I love my job. Really, I do. I get a front row seat to the first few moments in a person's life. I get to be among the first to say, "Happy Birthday!" I get to comfort and educate parents as they experience the birth of their child. But, sometimes my job is too much. Sometimes it's hurtful and hard in those happy moments. Sometimes the smiles feel like knives.
I've learned over the past few years that each day is likely to bring with it, some sort of punch in the gut. At first it was every corner of my house that had this effect. I couldn't get out of bed without noticing that the crib was missing. I couldn't brush my teeth or get the mail without feeling the pang of emptiness at the thought of the little curly haired boy who was no longer on my hip. Those things still hurt at times. I still feel the knife, but the edges have softened as the new "routine" of the past few years have taken over. But, work is a different story.
I left my job as a labor nurse when I became pregnant with my third child. So, being back there now feels both new and devastatingly familiar at the same time. I realized that in a moment recently when I had to follow a patient from labor into the c-section room. In the hustle of the day, I hadn't realized what was about to happen. As I stepped into that room, it hit me. The last time I had been in this particular space was the day I gave birth to Easton. It was a ton of bricks. The first cries of my patient's new son only twisted the knife further.
I wanted to crawl into a hole. I wanted to scream at the top of lungs to release some of the suffocating pain. But there is no time for that in those moments. That day is not about the agony in my heart. It's someone's birthday. It's the day my patient met her son. It's the day I have to hold her hand and smile and tell her how happy I am to be there. And it isn't heroic, smiling through the pain. It isn't martyrdom. It's necessary. It's the only way.
When we left that room and I was out of earshot of the patient I told a co-worker and friend what I'd experienced. I needed to hear it come out of my mouth. I needed to acknowledge it. But when I heard the words leave my lips, it felt as though I'd simply commented on the weather. It felt forced and fake, like perhaps I was hearing someone else say the words. Because if I'd been able to articulate what I'd felt in that moment it would have been something along the lines of the world falling out from under my feet. I would have described the shredding feeling that ripped through my chest, the way my legs felt as though they couldn't hold me any longer. I would have told her that hearing that baby cry and seeing the relief on the parents faces cut deeper than I ever could have imagined. I would have explained that I'd remembered that same relief, and now knew that I'd been entitled to none of it. That first breath, that first cry from son's lips marked his first day of pain. And I'd been happy about it. That's what I would have said if I could have done it in that moment.
Instead I finished the day. I clocked out. I came home. And when my head hit the pillow, the realization of the days events washed over me and I felt it all over again. These are the days of grief, and I know this is my life sentence. The knives will keep coming, the memories will continue to force me to my knees, and I'll learn to smile through more pain until it's safe to feel it. I'm grateful for the moment. I'm grateful for the experience of pushing through that hurt in order to be there for someone else on what could possibly be among the happiest days of their lives. And I'm grateful for all triggered memories of that precious little boy of mine. Even the ones that cut. I love my job. Really, I do...