Sandy Bumber found her calling through a natural process -- childbirth.
She married shortly after high school and started having kids with her husband, Jim, soon becoming the mother of enough little ones to field a basketball team.
"I realized I couldn't just keep having babies -- you know, five was probably enough," said Bumber, now 73. "So I went back to school and got my nursing degree, and the whole goal was to work in obstetrics in labor and delivery."
The dream came true and led to a 34-year career that didn't conclude until last fall -- after she had helped deliver thousands of babies, including 11 of her grandchildren and 10 of her great-grandchildren.
"I truly loved watching those little miracles. It's just amazing to me that two cells get together and they make this perfect little human being," Bumber said. "It's just so wonderful to watch that whole thing, little families formed."
Bumber first helped pregnant women at Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet, working for 14 years before joining the staff at Edward Hospital in Naperville as a charge nurse in 1998.
Her role stayed the same. She always worked the night shift and usually functioned as the labor and delivery nurse. In that job, Bumber said, she would monitor the fetus, track the mother's progress toward giving birth and take the mother's vital signs intermittently, helping each patient deal with pain through medication, showering, walking or using a birthing ball.
"Even though it's such a happy time," Bumber said, "it's very stressful on the whole family until they see that healthy baby."
With five healthy babies of her own all grown up, Bumber became a grandmother before she became a nurse.
But once she completed her degree in 1984, and after the births of her three oldest grandchildren, the requests started coming in. Each time one of her daughters or daughters-in-law was about to give birth, she would seek Bumber's help in the delivery room. Bumber would happily oblige.
"From then on, I was in on most of them," she said.
The story stayed the same through Bumber's transition to Edward Hospital and her family's growth to an even younger generation. She has grandchildren ages 21 to 39 and great-grandchildren from 4 months to 10 years old. She even helped deliver four of the youngest of them during the final year of her career.
Most of her family lives, as she does, in Lockport, or nearby in Plainfield, with a few near Rockford. So it was almost always convenient for relatives to choose her workplace as the destination for a new baby's entrance into the world. And childbirth was, after all, Bumber's specialty -- and has been ever since she went through it herself.
"My labors were pretty short and sweet," she said. "And you always get that little present at the end."
Bumber, who still sometimes wears a pair of earrings that feature babies dressed in diapers, has the right personality for nursing women through to their baby's birth, said longtime co-worker Diane Fitzpatrick, a nurse and director of patient care for obstetrics at Edward Hospital.
With her years of experience, Bumber became a real plus for thousands of patients.
"She's so nurturing," Fitzpatrick said. "Very compassionate, very caring."
Losing her when she retired in October 2018 was a bittersweet moment for the team of roughly 64 night- and day-shift nurses who work in labor and delivery at Edward, Fitzpatrick said. Co-workers miss Bumber's efforts to make the workplace fun, with things like wedding photo guessing games, and efforts to support veterans by organizing donations to Operation Care Package in honor of one of her nephews who was killed in Iraq.
Seeing her back on the unit for a recent visit after a retirement vacation tour through Myrtle Beach, Orlando and Atlanta, former co-workers greeted Bumber with hugs and wide smiles.
That line about the little miracles rings true when it comes from Bumber, her longtime co-workers say -- even after her retirement. "Every delivery is a little miracle," Fitzpatrick said. "She always said that."