28 August 2008
Nurses, Moms, and Culture?
The thing about having a baby is that in addition to the getting big and having to buy get the house ready (read: buy bunches of stuff), there is a lot to learn. In addition to books, here in Holland, information evenings are the way a lot of this information is transmitted. Of course, they don’t do many (any) in July or the beginning of August on account of summer vacation and if you’re not Dutch, you don’t think about these things! So, by the time it was time for us to start attending these things, we had to wait six weeks. But we’ve done well and gone to a couple so far. Imagine a room full of a hundred pregnant ladies and their partners. It’s a bit overwhelming.
This week, we attended an information evening at the hospital where our baby will probably be born. The "probably" because there seem to be no absolutes with births, not because of the hospital. One of the interesting things about giving birth in a hospital here is that their policy is to get you home ASAP. If you have a normal birth, that’s usually within two hours of baby being born. They say it’s because you’re so pumped up on adrenaline at that point that going home is easier to manage than after you’ve calmed down, slept a bit, etc.
One pregnant lady asked the nurses giving the presentation for advice about being sent home possibly in the middle of the night with a baby if the baby had problems breast feeding. The answer was a fairly abrupt version of, "Suck it up, you'll be fine, and baby will be fine without food for a night." Needless to say, the mom didn't look too reassured. I could only laugh to myself. What an answer to give a nervous new mom! No alternatives, no suggestions, just a fairly abrupt “stop fussing” and “next question.”
So my question is this: is this a nurse thing or a Dutch thing? I’m tempted to think it’s a nurse thing. After all, these ladies have seen it all. If you’ve been a nurse on a maternity ward for 20 or 25 years, the idea of a healthy mom and baby going home and worrying probably seems pretty silly. You’re healthy! Be happy, go home, enjoy. Any of the problems you run into are minor and can be taken care of later. No danger.
Clearly, this isn’t the way a potential new mom thinks. Of this, I can speak from experience. My latest panic is going to the grocery store for the first time with our baby. Insignificant in the scope of life, I’m sure, but in my mind: huge. More than anything, this is a story of how difficult it can be to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, especially the shoes of someone younger or less experienced than we are. I may teach, but do I really remember what it was like to be a 20 year-old study abroad student? This is something other than empathy or compassion, it’s understanding and responding to another human being’s frame of reference. Hopefully we all know someone who can do this. But learning it… that’s a real challenge!