Mother and daughter nurses work together in Labor and Delivery
Some people call Chelsea Foster, BSN, RN, and her mom Lisa Harris, RNC-OB, the Dream TeamMay 4, 2023
Lisa Harris, left, and daughter Chelsea Foster.
All photos by Erin O. Smith
From childhood, Chelsea Foster, BSN, RN, always knew she wanted to be a nurse, just like her mother, her grandmother and great-grandmother. She specifically wanted to work in a labor & delivery (L&D) unit, like her mom. It’s a dream she realized since coming to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 2016.
But here’s where it really gets interesting: A year later, Chelsea recruited her mom, who was working at another hospital in Middle Tennessee, to work at Vanderbilt with her.
In the same unit.
Now Chelsea and her mom, Lisa Harris, RNC-OB, are working on the same shift, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and they work every weekend together — Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Depending on their roles each day, they may occasionally get to help the same patient deliver her baby.
“We’re kind of like the mother-daughter duo,” Lisa said.
“Some people call us the dream team,” Chelsea added.
The novelty is not lost on her co-workers. Shannon Chambers, MSN, RN, the manager of the unit, recalls learning that Lisa is Chelsea’s mother during Lisa’s interview process. Chelsea hadn’t told anyone her mom was interviewing. Chambers had made up her mind to hire Lisa, but first checked with Chelsea to ensure it was OK to work with her mom.
The answer — a resounding ‘yes.’
“They work great alongside each other,” Chambers said. “It’s never ever been an issue. It’s just kind of in their DNA, because they’re both very passionate L&D nurses.”
Both Lisa and Chelsea will tell you they’re competitive. They want to be the best at what they do. Lisa leans toward leadership, working as a charge nurse. Chelsea likes the bedside, building connections with patients from the moment they come in and personalizing their labor and delivery experience. Her work recently earned her The DAISY Award.
Lisa was 17 when she gave birth to Chelsea. Years later, she worked her way through nursing school and graduated when Chelsea was 10. When Lisa became a nurse, she knew she wanted to work in Labor & Delivery, but new hires at her community hospital couldn’t start there. It was a coveted position. So, she worked in a medical-surgical unit, taking care of people preparing for or recovering from surgery. But the moment she could switch to Labor & Delivery, which was six months later, she did. She had found her passion.
“You have this this ability to be involved in people’s very private moment; that can be either very, very good or very, very bad. And it’s just such an honor to be involved in that,” Lisa said.
The nursing bug bit Chelsea early, too. She specifically remembers an assignment in 8th grade asking her what she wanted to be when she grew up, “and I told my mom I wanted to be a nurse. And I still remember her telling me, ‘You know, you don’t have to do this. But if you want to, I’m here to support you.’”
Chelsea had a special challenge to becoming a nurse — she has had hearing aids since she was 3 years old. She has had to train herself in many ways to hear better with lip reading, context clues and filling in the blanks. Her audiologist told her, “You may hear 60% of what someone says, and you have to work hard mentally to fill in the 40% of what was said.” After years of speech therapy, she was able to learn to speak with more appropriate pronunciations.
She made it to nursing school, but even then, it wasn’t easy. She remembers her director pulling her aside one day and questioning whether she would be able to meet the standards to become a nurse.
“I just kind of took that as momentum, to push forward,” she said. “I am going to become a nurse. You’re not going to stop me.”
Her mom was always there to encourage her. “I was concerned about the struggle that would be for her,” Lisa said, “but she has overcome it like she’s overcome everything in her whole life. She’s so strong, and so when she sets her mind to something, she’s going to do it.”
Chelsea graduated from nursing school, but challenges remained. When she started on the medical-surgical unit at a community hospital, she initially tried to hide the fact she has hearing loss. She didn’t want people to think something was wrong with her. But not telling people about her challenge led to misunderstandings and made matters worse.
“I remember going to my manager, crying, and she told me, ‘You have to tell people,’” she said.
Now she very open about her hearing loss with patients and coworkers and communicates her needs.
“Once I started telling people, it was kind of freeing,” she said. “In the operating room, I’m still telling them, ‘Hey, guys, it’s me. I need you to yell.’ I am so grateful to work with people that have been so supportive.”
After stints in Med-Surg and Oncology, Chelsea made it to a Labor & Delivery unit after a year, then eventually to Vanderbilt. Now joined by her mom, with every baby they deliver, they’re still learning.
“I taught her how to do labor and delivery,” Lisa said, “and now she is teaching me basically the future of labor and delivery.”
Part of that future is Spinning Babies, a technique that involves moving a patient into various positions to help the baby get in good position for birth, in the hopes of promoting a safe, vaginal delivery. Chelsea, Lisa and a few other nurses took a class in the technique in May 2020.
After working together 36 hours each week, Lisa and Chelsea say they actually don’t see each other that much the rest of their busy week. Chelsea lives in Cheatham County and Lisa in Sumner County. Their time together at Vanderbilt is something they look forward to.
“It was literally my best decision I’ve ever made,” Lisa said. “I love it here. This is my home. We have a great unit, and it’s so amazing working with my daughter.”
“She has helped me become the nurse that I am,” Chelsea said. “I’ve always said I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for my mom. I’m grateful to have her as my mentor.”