I always wanted to be a mother.
When my waters broke, I was ready. My bag was packed. My carefully crafted Birth Plan laid out all the options. Only, it hadn’t taken death into account. Death of my dreams, my hopes, my very definition of “mother”, and most of all the death of my son’s independence…. the birth of his disability.
After life was carefully coaxed back into his heart, his lungs, his brain, his cells, we sat down with the paediatrician. The special care unit had become: for me, a milking factory; for my husband, a place of firsts. First cuddle, first feed down a nasogastric tube, first bath, first place of hope that our son’s death/life beginning might carry no cost.
Neither of us will forget the paediatrician. He will forever be the man who was supposed to tell us what the hell had happened and what the future would hold. The span of many years allows me to hope he was merely incapable of brutal honesty. As we grasped at the straws he offered, he suddenly paused – brightened – and invited us to listen to the cricket scores on the radio in the background.
During the ensuing years I became many things: therapist, disability advocate, centrelink paperwork expert, equipment manager and “CP Parent” (parent of a child with cerebral palsy). When Christopher was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 5, we learned to manage blood glucose levels and insulin injections with ease.
But I never felt like I became a mother. Oh, I went along to playgroup with the other mums. I watched as their kids sailed through their milestones, each one filling me with a silent scream that it wasn’t polite to give voice to. When Christopher was nine, I hit a wall. Somewhere in the inky blackness of that time it was suggested that I “get out” for some time away each week. I volunteered at the newly-built Toowoomba Hospice – first as receptionist but eventually as an assistant personal carer. When they suggested that I study nursing so they could employ me, my husband graciously agreed to cut back his work hours.
Nowadays I’m an emergency nurse and I could talk for hours about how having a child with a disability makes me better at my job. What nursing has done for me, paradoxically, is allow me to be a mother. Just as my family gives meaning to my work, my work gives meaning to my family. All the tasks of looking after Christopher (feeding, dressing, bathing, changing) are Basic Nursing Care. They are essential to providing my patients with excellent nursing – yes, even in a hectic ED – and are what I now see as a gift rather than a burden.
Nursing and parenting are bigger than the tasks, however. Both are incredibly challenging, immensely rewarding paths. Both are about caring for people who may be vulnerable enough to show you their weaknesses, their pyjamas, their pain, their anger and their grief. Both are places where – if you are paying attention – you can genuinely meet people and come away enriched by the experience.