Employee Spotlight

May 9, 2024

Mom’s the word for mother-daughter Labor and Delivery nurses at Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital

Denise Zickgraf and her daughter, Victoria Garcia, support new mothers and each other

Denise Zickgraf, RN, and daughter Victoria Garcia, RN, BSN, work together to deliver babies and help moms at Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital. “She tries not to call me mom at work,” Denise says. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Victoria Garcia, RN, BSN, CLC, was in her first weeks as a labor and delivery (L&D) nurse at Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital when a patient arrived in active labor with concerns about the baby’s health. As she watched fellow nurse Denise Zickgraf, RN, support the patient through a difficult birth process, one contraction at a time, Victoria marveled at Denise’s strength and compassion. She felt proud to be her co-worker — and her daughter.

“I knew my mom was a labor and delivery nurse, but to work beside her and see her do those things adds another level of respect,” Victoria said. “I get to watch my mom do what she does best — what she’s called and meant to do — and learn from that. She’s done this longer than I’ve been alive.”

Denise, who has been a nurse for 37 years and an L&D nurse for 36, still finds the same joy in helping moms through delivery as she felt when she began her career.

“It’s the miracle of birth. No matter how many deliveries I’ve been a part of, it’s new and different each time,” she said. “I still think it’s amazing after 36 years.”

Though her younger son and daughter “wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole,” Denise always felt Victoria would do something in the medical field, but never imagined they would work together one day, often on the same shifts.

Denise Zickgraf, RN, who was an L&D nurse before her oldest daughter was born, always knew her Victoria would do something in the medical field. “She’s pretty independent and knows what she wants and needs,” she said.

“I don’t use the mother role at work — it’s very separate. Almost more of a friendship at this point. It’s not like I have to tell her what to do; she knows what to do,” she said. “Sometimes she has questions. Sometimes I ask her questions. I don’t always know more because I’ve been doing it longer; I can learn from her as well.”

When Denise and Victoria work the same shift, they often work with laboring mothers, or one works in labor and the other in postpartum. They work together to help position laboring patients and help each other in emergency situations. Victoria is also a certified lactation consultant and provides breastfeeding assistance to new mothers. In a few situations, Denise has been the labor nurse while Victoria is the nursery nurse who receives the baby.

“It’s cool because, on the paperwork for that birth, the nurses are my mom and me,” Victoria said. 

Denise and Victoria don’t always tell patients they are mother and daughter, but patients enjoy it when they do. “A patient and I were recently talking about baby names, and she asked me what my kids’ names are,” Denise said. “I said, ‘Actually, the one who was just in here is my oldest daughter,’ and the patient said, ‘That’s so cool you get to work together! I have the mother-daughter duo!’”

Even physicians are surprised to learn Denise and Victoria are related.

“A physician and I were having a conversation about being left-handed, and I told her my son is left-handed. She said, ‘I bet he’s your favorite child,’ and I said, laughing, ‘He is, but don’t tell Victoria,’ because I thought she knew,” Denise said. “Of course, she went directly to the nurses’ station and told Victoria and said, ‘How did I not know that was your mom this whole time?’”

Though others may not notice their relationship, Victoria, who joined VWCH four years ago, sees Denise as part of a larger work family.

“I can’t say it’s completely separate: I’m always going to be her daughter, and she’s always going to be my mom,” said Victoria. “But our unit is like a family, and we have a bond I haven’t experienced at other hospitals.”

Like her mother, Victoria, who grew up watching  “A Baby Story” on TLC, knew early on she wanted to work in L&D. “I toyed with the idea of doing something different, because I had heard you can’t be a labor and delivery nurse out of school. I thought maybe the ER because it has the same zero-to-100 speed labor has. I spent one day in OB triage, called my mom and said, ‘This is it. I found it,’” she said. “I don’t like to use the word ‘routine,’ but even when I have a routine vaginal birth or C-section, every birth is different. It’s not routine for that family. It’s one of the biggest days of their lives.”

Victoria knows that feeling firsthand, as she and her husband, Derek, delivered their second child at VWCH.

“People always ask if I delivered where I work. My son was born a couple years after I started at VWCH and it was such an honor and a privilege to deliver here,” she said. “My mom was there — not as my nurse but my mom — and my co-workers were all there too.”

Denise was present for the birth of both of Victoria’s children, Lily and Jude — not as a nurse, but an excited grandmother.

Both Denise and Victoria say one of the biggest benefits of working together is having someone to talk with who truly understands the job.

“She’s my sounding board, even if we’re not both working that day,” Zickgraf said. “If I need to talk about something that happened at work, she understands it all, I don’t have to explain it and, unlike other members of our family, she’s interested.”

Even when they work a 12-hour shift together, Denise and Victoria talk on the phone afterward.

“In life, you have time with your family and time with your work family. I love that those two overlap for me,” Victoria said. “OB is typically the happiest place to be, but sometimes it’s heartbreaking. At a recent OB conference, the woman behind me said, ‘When I have a really hard shift, I call my mom and try to talk to her about it, but she doesn’t really get it.’  My mom gets it.”

For another story about a Vanderbilt mother and daughter team of labor and delivery nurses, go here.