For the delivery of her first child, Kristin Rafferty chose Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns. She was happy to make the 40-minute drive from her home in Murrieta for a hospital that focused solely on her needs and her baby’s needs.
Three years later, when Kristin found out she was pregnant with twin boys, there was no doubt she would return to the hospital. However, this experience would be completely different from the first.
At 20 weeks, Kristin’s anatomy scan for her twins revealed she had a shortened cervix, a pregnancy-related condition that put her at higher risk for preterm labor and premature birth. Doctors also found she had vasa previa, an incredibly rare but severe complication in which fetal blood vessels grow across the cervix and can rupture, endangering the lives of both mom and baby. This was surprising to Kristin because her pregnancy with her daughter had been completely normal.
For her safety and her babies’ safety, Kristin was admitted to Sharp Mary Birch’s Perinatal Special Care Unit (PSCU), which provides in-hospital care for women with high-risk pregnancies. More than 500 women are admitted to this unit each year. Some stay for one night and others for months — the record being over 100 days — often remaining in the hospital until their baby is born.
“I am very thankful for Sharp Mary Birch’s PSCU because I knew if anything happened to me or the babies, I was in the right place,” says Kristin, who was also diagnosed with gestational diabetes while she was on the unit.
Life on the PSCU
Kristin and her babies were closely monitored for contractions and fetal heart rate every day for 9 weeks. For serious pregnancy-related conditions, subtle changes could have indicated a problem with her health or her babies’ health.
According to Angel Anderson, night shift lead clinical nurse in Sharp Mary Birch’s PSCU, a typical day for Kristin and most other PSCU patients includes meals, medications and electronic fetal monitoring, on repeat.
During the several weeks of Kristin’s PSCU stay, she developed a bond with her caregivers.
“The nurses in the PSCU became my second family,” says Kristin. “They held my hand when I was scared about getting my IV, they comforted me when it was time to deliver unexpectedly and earlier than originally planned. I can’t say enough about them and their compassion.”
However, time in the PSCU can be very isolating and lonely, especially for someone like Kristin, whose family lived almost an hour away and were only able to visit twice a week.
A lot of times, PSCU moms develop bonds with one another, Anderson says. Kristin, for example, connected with the pregnant patient in the room next door, who was also on the unit for a long-term stay.
“It was noted on the nurse’s board that if you couldn’t find Kristin in her room, to check her neighbor’s room,” says Anderson. “These two ladies became very close, which helped both of them cope with the weeks away from their families.”
After Kristin’s neighbor delivered and left the hospital, Kristin felt like she lost her best friend. The nurses on the unit — even those who weren’t Kristin’s primary nurses — spent extra time with her, playing card games and bringing nail polish strips for her nails.
In addition to caring for patients’ medical needs, PSCU nurses support their mental health needs as well. For example, they present moms-to-be with special certificates on their pregnancy milestones that include congratulations and baby progress facts. Patients often display these in their hospital room.
“PSCU is special in the way we are able to connect and build relationships with our patients, especially long-term patients who become friends,” says Anderson. “I truly don’t think our patients realize how much we enjoy being able to visit with them each and every shift.”
A successful, safe delivery
At 32 weeks pregnant, Kristin gave birth via cesarean section to her twin boys, Kayden and Noah. Kayden stayed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for 29 days, while Noah had to continue monitored care for 69 days. They are both now reunited and home with the family.
During a visit to the NICU, Kristin was able to see and spend time with her PSCU neighbor friend, who was there to visit her own baby.
“This experience has been a roller coaster, but I have made amazing friends and had some of the most awesome nurses I have ever met,” says Kristin. “There is something special about the nurses that work at Sharp Mary Birch.”