"We all have the same feeling about birth and babies," Mary Lou Wilkins tells PEOPLE

By Michelle Boudin
May 09, 2017 05:00 PM

Three generations of women from the same Michigan family are all obstetrics nurses — and they estimate between them they’ve helped care for more than 10,000 babies.

“It just goes from generation to generation,” Christina Harms, 31, tells PEOPLE.

Credit: Health Beat, the news service of Spectrum Health

Harms is a nurse at Spectrum Health Medical Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her mother, Sue Hoekstra, 56, works on the same floor, and her grandmother, Mary Lou Wilkins, 86, was also a nurse at the same hospital.

“It’s a happy place 99 percent of the time, It’s just a joy to go to work. I feel like I’m making a difference,” says Hoekstra, who grew up watching her mom go to work and always knew she’d follow in her footsteps.

Credit: Mary Lou Wilkins

Her mom juggled raising three kids while working the night shift at the hospital. Wilkins started as a nurse in 1962 and spent 28 years helping moms in the moments after they gave birth.

“It’s such a miracle. It was never just another baby, it was always special,” Wilkins says.

Back then, she says, the dads took a backseat to the new moms and she’s glad to see times have changed.

“When I was working, the fathers were not so involved. Things are much more progressive now and daddies have realized they’re just as important as mommies.”

Credit: Sue Hoekstra

Harms, the mother of two little boys, didn’t initially set out to follow in her family’s footsteps. She went to college and got a degree in music before realizing she too had the same passion as her mother and grandmother. She went back to school to be a nurse and has been helping deliver babies for the last four years.

“In nursing school I helped a mom learn how to breastfeed her baby for the first time and I cried.,” Harms says. “It was the most amazing thing in the world and I thought, ‘I have to do this.’ ”

Credit: Christina Harms

Her mom and grandmother flew to Colorado where she went to nursing school to be there for her graduation.

Mom Sue couldn’t have been prouder. “I thought it was fabulous, I was thrilled, I knew because of the kind of person she is that she would make a great nurse.”

Adds Wilkins, “We were all there and the three of us together was pretty special, knowing that we all have the same feeling about birth and babies.”

Credit: Health Beat, the news service of Spectrum Health

Wilkins retired in 1991 but still lives close to both her daughter and granddaughter. The women usually work opposite shifts at the hospital and have shared patients several times over the years.

Harms says, “Every time a baby is born it is honestly the most amazing miracle. It just takes your breath away and everyone is so happy. When the baby takes that first breath, nothing is sweeter than when the baby makes their first cry. It’s just amazing.”