There may be no greater revealers of my deepest wrestling with my humanity than the roles of both a mother and a pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) nurse. Everyone says becoming a parent changes you, and it does, in countless indescribable ways. Every healthcare professional says being close to sickness and death changes you, and it does, in countless indescribable ways. When you bring the two together, daily life can at times become a rather magnified experience of all emotions, which can be very meaningful and also incredibly exhausting.
Love and its inherent vulnerability are intensified.
I still find it most difficult to take care of patients who are roughly the same age as my children, who ended up in situations that my kids could easily wind up in – car accidents, falls from high places, drowning, a new cancer diagnosis. In many ways, I find myself subconsciously taking better care of those patients and their family members, precisely because I can identify closely with them and thus I care for them the way I would want a nurse to care for my child and for me. When I go home, I hug my children tighter, but with that intensified love comes intensified fear that we too could end up as the patient and family just as well. It’s hard at times to keep the fear in proper perspective so that I can richly enjoy the love and life we have each day without a hauntingly bleak tone sitting just below the surface.
Everyday life as a mother seems to hold magnified threats.
I was trying to hold a meaningful conversation with a friend in the church courtyard today while my husband tried his best to watch both girls as they ran in different directions. They were particularly excited about going up a ramp with just one bar at their head level to keep them from toppling about 7 feet down onto either bushes, brick or cement, depending on how creatively they decided to play (and potentially fall). I am the strict parent, always telling them they are not to play at the bar because it’s unsafe, but my husband – bless his heart – is more relaxed and less fearful of accidents. I had to exert all self-control to stay in my conversation and trust the girls to be careful, as they threw their impish, proud grins at me from the ramp’s bar, knowing they were getting away with something I would otherwise never allow. At one point, the 2 year old was leaning in such a way, I was certain she was about to plunge backwards and give herself a brain bleed, whereupon I basically screamed her name in front of a small crowd of startled adults. I apologized and said, “I’m a pediatric ICU nurse, I’ve seen too much!” Other parents sometimes seem to enjoy everyday life and their kids’ exploration of the world so much better than I, simply due to my constant battle to keep my nurse-mommy neuroses at bay. It takes a good amount of intentional energy to fight for a healthier, more balanced perspective.
There are constant low (and sometimes not so low) rumblings of my spiritual questions triggered by my regular exposure to profound and complicated suffering.
This is a huge issue that certainly can’t be summarized in one paragraph. I see tragedy unfold for the sweetest little souls, and it can be outright confusing to feel all the very real and legitimate grief around that and also rest my soul in the comfort of God’s love. Grief, confusion and faith make for a messy mix. But it is in knowing that God Himself is a suffering God, and knowing the unquestionable reality of His faithfulness and work in my life – particularly in my own times of personal grief – that I continue to run to Him time and time again, even with my questions and my own frailty as a mom and nurse. Reading A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss by Jerry Sittser, who lost his mom, wife and daughter in one freak car accident, has been hugely helpful in working through some of my questions.
Movement towards peace starts with letting go of self-protection.
A big step towards overcoming an overly pessimistic perspective begins, I believe, with coming to greater peace with my own humanity – realizing that being in the roles of mother and PICU nurse inherently includes opening myself to an uncomfortable level of vulnerability if I am determined to care in the ways I want to care. I resist this at times out of my attempts towards self-protection, but I am slowly realizing that this is simply part of being human. Being human also means that I am not automatically more of a saint just because I am in these roles; in particular, I tend to think that seeing what I see as a nurse should make me an ever-thankful, ever-patient mother, but the reality is I still struggle with being impatient, ungrateful, and selfish towards my children, like any other mother who is finding her way. Ultimately, I pour out my heart to God about all these things in a more authentic and liberating way when I stop trying to be super-human, and simply bring to Him all that I hold in my heart as a mother and a PICU nurse. And He always reminds me, “I know, I watched my Son suffer and die too. I know.”