Born and raised in Ringgold, Ga., Marie Wallis Ivey has always had a desire to help others. “When I was little, I wanted to be a vet, but when taking our family dog in for a checkup, I would just about throw up when I walked into the waiting room, at the odor. I knew I could not deal with that each day,” she laughs.
Marie was surrounded by the medical profession. Her mother, Pearline, was an X-ray technician at Erlanger. Marie’s first job was as a lifeguard at the Ringgold City Pool.
“It was a fun job,” she says. When Marie attended UTC, she was undecided at first on what she really wanted to do.
“It was kind of one of those things where you start and stop,” Marie admits, “not knowing if it is what you want to do. I came to the conclusion that there was nothing else that I really wanted to do. The whole time that I was in nursing school, I was pretty adamant that I did not want to be a nurse. I wanted to fill pharmaceuticals or some other sort of nursing but I didn’t want to be in charge of patient care. I didn’t want to be around sick people,” Marie confesses and then adds, “My heart is very tender and it upsets me to see people struggle. Pediatrics and geriatrics patients - it just really upset me,” she insists.
In the last six weeks before her graduation, Marie’s class had “OB rotation.” Marie was to assist with obstetrics patients. One day one of her patients was about to give birth. “I was there for her delivery and it was the first birth that I had ever witnessed. I knew right then that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” Marie vows.
“It was just beautiful - it is an amazing thing,” she gushes. “When you see that baby take its first breath …and start turning pink …and you hear that first cry, you know that two people have made a whole different person and it’s mind-boggling. That’s when I knew it was for me,” Marie confirms.
She met and married her husband Gary and lived in Atlanta for awhile. “My first job out of nursing school was at an in-hospital birthing center in Douglasville, Ga. I learned so much. I was able to rotate between labor and delivery, newborn nursery and post-partum (‘mother/baby’ is what it is called today.) I loved it. It was one of the first birthing centers in the entire Southeast that employed nurse midwives,” Marie says proudly.
“I just recently learned that my great-grandmother was a midwife... ‘birthing babies’ must be in my genes!” Marie laughs.
As she worked, Ms. Ivey gained ample experience caring for the needs of young mothers. “Most births were natural births and we used a lot of comfort techniques. It was an amazing experience,” Marie declares.
She had left Douglasville’s birthing center for one year as she tried her hand as a nurse manager. Carrollton Community Medical Center had sought Marie because not many nurses at that point had their degree. “I was the nurse manager over the entire birthing center. I found that I did not like being a manager. I could not make the doctors happy, I could not make the nurses happy; there were always conflicts over scheduling or policies and procedures. And, it just wasn’t enough patient care for me, which is what I liked,” Marie admits.
She went back to Douglasville’s birthing center to continue her career and do what she loved best. Marie later gave birth to her first child, Amanda.
“When Amanda was born she had these big blue eyes and sweet, pink, soft lips. When Gary first laid eyes on her - he looked at me and said, ‘Oh Marie, she is so beautiful and… so much better than our cat. Let’s have 10!’ and I said, ‘Honey, would you please let me get off of the stretcher first?’ Marie laughs, “Thank goodness God blessed us with only two.”
Marie decided to be a stay-at-home-mom until just a few years ago. Alex, her son, came along 8 ½ years after Amanda. “I really missed the community feeling of Chattanooga, so that’s why we moved back. Atlanta was way too fast-paced. We had lost that sense of being connected and we wanted that for our children,” Marie states.
“When my daughter graduated from Baylor and went on to college, it was upsetting to see ‘the first child leave the nest’. So I started working on my career online,” Marie says. She became certified as a Lamaze child birth educator and breast-feeding counselor, a Certified DOULA and a HYPNOBABIES Childbirth Instructor.
While at a breast-feeding conference, Marie had met one of the nurses from Erlanger East. “There was a job opening and she called me. I worked for two years and, in the meantime, I became certified and became an International board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC),” she maintains.
“I had had such a wonderful experience breast feeding as a young mother. Today we know so much more about breast feeding and also the risks involved with using formula products. To me, it’s more than a health issue… it is emotional bonding between the mother and her baby,” Marie insists.
“Breast milk has benefits that are amazing! From lowering the risk of breast cancer and other forms of cancer and juvenile diabetes, it also decreases the chance of SIDS,” Marie exclaims. “There are like a million reasons to breast feed.”
Marie becomes very ardent about the benefits of breast feeding and educating young mothers. “Human milk is made for human babies - it is how our species was able to survive. I get frustrated with how people think it is just a personal decision yet they are not supportive for women to be able to practice that decision,” Marie implores.
“It is protective for the mother as well. Breast feeding helps the uterus to contract. It burns calories so losing the baby weight is quicker; not to mention the bonding that occurs between the mother and infant,” Marie asserts. “Plus, it is always free and always available,” she smiles with a wink.
There is no stopping Marie’s convictions there. She elaborates more on the benefits of breast feeding, “It’s always the right temperature and it aids in passing on natural immunity to the new baby.”
“When to begin weaning your baby is personal choice,” Marie states, “The average age for a baby when most women will begin this process is before the child is two years old. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that babies receive nothing but breast milk until six months old and to continue for at least a year - or as long as it is mutually enjoyable for both.”
When discussing variable problems young women may experience that keep them from choosing to breast feed, Marie states, “It might be a little different for twins, because it is more of a challenge, but our bodies are uniquely designed and there are very few women who cannot breast feed with proper assistance.” She adds, “Unfortunately, there are a lot of OB physicians and pediatricians who don’t have as much education in breast feeding as they should have. That is why having a certified board lactation nurse is important.”
“Family support is very important,” Marie imparts. “Women need to find a support system. Consultants can help in-hospital and there are some in private practice. The most important thing is to get off to a good start by not introducing pacifiers and bottles. Having someone to observe a feeding session helps to make sure that a baby is latching and transferring milk well. Understanding newborn behavior is also important. A lot of parents don’t understand when babies cry that it doesn’t always mean that they are hungry but that it’s the way they communicate.”
Marie says, “It is important to learn to breast feed on demand because that is how our bodies work - supply and demand. Most of the IBCLCs in Chattanooga are employed by Erlanger. It is really frustrating that sometimes an administration doesn’t see the importance of continuing to offer this assistance to mothers because it is such an issue for society. With the millions of dollars that are spent on diseases each year and breast feeding could help reduce many of these illnesses,” Marie says emphatically.
She says, “There is a learning curve. However, women may get upset in the beginning because they think breast feeding is just natural and, it is but the baby has to learn, the mama has to learn and you learn feeding cues – when the baby is hungry and when satisfied.”.
Colostrum, the very first substance a baby will receive, is very concentrated and consists of lots of antibodies. A newborn’s tummy is about the size of a marble, so colostrum is perfect. Then with a woman’s hormonal influences and the supply and demand action of the breast, more water is drawn into the breast and the milk increases in volume. By day five, most women have a full supply and the newborn’s tummy becomes the size of a ping pong ball and in six weeks’ time, the size of a golf ball. Gradually, it stretches to accommodate the increasing volume of breast milk. This is so much easier for a newborn’s digestive tract than taking a chance that a formulated product is going to be what your baby’s tummy can handle, Marie says.
“It is most important to hold your baby skin to skin,” insists the nurse. “A baby is programmed to find the breast by that skin to skin contact.”
Marie has enjoyed helping women learn how to do what is best for their babies. As she continues raising her teenage son who will be ready to leave the nest in a couple of years, she jokes, “I am re-evaluating what I want to do when I grow up.”
“I enjoy all aspects of the care of women surrounding child birth. Now my options are to consider private practice as a lactation consultant or going back to school for my masters in nursing – a practitioner, midwife that kind of thing,” Marie divulges. “What I would really like to do is open a free lactation clinic so that all women in Chattanooga could have access to care. I think it is something that would really benefit our community.”
With certain insurance companies, a woman is eligible for a free electric breast pump among other opportunities. “These companies are learning the benefits of breast feeding as well as having less ‘time lost from work’ if a mother is breast feeding because her baby is healthier. You see less gastrointestinal trouble and fewer ear infections in the infant,” Marie affirms.
“Sometimes you wonder why you choose a career,” she says with tears filling her eyes, “but I think when my daughter had her baby and me having the knowledge that I had gained, it really prepared me to help her as much as I could for the birth of my grandchild. Standing there when she was in labor thinking ‘maybe this was why I became a nurse - so that I could be there for her’.”
She concludes, “As for my career, it is when I am serving women in the time surrounding the birth of their children that is when I am most content.”