There are lots of things about my job that make me happy. I love caring for the babies, supporting the families, being placed in a position of trust and feeling as though I’m really making a difference in the world.
If my job didn’t make me so happy I would have moved on years ago.
Since starting work as a neonatal nurse five years ago I have learned to find positivity in the littlest things and view even the smallest achievements as victories. This is mostly due to the nature of the job and the fact that we keep trying to find hope to give to parents and families until we are absolutely sure that there isn’t even the tiniest shred to be found.
I don’t think it’s a bad outlook to have on life.
The things that make me happy at work include cake appearing in the staff room (the cake fairies bring it), being able to eat my lunch before what most people would consider to be dinner time and getting to the end of a shift knowing that my actions that day have helped make the babies cared for that bit stronger and healthier.
However, there are some days when I know that I’m probably not going to get anything to eat until I get home or I’ve eaten one too many slices of cake (and now feel a bit sick) or despite my best efforts the baby I’ve been caring for is no better than when I took over at the beginning of the shift. On these days it can be quite difficult to remember exactly why I love my job so much and sometimes I’m in need of a prompt.
One of the things that is guaranteed to remind me why I love my job, no matter how busy and stressful the shift has been, how tired I am or how much my feet hurt is the news that the parents of one of our ex-patients have had a healthy baby.
I’m smiling just thinking about it.
These little pieces of happy news travel around the unit like wildfire, particularly if the baby was with us for a long time or if they sadly died whilst on the unit. As nurses we try not to have favourite patients and families but there are some whose memory stays with us for years after the baby was discharged and whose names we can still recall when time has made us forget many of them . They’re not always the babies who were the sickest or who stayed with us the longest but there was just something about them that meant they found their way into our hearts.
We usually find out about these joyful occasions from the cards and letters that we sometimes receive from parents, most commonly around Christmas or the baby’s birthday and which are pinned on the staff room notice board so that everyone can see them. The cards are often accompanied photographs which are passed around while we exclaim about how happy and healthy the child looks. No matter how high the standard of care given on the unit, the babies go from strength to strength once they go home and it’s often difficult to recognise the children in the photographs as the same ones we cared for.
Despite having worked on some of the busiest and most intensive neonatal in the UK and being a mother myself, I can still only imagine what it must be like to have a baby on NICU. I try and be as empathetic as I can and to try and walk even a little way in their shoes but I think it’s one of those experiences that you can only truly understand if you’ve lived through it.
Even though I don’t know what being a NICU parent is like, having had a difficult pregnancy myself I think I can at least partly understand how difficult and scary it must be to try for another baby after such a traumatic experience. Even though I desperately didn’t want to be pregnant, once I’d made the decision to continue with the pregnancy I was petrified of something going wrong and I was well aware of all the different things that could go wrong. Each time we went for a scan I was convinced that the sonographer was going to tell me that something was wrong and when I went into early labour at 26 weeks I was acutely, terrifyingly aware of what Squidge being born 14 weeks early could mean.
Squidge is now 18 months old and beyond the vague idea of maybe having a tiny newborn to love and snuggle I can’t even begin to think about having another baby. I always said that I’d want to wait at least until Squidge was potty trained and before having another baby at at the moment that’s the excuse I’m sticking to. In reality the thought of another pregnancy is so frightening that I’m not sure that I could actually cope with going through it again.
Various relatives keep telling me that I’ll forget how bad things were and that before long I’ll realise how much I want another baby; attempting to brush my fears away as though they can be defeated by just refusing to mention them. But as traumatic as my experience of pregnancy was, I had a straightforward delivery and both Squidge and I were safe and healthy (physically at least) by the end of it and the only person suffering the lasting effects is me.
People tell me that I’m brave for blogging; sharing my experiences of depression and trying to be the best mum that I can be despite how difficult my mental health issues make every day life but I honestly don’t feel at all brave.
Instead I hear about ex-NICU parents who have have been brave enough to try for another baby, knowing that they sat beside incubators containing their tiny babies for weeks and months, not knowing what each day would bring. They went through so many times of wondering whether their baby would survive, of being told that if this treatment or that medication had no effect then there would be nothing else we could try and sometimes, after braving all that they still weren’t able to take them home. Yet still, after all of this they still have enough strength left to try for another baby; a sibling for their other children and sometimes the only living child they have to ease the ache in their arms.
This is what lifts me on the most difficult, stressful days at work and shows me that even the most traumatic life experiences can be overcome.
Louise is a full time mum, a part time neonatal nurse and award nominated blogger who has battled depression for many years but was particularly ill during her pregnancy. She lives with her husband (the Northern One) their little boy (Squidge) and their three guinea pigs who live in the kitchen.
Louise blogs at 23weeksocks (http://23weeksocks.com) about lots of different (and seemingly unconnected) topics that she’s passionate about, including mental health, antenatal depression, neonatal care and baby loss. She’s also involved in #MatExp (https://www.facebook.com/groups/MatExp/); an online maternity experience campaign that was formed to help improve maternity services in the UK. As part of this she hosts the #MatExpHour Twitter chat every Friday and would love to see you there.