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Baby Boom

Stacey Gannon sometimes gets a little teary, placing her hand on her own extending belly as she thinks about the babies in her care.

Just days before the due date for her third child, this nurse at Sanford’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit keeps her tiny patients and their families on her mind and in her heart. Her job as caregiver and medical caretaker seems even more important right now, she says.

“We treat these babies like we do our own,” the pregnant nurse says, fighting back the tears. “We love each of them and hope for the best for them.”

Getting baby fever

For the past six years, Gannon has worked in the Fargo NICU, which is experiencing a sort of baby boom. Seven nurses have either given birth or are expecting babies between April and June of 2012.

This is not an uncommon situation for the unit, which tends to have lots of younger nurses who are in the midst of their childbearing years. The women often joke about catching “baby fever” on the job, and the tub of “XL-sized” scrubs that always seems to be in use as another nurse announces her pregnancy.

“You’re surrounded by babies every day,” says nurse Rachel Niemeyer, who is expecting her second child June 7. “It’s very, very easy to be pregnant when you’re working here.”

Co-workers are all going through the same experiences, the difficulties of sleepless nights or trying to breastfeed while working and the joys of going home to snuggly, cute babies of their own, says Niemeyer. They get along well and adjust to help others make schedules work.

“We get to share things with each other and we have something in common with the families we care for,” she said. “It gives us all something to talk about, to share.”

A serious job

Nurses in the NICU care for seriously ill or injured newborns, many who have been born prematurely. In this very high tech environment, where more than 400 infants will be nurtured every year, the nurses are highly important to both the babies and their families, who may be at the hospital for weeks if not months.

Life in the unit can be overwhelming to parents, the nurses say. Parents are dealing with the fact that their child’s first days of life may include medical testing, feeding tubes, warming beds or ventilators.

Since the unit focuses on “family-centered” care, the nurses often see parents and other family members every day, making them part of the infants’ daily routines. Often, those parents seem to appreciate having pregnant and new moms taking care of their babies, the nurses say.

“We become a part of their family for a while,” says Gannon. “They get to know us very well. It’s important to them that everyone in the NICU loves their kids as much as they do. And seeing so many pregnant nurses, it’s pretty clear that we do.”

Nurse Carisa Voightman’s newborn daughter makes tiny little peeping grunts as her mother talks. Her first child, Aubrey, was born April 18. Voightman, who has worked in the NICU for four years, says that being a mom only enhances her work as a nurse.

“Once you have your own child, you truly realize how protective you feel about them,” she says, holding her daughter. “I understand more fully why moms do everything they can to protect their baby because I’m there experiencing it.”

Knowing the risks

Because of their on-the-job experience, most NICU nurses treat their own pregnancies a little different than other women, the nurses say. They are more aware than most people of the complications that can occur and the risks that are involved in even a normal pregnancy and birth.

“With every stage of the pregnancy, you never quite feel like you’re out of the woods,” admits Voightman, whose mother and sister are also NICU nurses. “You have that knowledge and it’s always in the back of your mind.”

Voightman, who ended up having an unplanned cesarean section because her baby moved into breech position days before her labor started, said she also can relate a little better to families who are suddenly in a situation they never planned for.

As Gannon looks forward to the days coming soon where she’ll be at home with her own newborn, she’s glad to be able to help families through a difficult time in their lives.

“I always joke around and threaten to take one home with me. Now I’ll have one,” she says. “Seriously, we just love to be able to show them the love that we would want someone to show our children.”

Posted Date: June 2012