Door: Marianna van Wijk
It is seven o’clock in the morning and I just received my assignment for the day. We are short staffed again and I have four more patients than I am comfortable with. I already know I won’t have time for lunch and that my feet will be aching by the end of the day. My anxiety is growing as I am trying to prioritize the acuity levels of my patients and determine who to see first. Twelve hours is not enough to get everything done and I feel that I am already behind. I have to stay calm but once again I wonder ‘why am I doing this?’
I am a postpartum maternity nurse and I know the answer to this question. I am doing this because it fills me with a sense of purpose like no other job can. Every day is different as I care for people when they are scared and vulnerable. Just walking into a patient’s room is an opportunity to positively affect their lives. When I have a new mother, I know the majority of our interaction will be based on teaching and making sure that she develops trust in her ability to fulfill this new role. As I am caring for her medical needs, I will also be educating her and building her self-esteem in her mothering skills and ensuring her that she is capable. When my patient is an older mother (of many), I know I might have to gently guide her when her skills failed to work. Every baby is different and the most prepared patients can be surprised by unexpected outcomes. This can be very discouraging and invoke feelings of guilt and failure, shaping my experienced patient into a confused and unsure version of my younger new mother. This means that I have to become a teacher again while carefully navigating the path through breaking old habits and explaining why a different way is necessary for this new baby. This is time consuming and frustrating for both me and my patient but once we figure out a new plan and it works, the validation is rewarding but the relief for my patient that leads to a smile on her face when she holds her baby is even better.
My work doesn’t end with the mother and her baby, I also take care of the father and other loved ones. Fathers experience the same level of insecurity as mothers and I am always educating them and assuring them that they are needed and very important in the process of bonding and building a new family structure. Seeing them grow comfortable in their new role is just as important as supporting the new mother. At the end of my shift, I have been such an integral part of their day during a most memorable and special period in their lives. I can’t help but to feel blessed in having the opportunity to experience it with them while guiding them. I have the unique fortuity to be a grounded source of stability and compassion during the few days that I care for them and if I can give them hope and make this period of intense adjustment just a little easier for them, then I did my job well.
However, being a postpartum maternity nurse is so much more than this, because behind the scenes I am a trained and knowledgeable health professional collaborating with other health professionals while juggling lab values, unexpected symptoms and constantly evaluating patients for medical risk factors. Postpartum maternity as a nursing field is considered to be easier but the truth is that emergency situations can happen fast and unexpectedly and when they do, the outcomes can be so devastating because it happens during such a special time. I am trained to handle these events compassionately and I always hope I won’t have to fulfill this role, but when I do I know I can do it in such a way that it brings comfort and insight.
Most of all, postpartum maternity nursing is a field where I can offer professionalism, knowledge and advice wrapped in kindness, empathy and understanding. Seeing hope on a new young mother’s face is rewarding because you know you are preparing her for the biggest job of her life. When you see her anxiety subside and her confidence grow as she looks at her newborn, you forget about your sore feet and empty stomach and you move on to the next room.
The author of this article is an experienced postpartum nurse who practised mostly in America where postpartum care is conducted in a hospital setting. Since there is no “kraamzorg” patients stay two to four days in the hospital after the delivery of their child.