I had just woken Zoe up from her nap yesterday afternoon when I heard the patients' chairs scraping across the roof of our cabin as they got ready to come inside from Deck Seven. I scooped her up and ran out our cabin door to the blue stairs in time to intercept the mamas of two of my patients from the weekend, arms outstretched to hold her. While she was being passed around, one of my six year-old girlies, NG tube dangling, caught sight of me and flew into my arms for a slightly damp hug. (It seems I cannot escape drool whether my own kid is involved or not.)
I felt so much like myself in that moment, having names and stories to match with the faces trooping down the stairs, feeling other mamas slip their tired hands into mine while we admired each other's babies.
So many people told me that it would be different going back to work after having my own child, but I don't think I realized just how much being a mother would affect me as a pediatric nurse.
Take my little Monkey* for example.
I look at him and I see Zoe. Not in any obvious ways; they're different sizes and different colours and different genders, but holding him, all I could think was, This could have been her. It could have been my baby born with a hole in the bone between her eyes, my baby all wrapped up in white gauze and clinging to me when yet another stranger approached with yet another syringe of medicine.
I felt a kinship with Monkey's mama from the moment I stepped up to their bedside to find him staring up at me with his big, dark eyes. Motherhood is universal, I'm coming to find out. It doesn't matter whether our babies sleep in a crib in their own room or in a towel on our backs; at the end of the day we're all just muddling through, doing the best we can.
This weekend, sharing my love with Monkey was the best I could do. It meant becoming an unofficial lactation consultant, drinking litre after litre of water alongside Monkey's mama so the two of us would have enough milk for our babies. (In typical West African style, there were a lot of hand gestures to accompany this process. When these gestures include the milk-makers, you can only imagine how ridiculous we all end up looking.) It meant mastering baby-backing using nothing but that towel while mama was in the bathroom and Monkey was upset.
It meant holding my patient close and, for the first time, knowing in some small way what his mama was going through watching him hurt, because I've got a piece of me on the outside now too.
Every time I look at a child now, I see the mama holding him. I see the inky blackness of the sleepless nights and the days stained by the worry that she's not getting it right and the incandescent joy of seeing that baby smile for the first time. And it's going to change the way I practice my profession. I'm not sure how, exactly, but I can already feel it.
It's different now. Different is good.
(*Name changed for privacy. Although I think it would be super cute if he really were named Monkey. Deb Louden took the photos of him, I think. She's amazing.)