Working in the mental health field with children, I have come to realize that any work with children who are ill is quite stressful on the caregivers. Doctors, nurses, healthcare staff, and mental health staff all have stressful jobs to begin with, but when that profession focuses exclusively on children, it seems the stress factor increases exponentially.
While working with children, I have made numerous friends in the medical field who specialize in pediatrics. One lady in particular stands out – Debbie. For many years, she was a neonatal nurse before she began working with me to help older children. Over lunch or coffee, she would often tell me about some of the highs and lows of being a neonatal nurse.
Neonatal nursing involves much more than standard nursing care for a patient. A neonatal nurse must be able to care for an ill baby, as well as offer emotional support to the parents of the child. Because of the fragility of many of her patients, she was often completely in charge of all care and feeding of a patient in addition to routine medical tasks. Once the baby became stronger, she would teach the parents how to handle or avoid equipment while changing, feeding, or cuddling the baby. The high point of her profession was when a baby who had been struggling was able to be sent home as a healthy happy bundle of joy.
Exhausted and worried parents would often come to the neonatal nurses for information and answers because they were more readily available than the doctors were. This was sometimes difficult for Debbie because there is little concrete information nurses are allowed to distribute. The aftermath of dealing with these emotionally distraught parents took its toll on her emotional health as well.
Of course, the most heartbreaking part of her job was the same as for any other nurse, the death of a patient. She felt this was amplified by the hopes and joy the child was anticipated with, and felt the loss of each of her patients intensely. She confided that the most she could do for these parents was to hold them and let them cry and then go home and cry for them herself.
Ultimately, Debbie found the job to be more rewarding than stressful, and she retired from her hospital after 30 years. She and I became friends in her second career and not as a result of being unhappy in her first career. Understanding the stress parents of children felt helped her treat our patients and helped her deal more compassionately with the children’s parents.
What made you want to become a neonatal nurse? What parts of the job are you most looking forward to?