Identity Shift

By: Rebecca Stockwell

My loss came, as many do, out of the blue. I went for a routine ultrasound and found out my son had multiple anomalies. I’m a nurse, and when I lost my son I was working in step down ICU. I took about a week off after my loss and then returned to a normal schedule.

I thought I was coping okay until seven months later when I realized I wasn’t caring for patients at the standard I had set as good care. And by realized, I mean, a patient actually asked me why I didn’t care about making her comfortable. It was a pretty devastating wake-up call. After the initial defensiveness and the anger at myself (I thought I was failing, when in fact I was grieving) I decided to find a job, still in nursing, that wasn’t working directly with patients.

Changing jobs can also cause grief and in a way, I lost part of my identity.

I worked in an office job for four years. During that time, I read some really good personal development books, like Rising Strong by Brene Brown. I learned to care for my body and nourish my soul. But it all took time, and while I was learning to care for myself it wasn’t possible for me to give good care to patients. Stepping away from direct patient care was the right decision for me.

When I decided to go back to taking care of patients, I wasn’t sure I could do it. I wasn’t sure I could witness the pain of others.

I wasn’t sure I could hold space for that in my life. But I noticed something: not only could I hold space for it, I was a better nurse because of it. It was hard in a different way, I had to make space in my life to decompress after work, I had to make space for feeling more deeply and still be able to get on with my life.  I had to learn other people’s pain is not mine to hold.

I had to figure out a way to step out of it and sometimes it’s as simple as telling myself “this is not my pain to hold.”

And sometimes it’s calling a friend to off load some of the heaviness, sometimes it’s praying for the patient and family. Each situation is different.

I’m so grateful for the gift of more compassion, more empathy and I have my son to thank for it. It’s still a weird world to live in, it’s a place in between. I would do almost anything to have my son here with me but I’m also so grateful for the gifts I received as a result of losing him.

About Rebecca Stockwell

Rebecca, RN, is the author of the “Guide for Trusting You Body After Miscarriage.” Stockwell’s own experience with pregnancy loss, and insights from other women who have lost babies during pregnancy, prompted her to create the guide, which is aimed at helping bereaved mamas feel in control of their bodies again.

Stockwell has enjoyed a career as nurse since 2005, which helped feed her desire for preventative health and wellness as a means to living her most fulfilled and joyful life. She is an avid gardener and fitness enthusiast, and is training for her first triathlon this spring. 

Stockwell lives in Vermont with her husband and two daughters.

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