I find myself in serious contemplation of my career. A career I have worked hard for, but that now appears inflexible and a destructive influence on my family. How many times can I leave my four-year old in tears, carefully remove his arms from my waist and whisper ‘Sorry darling, Mummy has to go to work’. To shut the door and still hear his sobs of ‘don’t go again Mum…’
The problem is that no matter what people say nursing does not lend itself to a family friendly life. The shifts are long and unpredictable. The work itself is both mentally and physically draining. I personally can’t walk out of the hospital door without thinking about my patients and their families. Being a nurse for many is a vocation. It’s not just a job, or a profession. The training is hard, the job is harder. You have to love what you do, or you just wouldn’t keep doing it. Always chronically understaffed and overworked, the patients come first. Other people’s families constantly put above your own.
The level of responsibility I and my fellow nurses have is huge. No longer are we the profession so often portrayed in old films. You know the ones where we meekly follow the Doctors round and do their bidding. That went out the window with our hats and aprons many years ago. Nurses are now more autonomous, more skilled and more educated than they ever have been. In my opinion this is fantastic but it comes at a price. That price is stress. A stress that grows almost unseen, but bubbles over into family life.
Here we have a profession that is predominantly made up of women, that doesn’t lend itself in any way to family life. Lets face it flexible working isn’t an option. I can just imagine my managers face if I said I wanted to come in at 10am some days or finish at 5pm. I would have to pick her up off the floor she would be laughing so hard! Patients need 24 hour care, nurses have to provide this.
Obviously I can’t work from home that is a ridiculous notion. Where would I put all the equipment? Besides I can’t see the ward round stopping by my house to make a plan of care or the x-ray team trundling up my drive… So flexi-homeworking not an option. Of course we are a minority in that our family has two nurses that work inflexible long shifts, which only compounds the problems. Some one is always tired, someone is always at work and both of us are inevitably stressed!
Is this my choice? Well kind of but not really. I often think that if I really had a choice I wouldn’t go to work. But then I remember that I like having my own money and I like having something that is mine and not the children’s. It’s not a selfish thing to want to have some time where I am a nurse and not ‘Mum’. I think in many ways it makes me a better Mum when I return to the children. Or it would if I wasn’t so shattered after work! But the children hate it. I hand my children over to my husband like I handover my patients to my colleagues at the end of my shift.
No one I speak to has the answer. It feels as though the day is coming when I will need to make a decision. I either am a nurse or I am a mother. I raise my children, but lose everything I have worked to achieve. There doesn’t appear to be a happy medium for me. Its my career or my kids. There is no competition in my eyes. If somethings got to give I know what it will be. That doesn’t make it ok and it doesn’t make it any easier.
I have something to tell you. I can’t say it out loud because I can’t bare to hear it spoken. I know I have whispered it into your ear at night. My darling Mummy has to go back to work this week.
I won’t be here when you wake. I won’t be there to respond to your cooing. To wrap you in my arms and kiss you. Too peep round the corner and say ‘morning’ in that way that makes you smile. I will miss that first ‘eeeeEEE’ of excitement at a new day. There will be no snuggles on the bed while we both have a drink.
In fact my sweetheart you won’t see me all day. I won’t be back before bed time. You won’t get to splash me in the bath. Or dance around the kitchen to some amazing 80s pop. There will be no last bedtime cuddle before we put Ewan on. No last minute whispers of a I love you before you close your eyes.
I am sorry Mummy’s girl. But I have to go. Just know that I will miss you. That I will think of you far more often than you think of me. I will picture your smile and hear your laugh. Of course I shall bore my colleagues with pictures of you. Unfortunately there are other babies who need me too. Smaller and sicker, more fragile than you. I know it’s not easy for Mummy to be gone all day. But Daddy and Pie will be here to play.
I will be back tonight, although you won’t see me. You won’t hear me creep into your room and kiss you goodnight. Just remember I love you, my beautiful girl. You and your brother are my entire world.
Today I took the kids out to catch up with a few work colleagues, the one real positive to being a nurse and having children is that with a workforce predominantly comprising of women there are always a group of you off on maternity leave at the same time. Obviously this causes some severe issues for management when we go off in droves from the same ward, especially in specialist areas where skill mix is usually an ongoing battle. Although we all feel for managers in their day to day struggles (!) we enjoy nothing better than moaning about work issues when we all get together for a coffee! Unfortunately for the majority of us the time comes when we have to return to work and the reality of juggling impossible shift patterns with childcare starts to hit home.
Most hospitals no longer provide on site creches or nurseries – another cut back to NHS funding I presume. This leaves all the shift workers, not only nurses, in a difficult position. A few years back when the government in their infinite wisdom and thoughtfulness pushed NHS trusts into the idea that continuity of care improved the patient experience hospitals up and down the country moved to what we call in the profession long days and long nights, ie the 12 hour shift, or in non-professional terms all f’ing day or night. Many people find this model is an improvement; as for the majority this means working 3 shifts a week, but for those of us looking for childcare it is at best a nightmare and at worse friggin impossible.
As the babies crawl around and my crazy 4 year old dashes off and rounds up his peers in an almost Lord of the Flies type gang, talk turns to who is going back to work, who has cut their hours and the never ending discussion of why we can’t works set shifts. This is the other major issues with organising child care as a nurse, apart from finding someone or somewhere that will take your child from 6.30am – 9pm, your shifts change from week to week so you don’t always need the same days covered; and weekends? Well you can just go and forget about that. Every nurse I have ever known has always asked for a set rota when she returns to work but I can’t recall any manager agreeing to this – they quote the usual line of requiring flexibility within the service. Surely if everyone was asking for set days then doing the rota would be made easier as they would know exactly who was working which days?! Lets not even get started on the JOY that that is the Christmas rota… Next time someone says we need a 24/7 NHS I am going to stick a bauble in their nose for every Christmas I have worked! And childcare, now that really would be a Christmas miracle (mind you so would having the whole of Christmas off….)
Therefore most nurses are left to juggle childcare between family, partners and a couple of set days at nursery or with a childminder – but what happens when like us you don’t have family just down the road? Oh and to make matters worse you are both expected to work changing shift patterns of long days, nights and weekends? Well I can tell you that it is logistical madness and most months result in me rocking in a corner and muttering to myself. Favours are called in, shifts are swapped, sleep is usually severely lacking as one of us works days and one works nights, we often pass each other like ships in the night. Our use of childcare is usually so that one of us can grab a few hours kip before a shift. Now that our eldest child attends preschool it’s even worse, yes we get those precious 15 hours free every week but the times for school are even less helpful than private child care and for the first time ever we have to contend with school holidays! I dread the end of my maternity leave this time, juggling one child was a miracle, juggling two? I can’t even begin to imagine it….