91: Sharing Hope

91: Sharing Hope

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

Sharing Hope

All it takes is one bloom of hope to make a spiritual garden.

~Terri Guillemets

“What was this little guy’s birth weight?” It was a simple question, but it caught me off guard. I froze, unable to speak as my tears welled up.

Wondering why I didn’t answer, with one hand safeguarding my baby on the scale, the nurse turned to face me. The bewildered expression on her beautiful face made me feel even more awkward and afraid.

A tear ran down my cheek as disturbing thoughts raced through my mind. “She’s going to think I’m crazy. How do I explain? What mother doesn’t know her own baby’s birth weight?”

The truth was, I didn’t know.

I wiped my cheek as every instinct within screamed at me to grab my baby and run. Instead, I stood there quivering and stared at this poor confused nurse.

She tried to comfort me, pleading in her gentle voice. “I’m so sorry. It’s fine if you don’t remember how much he weighed. Please don’t be upset.”

“It’s not just that. It’s… it’s… everything,” I cried. “I can’t remember a single thing!”

That was a true statement.

Three weeks after giving birth to my fourth child, I was diagnosed with a severe postpartum depression. Although it came on instantly the moment he was born, it took me over a month to get up the courage to tell anyone about it. When I knew I couldn’t go on any longer, I confided in my gynecologist, who immediately placed me in the care of a psychiatrist.

I was hospitalized within hours, and the doctor decided electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) would be the best treatment considering the seriousness of my condition. After two weeks of treatments in the hospital and several more as an outpatient, my short-term memory was seriously affected. I couldn’t remember my stay in the hospital, nor could I remember most events that took place several months prior to the therapy. I would run into friends and not recognize them. I didn’t remember events the rest of the family talked about. I was embarrassed and ashamed, my self-confidence completely destroyed.

Now, standing in the exam room during my baby son’s four-month check-up, I was uncomfortable to say the least. I didn’t want to tell the nurse why I couldn’t remember his birth weight, nor did I want her to think I cared so little about him that I didn’t even know the answer to such an important question. Still, I shied away from explaining the reason for my hesitation because of the stigma sometimes associated with mental illness.

Realizing I’d most likely be faced with the same situation as soon as the pediatrician came into the room, I decided to tell her the truth. She seemed nice, but I seriously doubted she’d understand.

“I don’t usually share this, but the reason I’m having such a difficult time trying to remember things is because I’ve had shock therapy for postpartum depression.” Whew, I said it.

With a look of understanding and compassion on her face she said, “I know how you feel, hon.”

“Sure she does,” I thought sarcastically, wallowing in self-pity.

Before I could reply, she stunned me with, “I’ve been where you are right now. Three years ago, after my son was born, I suffered from postpartum depression and had to undergo shock therapy, too. Believe me, things do get better.”

I don’t know if it was because I had finally met someone who actually understood what I was going through or because she told me that things would get better; but, whatever the reason, tears of relief flowed.

As she finished weighing and measuring my son, she continued, “I’ve never told any of my coworkers, let alone perfect strangers. Mental illness, especially any involving hospitalization and electro-convulsive therapy, is subject to preconceived notions by those who are unfamiliar with how difficult it can be. I figure it’s better to keep it to myself. I had to share with you because you looked so sad, and I wanted you to know that I got through it, and you will, too.

“I’ll write down Darren’s current weight and length so you’ll have it handy,” she said with a wink.

As she was handing me the small piece of paper, the doctor walked in and greeted us with a smile, putting an end to our conversation.

Fortunately he didn’t ask any questions during the exam that put me in an uncomfortable position. I breathed a sigh of relief as I bundled up my baby boy and headed home.

Later that evening as I was organizing the diaper bag and putting things away, I pulled out the slip of paper the nurse had given me with the baby’s information on it. I smiled when I noticed that she had drawn a happy smile next to her phone number and the words, “If you ever need to talk, give me a call.”

I will forever be grateful to this sweet nurse who not only looked out for the wellbeing of her little patient, but for his mother as well. And she was absolutely right — things did get better, largely in part to a special nurse who stepped out of her comfort zone to offer hope.

~Connie Kaseweter Pullen

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