Sunday, August 29, 2010

Nurse Emily

So I had my first experience this week where I had to deny Aidan's existence. I got the dreaded "so do you have any kids?" question from a parent of a patient at work. I felt bad...but I answered in the negative.

So far, I have faithfully answered this question with the true story when a colleague has asked (so far it's happened twice), but I just couldn't get into the story with a mom who was at the hospital for her daughter's induction therapy of a new drug. I just couldn't. I am all for letting my colleagues know what happened. I want them to know, because I want them to know me, and my son's death is, and probably always will be, a big part of who I am. But it's hard to just mention to a casual stranger, a woman who is already burdened with fears about her own child, that 'oh yes, I had a son and he died'.

It hurts me to deny his existence. I'm not a hugely private person. I generally like discussing my life, even the messy parts, with people who genuinely express an interest, as this woman did. I'm usually the type of person who you can ask just about anything and I'll tell you the truth, so to say "no" when asked if I have kids just feels wrong.

This, however, is the balancing act of nursing. You must strive to create connection with your patients (and their families) without overburdening them or making them feel like they 'have to take care of you'. It can be called 'boundaries', 'professionalism' or a 'therapeutic relationship', but it all means the same thing. As a nurse, you can share things about yourself, like your cats name, your husband's job, your love of roasted marshmallow gelato...but don't, under any circumstances, make your patients (or their families) feel like they have to hold you up, or worry about your life. Sharing is okay, like "Yes, my aunt also died of is a terrible disease", or commiserating "Yes, I know when I have to wait at the doctor's office it does get frusterating and stressful"...but "Yes, my son died and it was the most awful thing that ever happened to me...*sob*...can you hold this IV bag while I go grab some tissue...thanks" probably overstepping.

I got asked if I had kids quite often when working in the NICU, and since at that time Aidan was firmly in the future, it was easy to answer "No". Now that he's in the past it pulls at my heart strings to do so. But in both time periods the question of having kids from a patient's parents makes me a little miffed. I know these parents are asking only out of curiosity and to see if we have common ground. I know it's me who is reading into it, but that question, from a parent whose child you are caring for, seems to have a deeper meaning. Like only if you answer "yes", could you possibly understand how awful it is to have a child who is sick. And maybe that's true...but it doesn't mean that I can't be a completely awesome nurse. My having a child does not affect how good I am at my job. Nor does it reflect how much I like my job. I know many many pediatric nurses who do not have children, who do a fantastic job. It almost feels like these parents are asking if you've joined the secret club or not.

Or maybe I just feel that way because I had to answer "No" when asked about my son from a parent who has obviously succeeded at the whole 'giving life' process . When what I really wanted to say was "Yes! His name is Aidan! He's the sweetest, most awesome baby ever and I love him so much...even though he's dead".

Aidan, please know that's really what I wanted to say.

Do you have a story about a nurse that you'd like to share with me? What did you really want to say to your nurse during your recent baby loss, that you didn't? What could she (or he?) have done to make your experience just a little less dark?

And P.S. Could someone else just join as my follower already so my Peeps list can hit 50? Seriously being stuck at 49 is like being stuck just one year shy of legal age.


  1. emily, i can relate to being insulted by the question of whether you have kids - not as a nurse, but as a teacher, the implication, of course, being that i couldn't possibly know what's best for my students b/c i'm not a parent. i'm now in my 15th year of teaching, and i've said for years that i've taught long enough to know what kind of parent i DON'T want to be. now if only i could actually say that to those parents...

    i'm sorry you had to say no about aidan. i understand why, though. don't beat yourself up over it. (easier said than done, i know)

  2. To recognize the balance that you need is a huge step but I'm sorry it's so hard. (((HUGS)))

  3. We lost 2 kids at age 9 and 10 years old due to severe handicaps. When asked how many kids we have I always tell them, but add "but we lost 2", that way, I'm not lying, or denying they existed,but it also explains why they always see 2 less than what we originally had.They also very rarely press for more details.

  4. lol @ the 49 comment. I too am ashamed to say that at times I deny the existence of my children. There are days I just don't feel like explaining.I simply answer no earthly children. They can interpret it how ever they want to.

    I had an awesome nurse when I delivered Evan. She stayed past her shift to hold my hand and came back that afternoon and requested to be with me. She made sure he was handled with care, was not placed in a tupperware bin like they did Alyssa, let me know over and over that he was so handsome and I could go on and on and on about how wonderful she was. If I could only have conveyed my appreciation enough that day.

    With Alyssa-joy, when I was afraid to see her, the first thing the nurse told me when I woke up, was "she's so beautiful" and encouraged me to see her. Honestly, if she had not said that, I probably would not have seen her because of the fear I had.

  5. Oh yes...the question. I am an ICU nurse (big people, not the little guys like you) and many times family asks me if I have any children. It's a tough question, and I too feel terrible denying Zoe's birth and short life. 90% of the time I say yes. BUT...there are definitely times where I just can't do it. Thinking of you Emily and your sweet Aidan.

  6. Emily I think you are right about overstepping with patients, and admire the professionalism you describe here.
    I can say as a teacher, patient and parent of a patient that being a parent profoundly impacts your view of the world and I would encourage you to consider embracing that whilst finding a way to maintain your professionalism.
    I know there are excellent nurses who do not have children, or living children and there are terrible nurses who have kids, but on balance I do think being a parent, particularly one who has survived a loss, given you insight and empathy others cannot fully have.