Pediatric Nursing was my biggest passion for the better part of a decade. I spent six of those years tending to the sickest children in the hospital in the pediatric intensive care unit in both Oklahoma City and Richmond, VA. When I hung up my stethoscope for the time being to become a full time stay at home mom, I really believed that my time as a nurse caring for children would be my greatest asset in parenting. Little did I know it would become one of my greatest obstacles.
Becoming a mother changes everything about your life. Sure when you get married your partner’s needs are also on par with yours, but generally speaking he or she is another adult who is capable of self care. Insert a newborn. All needs must be met from an outside source. The same is often true for ICU patients. Regardless of age, often disease process takes away all of the patient’s ability for self care which is where the medical team takes over. So in my head I was convinced I was ready to take on the needs of my own child. How different could it be?
Night and day. Or both rather. There is no such thing as a shift in parenting. No hours or next round of fresh staff to give a formal report and status update to so that you can go home for some R & R. Another stark difference is scheduling. I was incredibly used to the rigid schedules that make an ICU environment thrive. Medications must be given within a certain window or your task turns red in the electronic medical record. Red means late. Red means you some how failed. At work I rarely had a red task. As a new mom, I felt like I lived in the red. He didn’t eat every three hours like the books said he would. He never slept more than two hours at a time. I could not for the life of me get one of the infinite internet-searched schedules to work for us.
He also was not hooked to a million machines measuring each bodily function. I am incredibly thankful to God every day to be the mother of a healthy child. Especially after witnessing so many devastating outcomes over the course of my time in the PICU. Those machines are addictive though. They give your anxiety an analytical lozenge. Is the baby breathing? Why yes! 47 times per minute. Right there in bright, bold text. But how would I know if my own son were to stop breathing at night? It happens. I have seen it. I have done CPR on those babies found down in the morning. I have seen the look of terror/anguish/panic on parents faces. Its so easy to fall asleep on the couch with a newborn and so tempting to just pull them into your bed for a little extra rest. But I couldn’t be “normal” about any of that. Something terrible was going to happen and it would be my fault for not being vigilant. For breaking a rule.
At work there were guidelines and protocols and the ever popular buzz words of evidence based practice. Most questions had an answer. A right or a wrong. You don’t administer Dilantin (a seizure medication) and Morphine together. You turn your patient every two hours, “scrub the hub”, wash your hands, wear an isolation gown, etc. Parenting is largely based on what works for the individual family unit. A you do you approach felt so alien to me. I took to the internet to find parenting protocols. And guess what? I was left even more confused than before. Every person with a laptop has an opinion on parenting. And not like a nice let’s all agree to disagree opinion, but a do it my way or you’ll spend your life savings paying for intensive psychotherapy for your child kind of stance. I felt so overwhelmed with every opposing theory, blog post, and book I read. Thankfully my ER attending husband is a genius and incredibly laid back. He said we will use common sense and do what works. There’s the ER vs the ICU for you.
Slowly I figured out how to wade through all of the “helpful advice” and found my stride as a mother. Well at least for the phases thus far. My child currently sleeps pretty well, eats most things, and is generally a happy kid. All of these things, I am not so naive as to believe, are in a delicate balance than will shift if he gets a tooth, ear infection, on just on a toddler whim. Thankfully I am learning what things are truly important to me to be a stickler about (safe sleep, vaccines, and car seat safety for us) and what things can slide a little (3 servings of vegetables a day….puuuuleaseeee).
Its so funny to me now as a parent to look back at my own childhood and really remember thinking adults had it all figured out. They really do put on a good show for kids. I will forever cherish my ICU nursing days and they may not be gone forever. I just know I cannot parent within that same framework, at least not without all of my hair falling out from the stress of living in the “red”.