As a mother, you live for your children and give everything you’ve got to make sure they are protected from anything that may harm them and do all you can to prevent them from experiencing any type of pain. As a pediatric nurse, you comfort families during what is often the worst time in their lives, when their child is sick in the hospital. You are used to having things under control and staying calm in some of the scariest situations imaginable. So, what happens when you have to be both?
When I got pregnant with Max, Josef and I pretty much agreed off the bat that we would schedule a repeat c-section since I had to have an emergency c-section with Scar. The nurse in me had this grand idea that everything would go as planned, in a well controlled environment. Yes, the delivery went as planned and within an hour of being in the OR, our beautiful Max was in our arms. “Hmmm .. does her stomach look okay? It looks kind of big doesn’t it?,” I found myself asking shortly after the delivery. She was examined and we were reassured that everything checked out and that she was being monitored. The next twenty-ish hours went by as smooth as it could with a newborn — she was feeding well, she passed stool a couple times, and she wasn’t super fussy.
The next morning told a different story. During her routine exam by the morning nurse, we noticed her stomach was a lot bigger and it actually felt hard. All at once I felt the nurse and mom in me at a vicious tug-o-war. “I should have been more persistent in getting her checked more thoroughly. I know better than this!” .. “She’s being monitored, they know what they are doing, let them do their jobs, stay calm.” The nurse in me was staying calm and trying not to jump to irrational conclusions, while the mom in me wanted answers. Right. Now. It wasn’t until I noticed the NICU attending and two pediatric surgeons waiting outside of our room for an x-ray to be done that I knew something was really up. As a nurse, you know doctors NEVER wait at the bedside for x-ray results unless they have high suspicions that something is wrong. They found air in her abdomen, a sign that there was probably a hole somewhere in her stomach or intestines that was causing air to seep out. In a blink of an eye she was being wheeled away to the NICU. Within ten minutes she had a couple IVs in, blood being drawn, a tube in her throat decompressing her stomach and an OR was being prepped for her. Our baby was going to have emergency surgery twenty-six hours into her life. The mom in me took over and the panic set in. The calm, rational nurse in me was gone.
I’ll save the details of our NICU experience for another day, but I will say that those ten days tested us as a family, as parents, as husband and wife and all the ways in between.
“You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only option.”
During this time, I learned what it felt like to be on the other side; to be the worried, emotional parent instead of the calm, collected nurse. I learned to find the balance between being a nurse and a mom, and that it was okay, even necessary, to be both at the same time. I learned to split my time between my first born, whose world was flipped upside down, and my newborn who was healing in the hospital. Josef and I have been together for eighteen years, (again, I’ll save those details for another day) but we had to learn how to lean on and support each other in ways we never had to before. Though it was not the greatest of circumstances, it made us better parents and also better partners.
Now, three months later, doctor’s appointments, home health visits, boxes of medical supplies and physical therapy appointments have become the new norm in our household. Ostomy bag changes that were once full on productions have become as routine as diaper changes. We are looking forward to (hopefully) another surgery to take down Max’s ostomy and are preparing for all that it comes with — the stresses of her going through surgery again and being in the hospital to heal while trying to keep somewhat of a routine for Scar and still giving her a fair share of our attention and affection. Through it all, Max is growing and thriving as well as we could have hoped, if not more. She’s shown us a strength that most three month old babies shouldn’t have to. Her infectious smiles and non stop babbling can immediately turn a bad day around, and seeing that makes it all worth it, being on the other side.