Being a mom is really, really hard. Being a mom to a child who ends up in others care is even harder.
I should start by clarifying that I am not a mom – not to a healthy baby, not to an unhealthy baby, not to any form of a small human being at all. But I am a pediatric nurse who has stood with a mother, sat with a mother, rejoiced with a mother, held a mother, and cried with a mother.
I want to expose motherhood in its most raw and genuine form. I want to express a healthy dose of appreciation to the mothers who let me care for their children, let me love their children, and who let me swaddle and bathe their babies when they couldn’t. I am their nurse, but I will never compare to their mother.
We see you, mom.
We see you when you get admitted – when we probe into your life asking one question after another. When we base our first judgments so we can get a feel for the safety of your babies surroundings and the care they receive, or will hopefully soon receive, at home. We see your concern. We see the pain you carry with you having a baby in the hospital – whether it be a scheduled surgery, an emergent surgery, an illness, an unexpected injury, or a tough delivery.
We see you when you ask “a million questions” that always start with this is probably a dumb question but… and always end with a really, really brilliant question. But what you don’t know is that you are not dumb and you are not wrong. You are not wrong to ask the questions you do, you are not wrong to ask for better communication, you are not wrong to feel like the status of your child’s health is actually not “normal” or “good” like all of the doctors and nurses keep saying. We see you dismiss yourself and your intuition. Don’t. We need you. We need all one million of your questions, and then some.
We see you when you set your alarm every two hours to pump milk for your baby – dazed and confused by the early hours of the morning. We see you hauling in bottle after bottle, even though they can’t eat right now. We see you label and date the nutrients as you pile them in the freezer and pray that one day they’ll get thawed for your little one to burp in your face.
We see you as you fall asleep in a rigid chair without any blankets amidst the constant alarming of the monitors, the chatter of the medication chambers, the screaming of the suction catheters, the singing of the ventilator heater, and the locking of the nurse server. We see you when your exhaustion is so pure that for the first time ever the sound of your baby crying doesn’t wake you. We comfort, we soothe, we try to calm the baby without your aide so you can rest and recover in a setting that we know feels so relentless and defeating.
We see you when you finally wake after we have the baby calm in our arms and you shamefully ask, “were they crying?”. We see the blame you put on yourself. We see the guilt that takes over every ounce of your being at the fact that we played mom while you slept. Please know that we could never recreate the level of fatigue you feel. We could never match the amount of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion you are consumed with. We want you to heal, too.
And for the record, we could never calm your baby as smoothly as you do.
We hear you when you say you’re fine but we see your struggle, too. We see how hard it is to eat real food, to take a shower, to update your family. We see you when you smile as we walk in. We also saw you crying in solitude just before. We know that it’s not easy, but we see your fight to make it look easier than it is. We worry about your child, but we worry about you, too.
We see the defense system that goes into action when we ask you to leave and get fresh air – to go to dinner or for a walk, anything to get you out of the engrossing nature of these four white walls. We don’t want you gone. We aren’t dismissing you to rid a burden or to care for your child without you. We want you healthy, too. We want you at your best, too. We want YOU to get a break from US, because we are not easy to be around 24/7. Chances are we’ve already driven you to some state of insanity. It’s okay, you can admit it.
We see you stare at the monitor. We see you google heart rhythms and squint to compare them to your child’s. We see your eyes scan the hallway when a number dips, or a medication chamber looks low on volume. We see you counting respirations in the night, checking pulses, and looking at dressings. You see us play mom, but we also see you play nurse. It’s a natural motherly instinct – and we love you for it.
We see the apprehension that comes with the simultaneous triumph of your baby being taken off those same monitors you’ve stared at and the numbers you’ve consumed yourself with for days, weeks, months even. It’s time to go home. Your baby is ready. You are ready. We see your fear that neither of you are ready. That is when we know you are ready.
We see you as you rub your child’s back, pat their belly, and hold their cold, tiny toes for the first time.
We see your frustration and irritation build as we continue to tell you we cannot feed your baby yet. “Soon”, we promise.
We see you hold your baby – lines, tubes, wires, and drains draped over you like a queen. We see all of the anxiety, fear, worry, and joy that accompanies it. We see your light shine bright for the first time in a long time.
We see you as you stand still in the hallway while strangers hands compress your child’s tiny chest cavity. We see you pray. We see you cry. We see you crumble and your insides shatter as you hold the best part of you for the last time. We see your light fade and your world dim.
We see you at your best. We see you at your worst.
We see you.
We see you, and we stand with you. We are rooting for you.
We are your child’s nurses and health care providers. We are the team telling you what is good, what is bad, and what we both admire about and are concerned with in your baby. But the cold, hard truth of the matter is that we will never compare to you. We will never be as important as you.
Because you, well, you’re still MOM.
Light & love.