I have news. I’ll come right out and say it. I am planning to stay in Colombia for another year. After careful consideration I decided I feel okay about delaying my work as a Nurse Practitioner for one more year. I don’t want to get too far out of graduation without working as an FNP, but I can’t deny how alive I feel right now. In response to a blog post I made a few months ago, I got an email from one of the people I respect most in the world. My mom wrote something like, “You seem really happy. You have always done what is ‘expected’ of you. Your life fully yours, probably as fully yours as it will ever be. Don’t be afraid to claim your life and think outside the box.” When I read those words, it was like I was reading the answer to the question I hadn’t even let my mind fully form yet. As as soon as I let the thought take shape, I knew it was right. I have sat with the possibility over the last few months and it still feels right. I can’t imagine being done with Cali in 4 months. I’m so far from done…in my project, yes, but also in my general life. In my friendships, in my relationships, in my salsa dancing, in my Spanish. I am immersed, I have built a lovely life here and I don’t feel ready to move on yet. Right now the tentative plan is to come home in June, in time for my Women’s Summer Solstice retreat, and then hopefully work a 3 month travel RN contract, the income from which I will live off for the next year. I want to continue working on my research (see below for updates) but I am also drawn to continuing work in the area of Perinatal Loss.
I think mentioned before that I had introduced my mentor in the school of nursing staff at the Universidad del Valle to the concept of holistic labor and postpartum support for families experiencing perinatal loss. She was immediately interested. Families loose babies for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is unexpected and most of the time we don’t know why it happens. Usually it happens early in the pregnancy, what we refer to as a miscarriage. A miscarriage can be devastating, but we don’t usually see those families in the labor and delivery unit of the hospital unless they are pretty far along in their pregnancy. When that happens, it often means a complete labor and delivery of the baby. And in a unit where the nurses and doctors are used to dealing with life, death, especially of a baby, can leave everyone feeling lost.
I never thought much about perinatal loss, but in my work as a labor and delivery RN I discovered that I actually felt an affinity for these families. I felt like I was able to be present, and like I was able to support them in a way a lot of nurses weren’t able to. In Seattle I worked with an amazing team of providers and together we were present for all kinds of losses for all kinds of reasons. There were tears, candles, baptisms, photos, locks of hair, cuddling…and some of those experiences of loss are the ones that have stayed with me over the years. So when my mentor expressed interest in the topic, I was eager to share. I gave lectures to both the undergrad and graduate students in the nursing school. I told them about the “memory boxes” we have, about the importance of giving the family the opportunity to welcome their little one and to say good-bye to this being they have spent countless months bonding with and preparing for. I talked about what it really means to be a nurse, to have the strength to be present with a family during an experience like this.
My mentor had a patient a few weeks later with an unanticipated loss of a full term baby. She clung to my words and went absolutely against the grain at the hospital where routine is to whisk the infant away to the morgue and move-on in caring for the medical needs of the mom. My mentor fought with the system in order to give this mama a chance to hold and kiss and say good-bye to her baby. They prayed, they baptized, they cried together. This is unheard of in the public hospital here in Cali. But the nurses and social workers have very immediately and clearly seen the value in being able to offer this option to families. It is so heartening to see such a positive response to such a radically new idea. One idea I have for the coming year is to develop a “Caring for Families Experiencing Perinatal Loss” training program that could be offered at hospitals around Cali and around Colombia.
But that is getting ahead of myself. =) Because I am still in the beginning stages of the Group Prenatal Care project. And things are finally happening! Not a lot, but living in Colombia one learns to appreciate every little step forward. With the indispensable support of the nurses at the clinic and my 3 wonderful nursing student assistants, I have been actively recruiting focus group participants at my primary clinic site for about 3 weeks. I hope that in the next couple weeks I will have enough women to hold my first focus group. Today I went to one of secondary clinics where I was supposed to meet the head nurse of the Reproductive Health department so that she could introduce me to the nurses…see, I was trying to avoid the situation of being a random cold-call Gringa showing up to ask for help recruiting. Unfortunately, in a classically Colombian move, the head nurse didn’t show up. So I decided just to go for it and introduce myself. And I was pleasantly surprised when the nurses welcomed me in, listened attentively, and *seemed* eager to help. Ha! I could have done that weeks ago! This whole time I was trying to use my connections to get an “in” and the entire time I could have just created it myself…ay ay ay. Tomorrow I am heading to the last site to start recruitment there. Terron Colorado. One of the poorest and least safe neighborhoods in the city. I have heard many stories (no jewelry, no wallet etc.) but I will hopefully have an actual 1st person report soon. My guess is that, like most of the other “barrios populares” in Cali, basic safety measures and daylight will serve just fine.
On the personal front, I am dancing like crazy, (getting much better but still have a long way to go), studying Spanish, doing yoga, exploring Cali, and spending plenty of time being giddy over a new-ish relationship. Life continues to be amazing in nearly every way. I was also amazingly lucky to get to spend New Years with my uncle Doug, my aunt Helen, and my wonderful cousins Travis, Mira, Amanda, and Maria (along with many other amazing folks) on a scuba diving trip on the island of Bonaire. (Yes, I know, going on a tropical island vacation from my life of parties and Salsa in Cali…it’s totally absurd). The diving was amazing and the weather was beautiful, but the best part by far was getting so much time to bond with my cousins.