Taking Compassion into the Delivery Room

By Alex Coleman

Dr. Shelly Reed, associate teaching professor, has known since she was only sixteen that she wanted to be a nurse—“It was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen… This is what I want to do. I want to be a nurse.” She was working as a “candy striper” at the time, which was a student volunteer at the hospital. A doctor walked into the room and asked, “Do you want to see a baby be born?” It was that experience of watching a new life come into the world that put Dr. Reed on the trajectory she’s been ever since.

Her life is a story of striving for service, whether that be in making career choices that allowed her to be the best and most present mother she could be or in the love she has for her students and fellow faculty at BYU. That striving is also reflected in her decision, after years of teaching nursing at BYU, to return again to the student life and get her training to be a midwife. She has almost completed her clinical practicum—“I got to go to 36 birthday parties this summer!”

Her completion of her midwifery training was an extremely rewarding experience for her—“amazing, spiritual, wonderful” are her exact words. “These new little people join their family and change their family forever. It’s really an opportunity to even be there.” Dr. Reed chose to attend Frontier Nursing University and has been surrounded by colleagues that she has enjoyed. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” she says.

Practice baby (“Lila Pearl”) for preparatory courses prior to clinicals, photo courtesy of Dr. Shelly Reed

These two years of schooling and a summer of clinical practicum for Dr. Reed served as an extenuation of a life of service. “Sometimes I walk out of the hospital or down the street. I look at a person, and wonder what it’s like to be them, and how their lives are and what they’re thinking, and what their problems are,” she says. “If I start thinking about other people in that way, I hope to be more understanding of them.” Dr. Reed shares a very poignant story of an extremely young couple who came into the hospital to give birth. In the middle of the mother’s contractions, the father starts talking about how hungry he is and asking where the cafeteria is. Frustrated at the young man’s lack of concern for his girlfriend’s contractions, she hurriedly pointed out the location of the cafeteria. After going to help another patient and then returning to the room, she was surprised to find him back with the mother, leaning towards her stomach, reading a book to his unborn child.

“Who am I to judge,” Dr. Reed laments. “He was hungry!” This is a lesson Dr. Reed says she must learn over and over again. “We just don’t know why people make some of the choices that they do. Sometimes if you just took a minute to understand why it would help you to take better care of them.”  

This has been the entire goal of her midwifery training. “I hope to do something at the other end of this [training] where I can help serve in some way,” she says, “That is really why I am doing this [training] at this end of my life… The bottom line is that there’s always something that I have to learn, and sometimes it’s the same lessons over and over again. But I hope someday I’ll learn to be better. This is been a fun experience, and it’s so rewarding to be a part of this amazing journey these parents are taking. But at the other end, I hope that maybe I can help somebody have a better experience in some way.” Dr. Reed’s life as a nurse is an incredible example of finding the intersection between great empathy and love, and how to take that into healthcare. With her new midwifery training, now Dr. Reed can take that example into the delivery room.

Published by BYU Nursing

Guided by the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we exemplify the Healer’s art by: leading with faith and integrity; advancing the science of nursing and healthcare; promoting health and wellness; alleviating suffering; and serving individuals, families, and communities. The mission of the College of Nursing at Brigham Young University is to learn the Healer’s art and go forth to serve.

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