I always said that if I ever became a mother, I would stop my career as a Child Life Specialist. I always had a hard time picturing being able to do both, and do them well.
Well, my daughter was born in October, and I am still practicing, but it feels different. Before, I was able to separate the two versions of myself—personal and professional—very easily. Now? It’s kid mode ALL THE TIME, and that can be just as exhausting as it sounds. But, that’s not the only thing that’s changed.
I work in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and that was the worst place to be pregnant. Here we see the greatest victories and tragedies, sometimes in the same day or even the same hour. I felt guilt at having a growing belly in the face of mothers who had infants who weighed little more than a can of soda struggling to survive or who were mourning the loss of their child. But, once I came back to work, I understand three things a lot differently:
**Awareness: I know too much, and I’ve seen too much. It surprises people how much medical knowledge I have as a Child Life Specialist. I met with a genetic counselor before my daughter was born, and before he spouted off the list of chromosomal anomalies that could befall my baby, he asked what I did. When I answered and said where I worked, he sighed and said, “You know what all this is, don’t you?” Yep. “You know you don’t want any of it, right?” 10-4. He spared the lecture and ordered the blood test. It was probably the shortest consultation he’s ever had. “Knowledge is power,” but it can also be too much of a good thing. I worried when I had no reason to worry and was always bracing for the worst. That has not changed, and probably never will.
**Fear: It is scary as heck to be a parent! I never imagined. During my time in the emergency department, I had many wonderful experiences. But, the most altering thing was the bone-chilling sound of a mother who has been told she has lost her child or who can’t help her child. You never forget that sound. It is frantic, terrified, and helpless. But now that I am a parent, it raises my sensitivity in those moments. I can easily picture myself in those scenarios, and it makes my heart ache. What would I want in that moment? What would I want to do if I had to be here? Who or what do I think I would need to help me? Someone to provide comfort, support, even love, and there is no reason that any of us can’t provide that. A mother’s heart is on that table and there is nothing anyone can do to ease her pain until she gets her child back.
**Compassion: Now that I am a mother, I feel like my heart beats differently. Most Child Life Specialists will tell you that there is a kind of distance from the kids and families you serve. Don’t mistake what I say—I love the kids and families. I always say that once I meet a child and know their name, they become mine. I’ve got thousands of kids that are “my” kids, and I love them. I have given birth to just one. But, that one has changed everything. She makes me fight harder for “my” kids here. She makes me fight for the parents who don’t know what they can do to manage their child’s pain until meds are due again or what books to read them to help them understand a loss. I know those things. I can help. Their kids hurt during these times; I have knowledge to help, and now I want to share with them more because I know firsthand how powerful knowledge and support really are. I want them treated the same way I would want my daughter and I treated.
Motherhood is an amazing journey, and I know it’s just the beginning. It has changed how I practice, but for the better. It is easy to get caught up in the ordinary hum of work/life balance, but in a hospital, no family feels that this is “ordinary,” although sometimes we as health professionals do. For me, the deeper understanding of these emotions helps me remember that my job and my investment in it aren’t any more ordinary than their journey.
Lendy Chapman has been a Child Life Specialist for almost 13 years. Her career began at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, IN, where she worked as an intern, before spending 3.5 years at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, TX. She currently works at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, FL, and been a Child Life Specialist there for the past 9 years. At Arnold Palmer, she works in the NICU and serves as a peer facilitator in the department. She will be presenting at the 34th in New Orleans, LA, which is taking place May 19-22, 2016. This will be the third time she has presented at the Child Life Council’s annual conference.