Like A Sister

Sometimes we get notes from the families we serve. They may come as messages at the end of returned satisfaction surveys or our quality review calls. Sometimes they arrive in the mail or are posted on our Facebook page.   We never expect them, but whenever we hear back from moms, dads, and grandparents, we lean into the words and take in the precious sentiments of our families.

“I love working with my community health worker because I learn so much and she makes me feel like I can do anything. Anna* is like a sister. I can tell her things and she just gets it.   And she says things to me how I can hear them, sometimes hard things. Cheers for me but tells me just the way it is.”

Like a sister. This pulls up all sorts of images. I am lucky enough to have a sister and we freak people out with our ability to say the same things at the same time. We finish each other’s sentences.   We operate within a mix of raw honesty and unspoken connection.   Sometimes blunt.   Sometimes gentle.   Always real.

Over 10 years ago, we added a new feature to our home visitation services: community health workers. Originally designed to extend the work of the nurse and to be able to help with time-consuming issues, they have become so much more. We currently have five women on our staff who serve as CHWs, three of them bilingual who can also provide translation.   I know you will enjoy reading about their work in this newsletter.

Like a sister. Like a wise, caring, resourceful sister.   Never in our lives will we need a sister more than when a baby is on the way or in those earliest days with a newborn. Young parents with a fragile infant often feel isolated and our CHWs can make all the difference.

Melinda Ohlemiller

CEO, Nurses for Newborns

(July 2016)

*name changed

Jimmy and the pickles

I sat on the sofa next to the 8-year-old big brother, planning to keep him company while our nurse hoisted the baby and his body cast onto the scale.   School was out for the year and this was Jimmy’s first time to join in the home visit as he was home now for the summer.   It was steamy in the mobile home, and his brow was as damp as the condensation on the large jar in his lap. Jimmy was dipping his hands in and out of the jar, skimming through the green juice to capture the pickles and then launching them into his mouth.

“Hey there, you must really like pickles!” It seemed a reasonable way to start a conversation.

“I guess.”  Eyes down. He crunched a few more.

As if on cue to escape my interest, the doorbell rang and Jimmy leaped to his feet to greet his grandma, hugged her and clasped the loaf of white bread that had been in her hands.

He waved me into the kitchen and I watched while he carefully laid the sliced pickles onto a square of bread and made a lid with another.

“Look, now I made a sandwich!”

He bit into the pickle sandwich and then gobbled hungrily, closing his eyes for the last few bites.   I was not prepared for the next image, the one where Jimmy opened the refrigerator door and set the jar down on a completely empty shelf.   There was nothing else in the fridge, except for a few condiments in the door. The whiteness of the interior was almost blinding.

“I’ll make one for Mama, when you guys are gone. And Grandma, too.”

I blinked hard, the truth filling my eyes.   “What else will you fix for them, Jimmy?’

He climbed onto the counter and opened a cabinet. It, too, was barren.

“I guess that’s it. But we got bread now.”

It is humbling to stand with a child who is feeling the weight of feeding his mama with only pickles and bread in the house.   This sweet, young family was struggling since the birth of the baby, only 10 months old and three surgeries already logged.   Jimmy’s dad lost his job after the second surgery, when he could not be at work, support his wife, and look after Jimmy while the baby was in the hospital.

It turns out my innocent small talk about liking pickles was not small–it was miniscule.   Naïve. Unless you have fed a family with a loaf of bread and a jar of pickles, you cannot know this pain.

The face of hunger can be 8 years old. It can be a nursing mother.   It can be a dad, newly out of work. It can be somebody’s grandmother, handing her last bit of food to her grandson.   It can be anyone hidden behind a gleaming white refrigerator door and a bare cabinet, veiled shame at not being able to provide something so basic.

At Nurses for Newborns, we can see, hear, and know what will not come through in a doctor’s office visit. It is an enormous privilege to be invited into the homes of families with a baby and we cannot waste this opportunity to offer every meaningful support.   Sometimes its food, nourishment for body and soul.

Melinda Ohlemiller
CEO, Nurses for Newborns
(June 2016)

Nurses and Inspiration

“The May issue is here, Melinda, I saved it for you!” There they were, nursing journals scattered on the coffee table at grandma’s house.

Not many first graders learn to read from the American Journal of Nursing, but I had that privilege because my maternal grandmother was a registered nurse.   My earliest memories include cuddling on the couch with a journal. I can still picture her putting on her freshly polished white shoes over her white stockings that blended with her white dress, and off she would go to the hospital.   I could not have known that all these years later those experiences would form the foundation of my life’s work.

National Nurses Week is celebrated in May.   Healthcare organizations around the country recognize the contributions and compassion of our nation’s nurses who shoulder much of the effort needed to keep all of us healthy.   Please thank a nurse in your life this month!

At Nurses for Newborns, our nurses are the best of the best—caring, brave, and dedicated beyond what anyone might imagine. Their stories are dramatic: pulling a family from a burning trailer, calling an ambulance for a very ill mother, restoring a heartbeat with CPR on a lifeless infant on a living room floor. And their stories are everyday: reassuring young parents, teaching how to soothe a crying baby, supporting a breastfeeding mother and so much more.

If inspiration can come from a journal on a coffee table, how much more of a role model is a nurse who demonstrates loving and skilled care of babies and parents.   We never know when a nurse will inspire a young woman. We hear about our former clients who go on to nursing school, bolstered by experiencing the care of an NFN nurse.   This is a beautiful outcome indeed.

Melinda Ohlemiller
CEO, Nurses for Newborns
(May 2016)