You often hear so many of those who work in health care share the sentiment of “being called” to their work. Health care isn’t an easy job – long hours and physically demanding shifts don’t begin to account for the emotional toll a day on the floor can take on even the most seasoned health care veteran.
For most of us, it truly is a calling.
Whether it comes from a strong and unwavering desire to help people or just not being able to imagine sitting at a traditional 9-to-5, there’s almost always a personal reason driving the professional decisions of our team members.
Colleen Ross is no exception.
Her commitment to her role as a lactation consultant at Bon Secours St. Francis Medical Center and educator reaches far beyond the job description.
Colleen’s current role with the ministry offers a unique and rewarding set of challenges.
“My current job allows me to draw on my background in clinical sciences, utilize my education in public health, access accumulated counseling skills and draw on a respectful sensitivity to help mothers and babies fall in love and relax into one another,” she explains. “In my role as breastfeeding educator, the goal isn’t solely to promote breastfeeding. We provide expert guidance to inform families so they can make the best feeding choices for their new baby.”
Along with her professional background, Colleen is able to draw on a personal tragedy to find the strength and stamina needed to provide the care she knows all too well that her patients need.
“The immediate postpartum period is such an emotionally challenging time for new parents and the difficulty of transitioning into parenthood is often underestimated,” Colleen says. “I witnessed this firsthand in my personal life. My younger sister, Laura, struggled silently with postpartum anxiety and depression and the accompanying stigma.”
She continues, “my family and I watched as Laura buckled under the weight of trying to navigate this period on her own and we lost her to suicide in 2017. To say we were devastated is an understatement.”
Driven by these personal experiences, Colleen is determined to learn, grow and spread her knowledge as well as compassion.
“In a way, I now feel privileged to have witnessed my sister’s heartbreaking tragic struggle, if only because I am now able to share it in the hope of breaking down barriers to other new mothers seeking help and understanding,” she says.
Colleen’s approach on how to make the whole experience successful for mom is about creating a support system.
“Consulting with a new mom is often a delicate exercise in communication to overcome her potential reluctance to let another stranger into her world,” Collen explains. “My goal is to gently build credibility with families and convey a sense that I am there to advocate for them and their baby. Seeing women become empowered through breastfeeding is just amazing, and it is an honor to be invited into such intimacy.”
Colleen blends a degree of empathy and appreciation when it comes to helping new parents navigate their new worlds.
“While it’s true that breastfeeding is the biological norm for infant feeding, some modern birth practices and cultural norms can mask or even undermine what comes naturally,” Colleen shares. “Both parent and baby still have a learning curve before breastfeeding feels like second nature. So, while it’s safe to say that breastfeeding is natural, it still requires planning, practice and support.”
If there’s one message Colleen could relay to expecting mothers, it’s this:
“Education can lay the framework to help new moms prepare. I always say the worst time to learn about breastfeeding is when someone hands you your baby. Preparation is key!”
At Bon Secours, we strive to advance our health care services by providing expert lactation care for our families – inpatient, prenatally and with postpartum support. Colleen firmly stands behind the importance of peer-to peer-support, realized in our in-person breastfeeding support groups.
However, support goes beyond just the new and expecting mothers though.
“Our team is entirely committed to bettering our community by providing the best education possible for new families during a critical juncture,” Colleen shares. “My colleagues are consistently staying after class to answer questions or providing extra reassurance for struggling new parents. They put in so many hours behind the scenes and truly believe in the mission of bettering our community through education and support. I am in awe of my colleagues and their dedication to new families!”
While there are a lot of challenges associated with her role, there are a lot of rewards, too.
“I love partnering with women as they transition to motherhood. I learn something new from each family I work with,” Colleen says. “In fact, being a lactation consultant is the most humbling and rewarding profession I’ve ever had. Watching the look of anxiety leave a mother’s face as she successfully latches her baby is more than enough to make us happy to continue each day.”
She adds, “in the end, I am acutely aware that few professionals have the privilege of helping new families during some of their most intimate and overwhelming moments. I am grateful to be one of those lucky few.”