In my twenties, I worked at a pediatric long-term care facility where we cared for kids whose medical problems were stable enough to keep them out of the hospital, but too severe for care at home. Often, these kids suffered from illnesses brought on by the abuse or negligence of their parents, and even more frequently their birth parents weren’t involved in their lives anymore.
The Pediatric Center paid a pittance, so it attracted newly graduated nurses with school loans to pay back and no concept of what it meant to pay the bills. Most of us arrived fresh out of college, fresh out of our parent’s homes, fresh cut from an idealistic view where we were all Florence Nightingale and we would change the world one blood pressure cuff at a time.
We were healthy and young and strong and none of us knew what it meant to care for someone else’s child full-time. None of us knew what it meant to mother. We knew medical procedures and nurse’s notes, trach tube changes and immunizations. We did not know the day in day out call to simply show these babies and big kids love.
We didn’t know it, but we learned it real quick. You can only give so many evening tubby’s to another woman’s child, before you begin to feel something beyond a sense of professional duty for them. We began to celebrate our babies’ birthdays, and stock their drawers with socks when they ran out. We worried about spiking fevers, discussed the smallest details of their care, and bragged about the most infinitesimal improvements to the nurse on the next shift.
You don’t have to birth a baby to know what it means to mother one. I was a slow-learner, but throughout my years there I began to get a glimpse of what it means to invest the strength of my life into the weakness of another’s. I learned to inhale meals and skip the bathroom and put the incessant whining of the heart monitor first before my own needs. My years at the Pediatric Center weren’t just a job, they felt more like a calling. Unfortunately, it wasn’t my particular calling and so, I gave up my job to the truly mother-hearted.
As we celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, I want to say thank you to the heart mamas. Thank you to the nurses, the teachers, the mentors, the nannies, the day-care workers, the Sunday school teachers, the loving neighbors, and the tireless aunties. Thank you to every woman who looks in the eyes of another woman’s child and tells them they matter. Thank you to every woman who puts her own agenda aside, who embraces her calling, who gives out of her own strength to those whose weakness comes first. Thank you, mamas. You show me what it means to mother, and prove that it’s our hearts and not our DNA that helps us live love out loud.