took time out of their day to sit down and talk about their work, all agree that caring for those dealing with miscarriages and loss are just as important to them.
"It's still rewarding to help a mom go through a loss," Beisiegel said. "I always tell them, you're still a mom, no matter what."
And even better, they all agreed, is when those same families come back years later and have a joyful experience with the same nurses and doctors who helped them through the darkest part of life.
"You get such a good feeling for that family that struggled so much to become one," said Melanson.
For Slater — who can still vividly remember the first baby she delivered in medical school — the end result is what she loves the most.
"It's such a journey," she said of childbirth. "You go through so much, and for many having children is a life goal. Seeing all of that happen and then at the end watching a family's dream come true, it's amazing."
For moms like McConnell — who was preparing to take home her new baby with her husband, J. — the journey is just beginning.
"I tell everyone she's my Mother's Day present this year," said McConnell, looking down at a sleeping, swaddled Felicity, blissfully unaware of all the work that went into her making her debut into the McConnell family.