The New Nurse, New Mom Struggle

My nursing journey technically started in 2010 when I first began college. I originally
declared my major as pre-nursing. This meant that I would have to complete two years
of pre-requisites in order to apply to nursing school. Being the indecisive teenager I
was, I ended up switching my major to exercise science. I wasn’t confident enough in
my academic skills to apply to nursing school, with the fear of getting rejected. As I
finished my exercise science degree, I thought of all the jobs I could potentially get with
that major. Turns out there isn’t much unless you go back to school. After graduating in
December 2014 I decided to go back to my original plan and apply to nursing school. I
got accepted in March 2015 and began the nursing program at Towson University in the
fall of 2015.

Nursing school was one of the hardest experiences I have had in my life. All of my time
for two years was completely dedicated to studying, clinicals and internships. I have
never been as academically challenged as I was in nursing school. I couldn’t wait to
graduate, thinking it could only get easier once I started my nursing career.
Boy, was I so wrong. I started my first job as a nurse at UT Medical Center in Knoxville,
Tennessee. I was eager to begin training as a cardiac nurse on a telemetry unit. I was
paired with a great preceptor and began training in August of 2017.

About 3 weeks into working, my husband and I discovered I was pregnant. If you have
read my previous posts, then you know this was only 2 months after getting married and
about 1 month after moving to Tennessee from Maryland. We had a lot going on at the
time, but I was most nervous to be training as a new nurse while pregnant. There is
already a lot of stress that comes with nursing, especially being a new nurse. I was
worried that this stress could affect my pregnancy. I was also nervous that being
pregnant could affect my performance as a new nurse.

Luckily, I had a great preceptor who really helped me get through my first few months of
orientation. After coming off of orientation in my second trimester, my anxiety increased
as I would now be “on my own”. However, I was blessed with great coworkers who
consistently offered helping hands. Without them, I really don’t think I could have made
it working while pregnant up until 4 days before giving birth. I recall when I was about 4 months pregnant I caught a nasty stomach bug right in the middle of my shift. I ran to the bathroom 3 times within 30 minutes hurling my guts out. I knew it wasn’t your normal “morning sickness”. My team leader, or charge nurse, insisted on taking my entire team of patients, on top of all the duties she was responsible for. There was no hesitation or question.

Although I had amazing coworkers, I still  I struggled daily remembering policies, how to perform certain skills, communicating with interdisciplinary team members and juggling all the tasks I had to finish throughout the day, all while making sure my patients stayed alive and were receiving great customer service. However, I was confident that when I came back to work after my maternity leave it would be easy to get back into the swing of things and continue my growth as a new nurse. My manager insisted on my first day back I would need a lot of help and space to cry. I scoffed at her comment thinking there was little chance I would be crying. I would miss my daughter dearly, but it couldn’t be THAT bad.

After my short 8 weeks of maternity leave, I was sad having to return to work. The
thought of leaving my little human who was completely dependent on me was
disheartening, but I felt like going to work and interacting with other adults might give me space to breathe. The first couple of months of motherhood are no breeze. I
struggled daily with breastfeeding, sleeping and feeling like a normal person.

Well, my conflicting feelings about returning to work quickly became feelings of certainty as the weeks passed. I didn’t cry my first day or week back at work, but my heart ached when I couldn’t see my daughter whenever I wanted to for those 12 hours while working. As time passed, I developed feelings of bitterness towards going to work. I loved my days off waking up to her sleepy smile and cute stretches. I loved getting to
watch her discover her toes and all of her other milestones. I loved wearing her around
in the baby carrier to get her to nap. Yes, being home with the baby is hard, but being at
work and away from her started to become miserable.

At first, I chalked it up to changes that were made on our unit. There were a few new
policies and other circumstances that, in my opinion, put more pressure onto nurses.
Pressure that I felt like was hard to handle for me. On my unit we have 6 patients for
every nurse. You can have patients on dangerous drips, patients returning from heart
procedures such as stent or pacemaker placements, or IV drug patients who are getting
pain medications around the clock.  It can be extremely overwhelming and exhausting
mentally and physically. However, I found it doable before I left for maternity leave. I
didn’t remember feeling like I was drowning almost every day at work. I struggled, but I still felt somewhat sane. And while part of it might have been the climate of our unit at the time, I believe being away from my new baby played a huge role in my feelings.

Taking care of a new baby is mentally and physically exhausting in itself. The
combination of being a new nurse and being a new mom is crazy hard. I know that
many nurses become mothers, and these women are all true super heroes. Having to
be responsible for your child’s life on top of being responsible for several other lives for
12 hours a day is a huge challenge. It is the true definition of self-sacrifice. I am not
trying to brag and say that I am some amazing human being. There are way more
women and nurses out there juggling a lot more than I am or are doing greater things.
But I never really realized how challenging taking on both of these roles would be. I
have amazed myself in countless ways, every single day. I am proud of the nurse and
mother I am being shaped into. I still have a great deal to learn, but I am happy with
how far I have come so far.

Nurses do not get enough credit. Mothers do not get enough credit. If you identify with
either of these roles, this post is for you. You are amazing. You teach, guide, heal and
love without expecting anything in return. You help heal the bodies and minds of so
many people, including your children and complete strangers. Thank you so much for
your service. Without other nurses and mothers in my life to look up to, I would not be
able to be successful in either of these roles. You are appreciated, your hard work is not
unseen, and I hope you are able to see just how amazing you are.

Being a nurse and a mother is hard. But God will give us the strength to persevere and
be the best person we can be.

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And the adventure continues. 

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