CHICAGO — When soon-to-be mothers are feeling exhausted and ready to give up, Krissy Maher, a labor and delivery nurse at Adventist Hinsdale Hospital, regularly calls in the Pushing Specialist.
In walks a 75-year-old woman with soft white hair, wire-rimmed glasses and hearts printed on her hospital scrubs. Jean Kingery carries the confidence of a nurse who has witnessed the deliveries of thousands of babies — boys, girls, quadruplets, even New Age births with the mom under hypnosis.
Kingery assures discouraged mothers with encouraging words: “You can do this. Your mother did this. Your grandmother did this, and you will do this.”
It’s a pep talk that Maher, a recent nursing school graduate, understands well.
The Pushing Specialist is her grandmother.
“She has been my biggest role model ever since I could remember,” said Maher, who joined the hospital’s labor and delivery unit last year, following in Kingery’s footsteps.
“When (patients) see my grandma, they think experience. I can tell, it kind of puts them at ease.”
For the past year, the grandmother and granddaughter have worked in the labor and delivery unit of the west suburban hospital where 2,200 babies are born each year. The two — who sometimes work together, and other times pass mothers off to each other during shift changes — usually don’t tell patients about their relationship. “It’s not about us,” both say with a shrug.
But Maher, 24, routinely pulls her “Gran” aside to ask for advice. And Kingery saves pieces of pie in the break room refrigerator for Krissy to snack on during her shift.
Given that it’s an accomplishment for Kingery to still manage such a physical job at 75, and for Maher to be hired into such a position straight out of nursing school, co-workers, patients and family members say it is wonderful to see two generations — with two different sets of experiences — working with the same passion.
“It makes it feel like a family,” said Evita Patel, a fellow nurse, describing the pair’s impact on the whole unit.
Long before Kingery began coaching mothers, she learned how to be one herself.
She was born at Hinsdale Hospital and grew up on a family farm in Westmont, Ill. When it came her turn to start having a family, her three children were also born at Hinsdale Hospital.
Although she had always had an interest in nursing, Kingery chose to put aside career plans as she raised her two sons and daughter, she said.
Her daughter, Debbie Maher, now 52, has fond memories of sitting at the kitchen table with her siblings, excitedly recounting the school day as their mom prepared dinner.
On Friday nights, Kingery made homemade pizza for the family, and sometimes extra for other families to enjoy. She watched the neighbors’ children whenever they needed help.
Every mother must choose an approach that works for her, Kingery said, and she felt good about choosing to be a stay-at-home mom. But as her children got older, her desire to care for other people grew.
At 40, Kingery went back to school to become a licensed practical nurse and took a job working the overnight shift at Adventist Hinsdale Hospital’s labor and delivery unit so she could still drive her children to school. Nearly a decade later, her children grown and starting their own families, Kingery studied and worked her way up to registered nurse.
Hospital officials estimate that Kingery has participated in the delivery of at least 5,000 babies and has cared for more than 10,000 new moms.
“I always say, ‘I get to see a miracle every day,’ ” said Kingery, who keeps a stack of letters in her desk drawer from families she’s helped. “People are so grateful.”
As Kingery embraced her new career and eventually moved with her husband to Naperville, Ill., her granddaughter Krissy grew up a few blocks away.
Krissy Maher remembers home-cooked meals every night made by her stay-at-home mother, and elaborate birthday parties where her friends dressed as mothers, bringing their own dolls.
For Debbie Maher, who had graduated with a degree in teaching before taking time off to start a family, it felt right to return to full-time teaching when her youngest was in the first grade.
When it came time to choose a career for herself, Krissy Maher waffled between her mother’s calling and her grandmother’s — both teaching and nursing would let her help people.
But ultimately, she remembered the stories her grandmother told about the incredible feeling of bringing new life into the world. She decided that’s what she wanted, too.
Thrilled, Kingery directed her granddaughter to a nursing program where several young nurses at the hospital had studied. For graduation from Chamberlain College of Nursing in Downers Grove, Ill., students were asked to pick a nurse who had an impact on them to pin them in a symbolic ceremony.
Kingery cried as she pinned her granddaughter’s gown.
Kingery, who has seen labor and delivery techniques and medicine evolve a great deal in her 36 years on the job, not to mention women’s attitudes toward careers, said she works hard to respect the views and wishes of mothers of all backgrounds.
She prides herself on helping coach mothers in breathing in such a way that packs the most power in each push.
“I always tell them, ‘It’s the hardest work you’ll ever do in your whole life,’ ” Kingery said.