She knows it’s a cliché, but Kaitlin Johnson says she really does witness miracles every day.
Johnson, a labor and delivery nurse at Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Manhattan, said she feels honored to care for families as they welcome a baby and that helping them adjust to their new normal is rewarding.
“It’s really cool to be part of supporting families as they bring new life into the world,” Johnson said.
Johnson grew up in Mulvane and graduated from Emporia State. She worked in Wichita for about a year before moving to Council Grove and joining the staff at Ascension Via Christi in 2015.
Johnson has only ever been a nurse in labor and delivery. She knew from an early age that she wanted to be a nurse. She said her grandmother, who was also a nurse, instilled in a her an interest in and respect for the job.
Johnson said she likes offering guidance to new parents as they learn to care for their babies. Johnson, 29, is a mother to 2-year-old twins and a 7-month-old, so she knows firsthand how helpful a nurse can be in those early days.
“It was a little overwhelming,” she said. “There’s a lot to learn. It’s rewarding to see them leave more confidently.”
Deliveries might be routine for her, but she said it doesn’t make any of them less special.
“It’s amazing that you can grow a baby, and it’s a whole life-changing experience for them, especially for first-time parents,” Johnson said. “It’s special to get to watch them as they experience holding their baby for the first time.”
Stephanie Duncan is one of Johnson’s fellow nurses at the hospital and was also a patient, which she said was an “extraordinary” full circle moment. She said Johnson is compassionate and giving as a nurse.
“We are so fortunate to have her training other nurses and to have her taking care of such a special patient population,” Duncan said. “I know as someone who works side by side with Kaitlin, and as someone who has personally been on the receiving end of her care, what a gift she is to the Manhattan community.”
Johnson gets to be part of some of a family’s happiest moments, but she said she has a special place in her heart for helping families dealing with unimaginable loss.
“A lot of times people think our job is happy all the time, but when it’s sad it’s really sad,” she said.
Johnson had an experience with a patient when she worked in Wichita who lost a baby, and she said it taught her how important good care is in the time after.
“It’s an honor to care for those families and walk beside them as they navigate that loss,” she said. “We wish no one had to experience that but those families stick with you throughout your whole career.”
Johnson is one of the co-founders of Ascension Via Christi’s Perinatal Bereavement Committee, which holds a Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day every year and connects families with resources for after they leave the hospital.
“The hospital part is just the beginning of the grief process,” she said.
Having support from doctors and nurses has become even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past, the hospital allowed two support people in the room during labor and delivery, and after the birth, there were no limits on guests.
According to the hospital’s COVID-19 protocols, one support person is now allowed in the room during labor and delivery, and no guests are allowed after the birth. Johnson said this is an added challenge for new parents, who aren’t getting help from family and friends and who can’t share the moment in the same way as they might want.
“You need that support as you adjust,” Johnson said.
Johnson herself gave birth in March, just as the pandemic was ramping up in the U.S. She said because some places didn’t allow anyone else to enter the hospital, she was grateful her husband could be with her. At that early stage of the pandemic, she said she missed being able to share with loved ones but they were cautious because there was still so much confusion over the safest behaviors.
“We didn’t have visitors for her first month and that was really hard for us,” Johnson said. “We love our family and our friends and we didn’t know what the right thing to do was.”
Helping others navigate all of these challenges is what makes the job meaningful for Johnson, and she never takes for granted the special experiences she gets to witness.
“We see it every day but it really is a miracle every time for healthy babies,” she said.