Finding Where We Belong
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author.
Spoiler Alert: This post discusses events in Call the Midwife Season 8 Episode 6.
After this week’s episode of Call the Midwife, I found myself reflecting a lot on why I went into the nursing profession. I’ve heard a lot of people express interest in nursing, because there always seems to be a need in the nursing workforce; though, being a nurse for 11 years, and a midwife for 7, I can sincerely tell you that none of us are in it for the money! Nursing is a science, and critical thinking skills are a must, but there is also such a deeply personal side to this profession, and all truly great nurses understand that.
When I was getting ready to start at my university, I wasn’t exactly sure what my major was going to be. I chose a university that offered nursing, pre-med, and veterinary options. Yes, that’s right, veterinary! I love animals, and I worked as a veterinary assistant for 5 years throughout high school and the beginning of college! In the end, I decided that I wanted my patients to be able to talk to me, and followed in the footsteps of my cool, compassionate, and totally rad Aunt Betsy and became a nurse.
Nursing school and midwifery school were completely different experiences for me. Part of it is the age difference; in undergrad, I was honestly just as interested as partying with my friends as I was in studying for my career (ahem, and maybe even more interested in partying at times!). In graduate school, I knew how I wanted to focus my career for the rest of my working life. I was older (okay, I was 25, so still young!), wiser, and more focused. Most notably, though, was the feeling of belonging that came in midwifery school. I had found “my people.” Both the professors and the other students in my cohort became like family. I was inspired by each and every one of them. I felt like all of my preceptors, the midwives that I was learning from in my clinical rotations, took me under their wings and were excited to show me the art of midwifery. When I attended my first annual conference of the American College of Nurse Midwives, the older midwives embraced us, excited to “pass the baton” onto the younger generation of new midwives.
This was such a stark difference to nursing school. In nursing school, there’s a saying, and it’s that “nurses eat their young.” There’s almost a hazing that takes place between nurses and the nursing students they are working with. I felt like most of the nurses wanted to show off how much more they knew than we did, and if you didn’t know the right answer or the right way to do something, you were shamed for it. Obviously, not every nursing preceptor is like that, and I had wonderful guidance from many experienced nurses along the way, but the overall feeling as a nursing student is that you are less than. You are not smart enough yet, you do not deserve respect yet, and you are mostly in the way.
Seeing this happen now makes me so sad! And yes, I do still see this happening. I’m not sure why the midwifery community has it so different than general nursing, but we could learn a thing or two from this. Whether someone when into nursing to ensure they could have a job and make steady income, or whether they had some life-changing experience that called them to nursing, it’s our duty to share with them the science and the art of nursing. I can’t tell you how amazing it was to have a nursing student and her instructor come to me after a birth and tell me that the student wanted to ask more questions about midwifery! She had seen a couple of other births during her rotation on our unit, but hadn’t seen a midwife-attended birth until that day. She was in awe of not only the skills of a midwife, but also, the calm, empowering environment created through a family-centered birthing experience.
In this week’s episode of Call the Midwife, I was blown away by the kindness and support that Lucille gave to the young woman, Elaine, who at age 17, had just given birth to her second child. She truly listened to Elaine’s story and her desires for her future, and helped provide her with resources for after her discharge from the maternity home so that Elaine and baby Sarah could thrive. Much like I mentioned in a previous blog, Lucille embodied the idea of holistic nursing care. She not only provided the essential physical care for Elaine and baby Sarah, but offered emotional support as well. There may be a challenging road ahead for Elaine and Sarah, but they will find a place where they belong, together.
That’s the thing about feeling like you belong. Belonging has so much more to do with people that you are with, instead of the physical place that you are. I felt that sense of belonging from the start with my husband, and I feel it now with my children. I’ve also found that sense of belonging in my “work home.” I feel lucky to have a team of colleagues that supports me, listens to me, offers advice when needed, and can share all of the ups and downs of an often emotionally and physically exhausting job. I’ve been with the wonderful team at Henry Ford West Bloomfield for just over five years now. They are a team who empowers me to rise to my highest potential as a midwife, and our work supports and complements each other in a way that offers our patients the best possible care. I’ll strive to show kindness, compassion, and skill to the future midwives and nurses that I am privileged to teach in the years to come, so that they, too, know that they belong.
Andrea Altomaro (MS, RN, CNM) has been nurse-midwife for the past three years and is currently working for the Henry Ford Health System. Before becoming a midwife, she worked as a nurse in the emergency department and also in labor and delivery.
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