The Camp Fire

OB Clinic Nurse – Certified Childbirth Educator


On November 8, 2018 I was working as the triage nurse. Triage was empty, so I was helping in a C-section. I stepped out to grab a warm blanket for the patient & a co-worker asked, “Hey, Katie, is your family okay?” 

There was a fire nearby. The town I lived in, where my husband and kids were, was in the path. I looked out the window and there was a huge mushroom cloud in the sky over Paradise.

I frantically called my husband. He had just gotten our boys and dogs loaded up and was about to evacuate. They were safe.

The day quickly turned into chaos. My job was to try to help manage this chaos. Most of the patients from the hospital in Paradise were being evacuated to ours. I didn’t know if this was a precaution. Maybe it was a small fire that they would get under control quickly? As the day went on, I heard more horror stories coming out of Paradise. I knew my family was safe but I needed them. I lasted until about 5pm before I just couldn’t cope any longer. 

Ninety percent of the town burned down. Waiting anxiously, we learned our home had not burned, but most of our street had. For the next six weeks, we lived with family. We had no access to our home or anything in it.

We were fortunate in that were able to move into a small rental in Chico. While processing what had happened over a few months, we came to the decision to move to a new state and start over. We did not want to live through the rebuilding of the town. I knew that seeing the burned homes, trees and businesses day in and day out would be like reliving the fire every day; a constant reminder. I was worried about all the chemicals, paints, fuels and other toxic materials that had burned. I didn’t want to have continuous anxiety wondering if my family or I would end up with cancer or other side effects as a result of exposure. The housing prices in the areas nearby sky rocketed. I told myself, “at least babies were delivered everywhere.” I could keep doing what I loved, and we could handpick where we wanted to raise our family. 

After exploring several new places, we fell in love with one. I was offered a position at the largest hospital in the state quickly. I needed to start my job soon, but our home was not due to be finished for at least six weeks. My husband and I made the decision that I would move out before the rest of the family & rent a room from an acquaintance. I had only lived alone once ten years prior in college and even that was short lived. I had never been away from my husband or my kids for more than five days. People were questioning me constantly about why I was leaving ahead of them. I was defending myself to others and to myself. No father would have been questioned so much about this decision. It would have been a practical decision to help his family. I was made to feel like a mother abandoning her children. The deep emotional toll of being away from them was just evidence to support those feelings. Still I pressed on. 

My new hospital delivered 400-450 babies per month. I was used to 120-175 births per month. I fell in love with the idea of all that I was going to learn and see, but I was also scared. Would I know enough? Would I be able to keep up?

After just five weeks, I knew it was not the right fit. I came to realize it was high intervention with very few protocols. I was uncomfortable. I was not used to the pace and the physicians extreme variation of practice. There were hardly any order sets or protocols from which nurses could work. This took away the autonomy I had gotten used to at my previous hospital.

I decided to accept a new job at a smaller hospital. The staffing was difficult for me to adjust to as it had significantly less coverage. One night there were multiple urgent matters, but not all of them could be tended to because of staffing. I felt intensely uncomfortable in that situation. We were doing the best we could with what we had, but I knew I couldn’t do it. After that night, I began to look for another new job. I could be giving up my career in birth. 

I decided to change focus. I began working in a busy OB/GYN office. I felt so defeated and out of place.  How could I work anywhere but in L&D? I felt incredibly anxious & unhappy. I felt like I had made a huge mistake. I leaned heavily on my friends and family. I started therapy. I started an anti-depressant.

After six months, I had bonded with some patients. I roomed them for their OB appointments and would chat about work, their kids and pregnancy discomforts.  I spoke to them on the phone frequently. I listened to them every time they had a question or something that concerned them. I taught them what was normal and what was not. I followed them through their whole pregnancy. With some I felt that I was making a huge difference by the time they got to full term. When they came in for their six-week postpartum appointment gushing over their babies, hugging me and thanking me, my heart felt full again.

I was given the opportunity to start teaching the birthing class through the office. I had no idea what I was doing. I had never taught besides at the bedside, but I was figuring it out. I loved seeing their curiosity. I loved teaching them their options. I decided to start the process of becoming certified and took a training course. I have expanded the educational program within the office and am exploring new ideas in childbirth education.

I miss birth immensely. I miss the looks on mothers’ faces when newborns are laid on them skin to skin for the first time. The looks shared between parents. Being part of an emergency and feeling like you just did something incredible.

I felt helpless as one nurse in a new hospital(s). But teaching women that they deserve excellent care may be what sparks the change. I hope I can teach, support and empower them. Maybe I will circle back in the delivery room one day. Right now, this is my contribution to birth.