Reflections of A Nurse-Mother

“Yeah, I’m taking classes to become a massage therapist. My mom is a nurse, and I’ve always been interested in health sciences because of that. I want to help people enhance their health.”

Photograph/Copyright by Julianna Paradisi

She’s an acquaintance I’ll miss when she moves on to her new career, but I was charmed to learn her mom is a nurse. 

She’s not the only adult child of a nurse-mother I’m acquainted with. Hanging around artists, I’ve met several who are also the children of nurse-mothers. I’m always curious about how they experienced their upbringing.

Being both a nurse and a mother is challenging. If you’re a pediatric intensive care nurse and a mother, like I was, the challenges greatly increase. 

How do you maintain normal maternal skills at home, when each shift you’re exposed to every conceivable, and some never imagined in your worst nightmares, scenarios of trauma that can occur to a child? 

Seemingly simple things, such as allowing your child to spend the night at their friend’s home creates the need to either ask, or worry the entire night, if there’s access to a loaded gun in their home. This sounds extreme, until you’ve experienced your second or third pediatric gunshot admission, which occurred in the home of the patient’s friend while the kids were briefly unattended.

Or the urgent need to get your kid enrolled in swim lessons at the earliest possible age, because of the multiple pediatric near-drowning patients you’ve nursed. It’s shocking how a hot tub cover too heavy for the average adult to remove without assistance, is somehow not enough to prevent a toddler from wedging himself underneath it.

Then, there’s the vast array of viruses and infections that can take hold of and devastate a previously healthy child in a day.

How do you come home from such trauma, and be a “normal” mom to your kids? How do you prevent transferring your fears, born from the knowledge of more dangers in the world than any person should have to bear, to them? How do you step back a bit and let your kids have healthy, normal life experiences, without triggering your anxiety about their safety? As my own adult daughter said, “You can’t bubble wrap them Mom.”

For some pediatric intensive care nurses, becoming a mother is the end of their practice in the specialty. They move on to something else. The first time you care for a child the same age, who perhaps resembles your own child, is unnerving. Being a PICU nurse has as much to do with the ability to protect yourself emotionally as it does with your nursing skills.

Surprisingly, most nurses are able to find balance within the answers to these questions. We understand that our on the job experiences are often extraordinary, and do not reflect those of most parents. 

I know about this balance, because I ask their adult children. They laugh while telling me that when they were growing up, unless they were bleeding severely about the face or head, their nurse mothers said they were fine: “No, we aren’t going to the doctor for that.” 

But they also credit their nurse-mom for giving them a strong sense of independence and resiliency. “I admire my mom so much. I learned how to be strong and independent from her.”

Despite my fears, and having worked on half of the holidays in her life, I’ve seen this is the case with my adult daughter. I admire her ability to manage not only her own life, and her family’s,  but also her ability to lend a helping hand to others.  

The adult children of nurse mothers I’m acquainted with not only survived, they’ve thrived.

What are your experiences as a nurse-mother?

If you’re a nurse-father, do you have similar experiences?

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