by Jessica Langdon
OVERLAND PARK — On her own and nervous, Ciera Williams arrived at the hospital in early October to give birth to her baby girl.
It was Williams’ birthday, and baby Julaya Bradley was determined to share the special day.
With her family out of town, Williams was “a nervous wreck,” she admits. That didn’t last long.
She quickly found herself in the good hands of the staff of Shawnee Mission Medical Center, including a labor and delivery nurse named Lisanne Milford.
With Milford by her side, “I felt more secure,” said Williams. “And I felt less alone about the situation.”
“You weren’t alone,” assured Milford, as she watched the new mom snuggle her daughter, “because we were all here with you.”
Milford — a wife, mother of three, nurse and parishioner of Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe — loves to share the happy times that come with working in labor and delivery.
Not every story is a happy one, though, and she feels equally blessed to care for families during their most heart-wrenching times.
There are situations when a baby has died in the womb or has health problems so severe the child will die soon after birth.
Honored for excellence
Milford’s work in those cases touched the people at Integrity Resource Center in Olathe. The center presents the FIRE in the Workplace honors. In September, Milford was recognized for excellence in the workplace.
The center was especially drawn to the faith-filled touches she brings when families have lost a baby.
“When the families are willing,” said Integrity Resource Center president Rick Boxx, “she actually does a special little prayer dedication for the child that just passed away and is able to encourage and honor the families.”
The FIRE awards honor God by recognizing that he works through people in the community, said Boxx.
“That’s an encouragement for all of us,” he said.
And Milford will tell you the words she shares with the families during those moments aren’t her own — they come from a much higher power.
Touches of faith
Although Milford grew up Catholic, she really saw her faith come to life at the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center when she was attending the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
At the start of her career, she worked the night shift at another hospital. The environment wasn’t always friendly to Christianity. It was there — often during the night hours — the young nurse began to find a new role.
“If there was a baby that was dying or soon to die, they would ask me to baptize the baby,” she said. She worked to give the patients the respect and care they needed.
She doesn’t push her faith on anyone, but lets it flow through her actions and the way she lives.
She remembers one morning — hours before dawn — when a woman came in with complications. She knew she was pregnant, but not with twins.
Milford had to tell the mother that one of the twins was very sick, and she needed an emergency C-section.
“So basically within 15 minutes, I told her how her whole life was going to change,” she said. They rushed her to the operating room.
Milford hadn’t mentioned faith, but the patient made the connection.
She leaned over the woman and told her, “I know this is very scary, but I just need you to trust me that this is what needs to happen at this time.”
The woman asked if the medal Milford was wearing — along with a cross — was a Miraculous Medal of Mary. When Milford told her it was, she touched it and said, “Then I know this is going to be OK.”
Prayers for guidance
Milford often drives to work with the radio off; she takes the time to pray.
She often calls on the Blessed Virgin Mary.
She feels an increasingly strong bond with Mary, both as mother of 15-year-old Nathan, 13-year-old Addy and 10-year-old Emma, and as a nurse on the labor and delivery unit.
She feels almost called to the more difficult cases — “not so much as a challenge, but as kind of saying, ‘What would Jesus do in this situation? How would he want me to treat these individuals?’”
She asks for guidance and the right words to say when a family is just beginning to grieve.
“That’s when I pray a lot, ‘Just guide me, tell me what to do,’” she said.
Emotion still overcomes her when she thinks of one family.
The lights were dimmed in the delivery room. Parents had come in when labor began, but there was no heartbeat for their baby.
“Nothing you can say can comfort people at that moment,” said Milford.
She asked Mary for the words.
“She’s so beautiful,” Milford said, when the baby was delivered.
“You could feel the Holy Spirit in that room,” she added.
Milford believes being in medicine and believing in God go hand in hand.
She remembers a couple whose baby had multiple anomalies. She and another nurse cared for them for days.
The baby was born alive, but died within 24 hours. They showered that infant with all the love they could during that brief time.
To Milford, being there and getting to know the parents was a gift. They sent her a note saying, “I hope we can see you again in happier times.”
Offering support, not judgment
Some women come in alone. And Milford is there for them, too.
Milford helps deliver the babies of young teens, the homeless, the HIV-positive and those who have had no prenatal care.
She tries to understand the heart of every patient.
“I truly believe that you can look at someone’s chart and think you have an idea of who they are,” said Milford. “And after a 12-hour shift, you find out who they really are.”
She never judges — that’s not why she’s there.
“No matter what their situation is, there’s a story behind it,” she said. “There’s a reason behind it.”
She knows circumstances are difficult, and she offers her support to teens who are giving up their babies for adoption.
“[You’re] giving the greatest gift to someone,” she tells them.
Living her faith
Milford finds reasons in her work to be thankful for the big things — and the little things — in life.
To her, living your faith can mean holding someone’s hand, just being there with them, listening to them, and making them feel important.
She shares that idea with her kids.
“I say you don’t have to cure cancer, you don’t have to be a genius,” she said.
Little acts of kindness can go a long way.
“The simple act of reaching out to someone who may be lonely, who may be sad, is just as powerful as the great experiments that have been done or the books that have been written,” she tells her kids. “You can be just as powerful in your own life.”
Her husband Terence nominated her for the FIRE in the Workplace award. Her family found out beforehand that she would receive the honor at a banquet, but made it a surprise for her.
Milford believes their support is what allows her to give so much of herself to her patients.
She is quick to turn the focus to others when she talks about her honor. There are a lot of deserving people, she said, and she knows faith plays a role in many of her colleagues’ lives.
But when Williams learned that the nurse who had helped deliver baby Julaya had been selected for this honor, her face broke into a huge smile.
“You deserve it,” she said more than once.