“You have to have been through it, to be able to understand it”
In January 2014, I found myself blissfully and uncomplicatedly pregnant. I was large and in charge, but very ready to meet my little girl and begin our journey as a family of three. On January 31st 2014, after 2 days of contractions, my water broke to begin the next 38 hours of my life.
My labor experience was not pleasant. Not the labor so much, but in how my “caregivers” treated me (I won’t delve too deeply in to that). I was staying as positive as I could when it came time to push. I was ready to finally see my baby girl earth-side. It took an hour, but at 2:02 am on 2/2 (her due date, as it turns out she likes things punctual) my sweet girl came earth-side, and it was silent. The room was actually silent. All I remember was the attending physician shouting “cut her, cut her now!!” with more than a touch of panic in her well seasoned voice. The intern on my case came over and held my hand and prayed with me. The rest of the team diligently and very quietly worked to resuscitate my precious little girl under the watchful eye of my husband.
Once she was intubated, she was wrapped and placed in an incubator headed for the NICU. She was to be lined and cooled, then an experiment in infants, to protect her neurologic function. The neonatologist made the team stop long enough for me to look at her. She had noticed I’d never even seen her. My daughter weakly gripped my hand before she whisked away. Less than 30 minutes later I began to hemorrhage, and myself underwent a couple procedures I’d prefer to never experience again.
This is how I became a parent. While it didn’t end in tragedy (my daughter is fine and I am eternally grateful for neuroplasticity in babies), it was utterly terrifying.
Getting to go Home
Fast forward a couple of weeks. We are home, and I am furiously trying to breastfeed my daughter, get her to her PT/OT appointments and keep myself together. I also was actively trying to forget how terrified I was, and denying the grief I was feeling over the loss of my former self. Between that, and the hormone casserole I was after birth, the depression insidiously set in.
I didn’t even notice it at first. It started with me not being able to sleep, or let my daughter sleep without me there. Then the nightmares began. Terrifying snippets of my worst fears cloaked in such deep exhaustion I couldn’t wake from them. I was trapped in an illogical mind, and had nowhere to go. After that, there was a constant stream of anxiety, just that persistent stomach tightness and chest flutter, enough to remind you the monster is lurking. It changed me. I had become a hollowed and joyless shell of my former self. I fought it for as long as I could, yet I still succumbed to it. To me, it didn’t look like I thought depression should. I never said anything to my doctor, because of course I’m nervous and not sleeping, I have a new baby at home(ugh, not to mention the stigma)! I won’t get in to specifics, but I should have talked to her.
Getting Back to Nursing
So what does this have to do with me as a nurse? At that point I had been nursing for five years. I was very empathetic, had good instincts and was very strong clinically. One thing I had always struggled with however, was understanding the power of depression in my patients. I never understood why they couldn’t just power through and for lack of a better expression, get their shit together.
Throughout my life I had periodic bouts of what I saw as depression. It wasn’t something I enjoyed, but it had never consumed me before. It had never changed and warped me so much that I didn’t recognize the thoughts or the person they were coming from. My post partum depression gave me a new lens through which I saw my patients. It made me more human, so that I could be kinder to their human imperfections. I finally understood, that they weren’t who they thought they were either.
This ability to see people more clearly has since spread further in to my practice. I have a greater ability to see and navigate within the grey areas of our work with an adeptness previously unavailable to me. Difficult patients and families need to be listened to and heard, not scoffed at and avoided. I am now able to care for them, because I have a deeper understanding of them. The adage my mother still rings true, even more so now. “The uglier we are to those around us, the more deeply we are longing for love and care”. It’s a difficult truth, but a necessary one. Caring when people are sad, lost or behaving badly is extraordinarily difficult, but it is what we are here for.