By Amber Weiseth
Like many American college students, during my sophomore year of college I was faced with a decision on my future which I was no more prepared to make than when I left high school. I had a vague idea of classes I enjoyed and things I could imagine doing for work. However, choosing a career which would expend 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, and 40 years of my life seemed like a paralyzing and daunting decision. Somehow in the finger-smudged, flimsy pages of that black and white course catalogue, I came across my career and later the space for intersection of my brain and soul – science and heart.
I am a nurse. Sixteen years ago, I began my nursing career in Labor and Delivery at a community hospital in Washington State. As a fresh-faced 22-year-old, I had little insight into the foreshadowing the role nursing would play in my career and my life, and I eagerly jumped right into learning the craft and science. One of the discoveries I soon came to was that nursing is not simply a job. It is a way of experiencing the world, connecting with humanity, and sharing sacred space with vulnerable people.
In all my years of nursing, I have never experienced the loss of a birthing patient, but there are a handful of moments when I was afraid I would. This was one of those times. The events of her labor and delivery were generally unremarkable but what transpired shortly after was challenging, frightening, and still flashes into my mind at quiet moments.
In a room down the hall from me, a joy-filled mother was bonding skin-to-skin with her new baby. Suddenly her situation went from a calm and beautiful scene to a life and death battle. An emergency call went out and I rushed down to help. She began bleeding heavily and required immediate intervention. This was the moment where we met.
Though acting swiftly, I initially stayed clinical and professional as I had been taught. But every few minutes we would lock eyes. Sometimes I would do my best to explain what was happening. Other times we just looked at each other. Something occurred to me. She needed the massive transfusion of blood products, medications, and surgical intervention, but she needed something else. She needed personal connection and I realized that I needed it too. With a look, we were encouraging the other to give it their all, to stay in the fight. Over the next several hours we bonded in a way that is indescribable, and we are forever a part of each other’s stories. Her story is one of survival and mine is a recalibration to the art and science of nursing.
Hours later, we exited the operating room. She was alive. Her family embraced her, she embraced her son, and I was forever changed.
Nursing school taught us to remain clinical, professional, and to avoid personal connection. But was this the right advice? Can we really give our patients all that they need while withholding our own emotional connection?
If you are a nurse, you are one of 3 million in the United States. According to Gallup*, we are the most trusted profession. Why? Maybe it’s because many of us have made the same discovery. We have learned to become vulnerable and look for moments of connection with the people we care for. Sometimes it is in big, life-saving moments like this. But more often, it is in the small interactions and daily moments.
Be vulnerable and look for moments of connection for yourselves and for those you care for. Whether in big, life-saving moments or small interactions, you have the power to heal, provide connection, and promote dignity for birthing people and their families.
*According to Gallup polls over the past 17 years, Americans have ranked nurses the highest among professions for honesty and ethical standards.
Amber Weiseth DNP, RNC-OB is the Associate Director for the Delivery Decisions Initiative (DDI) at Ariadne Labs, where she oversees the design, measurement, and implementation of the Team Birth Project, a care process innovation designed to improve the safety and dignity of childbirth. Amber has been a obstetric nurse for 15 years, specializing in quality improvement and project implementation. Prior to joining Ariadne Labs, Amber served as Assistant Director for Maternal-Infant Health Initiatives at the Washington State Hospital Association where she led safety and quality work in the state’s birthing hospitals.