Friday, November 02, 2012

Professional intersections

It doesn't take much creativity to see the direct line between my job as a labor and delivery RN and my adoption. I arrived at this particular job rather circuitously, however, and I don't believe that I was fully cognizant of my adoptee status when I did.

Those of you familiar with my blog will know that I had a first career in academia, one that did not make me happy. Or that made me happy only fleetingly, or perhaps that my ideas about what my job would be did not correlate exactly to the reality. Or even more likely, academia changed quite radically from an avocation to a 9-to-5 desk job.

I have written at length about my struggles with Berkeley and its art history department and the professors. I arrived to work on Norman Britain, only to find my adviser wasn't on board with that idea, and found myself shuffled around (or shuffled myself around) trying to find a better intellectual and personal fit. It never quite happened, the abuses piled up, and so at the end, when I had the degree, I no longer had the will or desire to fight for jobs. I was sick of being around people who would honestly say that they were studying 20th century art and had no need to know anything that happened before the 20th century. These were graduate students, my eventual peers and colleagues. How could they be so narrow-minded? I wept and cobbled together positions here and there in the Bay Area with the help of some kind mentors, and prayed that I would get one particular position at Yale. It clearly didn't come to pass, although I did get a great interview lunch at Chez Panisse, and the panel flew to Berkeley to interview me since I was eight months pregnant!

Shortly after Yale turned me down, my son was born. I wondered what to do and when I would go back to work. How would I commute all over creation with an infant, and for about $0.05/hour?

I had been very impressed by my labor and delivery nurses, and my postpartum nurse, it turned out, had fled from Berkeley art history with a master's. She suggested that I consider a career in nursing for the flexibility and the compassion that was lacking on my other path.

I had not been hospitalized since my own birth, and had no experience of what nursing was except to think that it wasn't what a Bryn Mawr woman did. I had had it drummed into my head that I should be a medical doctor, if I was anything. Nursing seemed foreign to me. I knew that I enjoyed taking care of people, being with people. It would be a shorter path than medical school, but still challenging. And I had always, in the back of my mind, wanted a career in medicine. Then when Callum was admitted to the NICU for a week, I spent even more time with the nurses and fell in love with what they did. I decided, at first, that I would aim to be a NICU RN.

I planned my course for the next four years very carefully; prerequisites, volunteer work, essays, the GRE again, applications, etc. I was accepted to two of three programs, and chose the one closest to my home. I began, made some great friends, and found the coursework stimulating, if perhaps not nerdy to the degree I wish it had been. The clinicals were both fascinating, terrifying, and heartbreaking.

My first clinical rotation was in-patient mental health. I was assigned to a hospital in an affluent community not far from where I live, and heartbreakingly, to a unit with children between the ages of six and eleven. Many of these children were recovering from acute PTSD and depression related to abuse, among other things. Several of them--these are children, remember--had made suicide attempts. The suicidal children were adoptees, international adoptees, who spoke very little English and sometimes did not have translators. That was excruciatingly difficult for me to discover during report. I sat with these broken children in their meetings with the psychiatrist, assisted in play therapy in group with them, and after my shift was done, I would collapse in my car and cry for an hour, drive home and cry more. It was emotionally brutal, but of course nothing like the children had to deal with.

Somewhere in the middle of my BSN program I decided that I wanted to do my senior preceptorship (similar to interning with an experienced RN) in labor and delivery. I cannot remember the moment when I changed my mind about the NICU, or why. I suspect that it was during my maternal-child nursing rotation, when I saw the support that the RNs give to the patients and their families; I became aware of how fortunate L&D RNs are to share in one of the most intimate moments in a family's life. I knew I could excel at supporting, and I would be honored to be present at births.

Now I see that I was (am?) also trying to revisit/heal my own loss, substituting new experiences for a birth without familial memory and for which there were no real celebrations. For the first few weeks of my training, I would cry at every birth because it was emotionally overwhelming and miraculous. Now it's a job, and I am usually busy and focused on tasks at the moment of birth, rather than marveling at the mother-baby bond (Typical internal monologue: "Where's the postpartum pitocin bag? Is the right screen up for charting? Shit, have I been holding on the monitors so long that I am logged out? Make sure to get the cord blood before it congeals."). But I can still take time to laugh and smile generously during recovery.

I do have to say that I've developed a penchant for surgery, and when given the choice, will take an assignment in the OR. Is this because it's an orderly way of doing things, and it's pretty clear how procedures will go? Or is it because at birth, the baby is taken away from the mother? The OR is bright and extremely cold, and the mother has about 20 minutes of repair to complete after delivery. The baby is taken either to the recovery room or the nursery for assessment, bath, and medications, and the mother and baby are reunited once I have the mother back in the recovery room, and she is stable. I am sure that it's a complicated set of variables that draws me to the OR, but the separation variable is something I had not thought of until just now. Curious.

The subconscious is an uncanny creature, isn't it?


1 comment:

Assembling Self said...

Well, as an adoptee I went on to study psychology to help others and in reality it has saved me millions in therapy. ;) I think you hit the nail on the head BUT some bad or difficult things that happen to us do make us go above and beyond and give us the ability to heal others along with ourselves and turn it into a positive. You have that keen sense of insight I admire, which makes you a good nurse too. I ended up working with children and those who were troubled and struggling. I think I "saw" inside them and understood where other people failed to "see" they simply couldn't. They hadn't worn the shoes. I commend you on your ability to be a nurse in the capacity you do. Not one of my fortes. :)