I ran into another mother this weekend that I hadn’t seen in a long time. She remembered that I had been in school to become a lactation consultant and inquired how that was going. I told her where I was working now and that I was very happy with my job. She responded that it must be such a nice, relaxing job; that she didn’t “imagine it was very stressful.” I blurted out “Well we had two infants with catastrophic brain injuries this week and one near maternal death, but other than that…,” I trailed off. Based on the stricken look on her face, my response might have been a bit harsh but she hit a nerve.
This job is endlessly emotional. I am working with people during the with the most dramatic moments of their lives. There is a great deal of joy. There is also immense frustration, exhaustion, and sometimes despair. The sad truth is that with over 200 births a month we see stillbirths and other tragic outcomes on a regular basis. Last week was rough. My boss quit without any notice shaking up the entire staff and leaving the entire labor, delivery, postpartum, and neonatal intensive care unit “motherless”. We had two infants with severe brain injuries transferred to another hospital. We had one mother nearly bleed to death after childbirth. I spent my days ping-ponging between rooms with pink robust infants and two rooms where a mother sat alone, her door shut tight so she could not hear other infants cry, hooked up to a breast pump, hoping that her baby might someday be well enough to take some of her milk.The worst part of my job is that I have no way to follow up on any of these mothers and their infants after they leave the hospital. I remember their faces, their bleeding nipples, their magical new babies, and their empty bassinets and I wonder what happens to them. In my old career I used to sometimes bring work home; papers to read, emails to catch up on. I don’t need to do that any more. But I do bring my job home. I think about the mothers and babies when I am home in bed. I worry about them, stress over them, and wonder if I did enough to help them.