Behind the Scenes: Cindy Harris, Labor and Delivery Nurse, U.Va. Hospital

August 18, 2008

At an institution as large as U.Va., it’s easy to forget that it consists of many individually moving parts. We may take for granted the roughly 13,500 employees who keep the whole operation humming every day. Who, for instance, keeps all the UTS buses on the road? Who watches what students eat? Who flies critically injured patients to the hospital? The fall issue of U.Va. Magazine highlights nine such employees -- a few of the small pictures that make up U.Va.’s big picture.

In anticipation of the new academic year, UVA Today will in the coming days publish excerpts of the profiles, which were written by Sierra Bellows, Michelle Cuevas and Paul Evans.

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"Where do babies come from?" Most parents will deliver a red-faced answer to this question at some point. "OK, fine," the precocious child counters, "but who’s there to greet them when they arrive?"

For many, the answer would be Cindy Harris, a labor and delivery nurse at U.Va. Hospital who will celebrate her 23rd anniversary on the job in December.

How many babies does one see born over nearly a quarter century spent in delivery rooms? "I figure," Harris says, "that I see about two deliveries per week. You can do the math." Some quick computing would indicate that Harris has helped welcome around 2,000 newborns into the world.

When asked what has changed the most over the years, she smiles and says, "It amazes me how creative people have gotten with baby names. Some are great," she says, "but I have to laugh when a new mom turns and asks me, ‘Excuse me, Nurse, how would you spell this name?’"

Another difference is the influence television has, giving a mom-to-be a sometimes unrealistic perception of the delivery process. "It’s not exactly like ER or Grey’s Anatomy," Harris says. "Lots of women think that they’ll walk in the door and be done in an hour or two, but that’s not really the case. Some labors can take up to three days."

Though television tends to sensationalize, there’s certainly no lack of drama in labor and delivery. "A few weeks ago," Harris says, "I had a mom with a really difficult delivery. She had to work really hard. She kept thanking me for coaching her, saying she would have had to have a C-section if it weren’t for me. One of those a year really makes it worth it."

With experiences this rewarding, Harris finds it hard to imagine herself in any other profession. She weighs other possibilities for a moment, then laughs. "Well, I do really enjoy shopping. Maybe I could work at Belk."

The department store may have to do without Harris, as she seems to be a born nurse. "My mom, dad, two sisters and my brother have all worked at the hospital at some point. I started volunteering here when I was 14 years old as a candy striper," she says. "It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do."

Photo by Peggy Harrison