Jennie Sherlock-Loeb & Mandy Irby
Nurses are warriors. They’re always ready to answer the call, never knowing exactly what the next shift might bring. Nurses have strong connections to the individuals they serve and deep investments in the patient experience. They’re tasked with balancing the needs of their patients with their own self-preservation. It can be a difficult balancing act.
Consider perinatal nurses -- those who provide care to individuals before and after childbirth. What many individuals herald as the most exciting day of their lives— the birth of their child—can be fraught with grim, unexpected complications for the patient, and consequently, for the nurse.
Perinatal nursing is a specialty that shoulders tremendous burdens. These nurses may bear witness to traumatic patient experiences and unexpected outcomes during childbirth like stillbirth or the death of the birthing person during delivery. Coupled with a rapidly changing, emotionally charged healthcare landscape of mounting workloads and grueling shifts in an environment that may not offer well-defined support systems, circumstances can be difficult to navigate. Quite predictably, over time, these experiences expose vulnerabilities in the nursing profession. The pressure to provide comprehensive care under such conditions exposes perinatal nurses to unique psychological risks, including:
Perinatal nurses are no strangers to burnout stemming from the intense emotional labor they invest in their work and the frustration of doing so in unsupportive systems. The constant demands of caregiving, increased workload, often juggling long shifts, contribute to a physical and emotional exhaustion that jeopardizes the quality of care.
Secondary Traumatic Stress
The nature of perinatal care makes nurses especially susceptible to experiencing secondary traumatic stress. Witnessing traumatic experiences, such as unexpected outcomes or complications during childbirth, can lead to emotional distress, which, if left unaddressed, can have far-reaching and serious consequences on nurses' mental wellbeing.
Diminished Sense of Efficacy
The emotional toll of perinatal care, coupled with the vulnerability of patients and low confidence in preventing birth trauma, can create a belief among nurses that their efforts don't truly make a difference. This sense of powerlessness undermines job satisfaction and erodes the motivation to remain engaged and continue providing optimal care.
To create meaningful change, healthcare institutions must prioritize and require trauma-informed care training in the professional development of their nurses. This urgently necessary education gives nurses a deeper understanding about pervasive issues affecting patients, such as systemic racism, a soaring maternal mortality rate and pregnant and birthing individuals not being treated with dignity and respect.
Such training equips nurses with a profound appreciation for the impact of trauma on patients, enabling nurses to approach their patients with greater empathy, sensitivity and knowledge of the unique challenges they face. This training simultaneously emphasizes self-care and coping strategies, empowering nurses to protect their mental and emotional wellbeing so they can enjoy their work and personal lives without taking stress home with them. When nurses are supported with the tools to provide compassionate care and offer trauma-informed support to patients, it provides them with affirmation about their sense of professional purpose and effectiveness.
Southern New Jersey Perinatal Cooperative, the state-licensed maternal-child health consortium serving Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties, is hosting a trauma-informed training program entitled Trauma-Responsive Nurse Recovery led by The Birth Nurse, a renowned labor and delivery nurse educator. Sessions will be held October 23 and 24, 2023 at the Cooperative’s Camden office located at 808 Market Street, Camden, New Jersey.
This training will examine and identify opportunities for nurses to connect more deeply with patients to provide equitable, inclusive and personalized care. Nurses will be trained to develop strategies to overcome barriers, identify symptoms of traumatic stress and implement healthy self-care practices like stress reduction.
The health of our patients and healthcare systems hinges on the health and wellbeing of our nurses. It’s time we create psychologically safe and supportive environments for perinatal nurses and make these urgently needed training investments in these powerful birth advocates.
While this training may not be a solution to every perinatal health complexity, it is a blueprint to uplift our nurses, enabling them to provide exceptional care while safeguarding their own emotional health.
To learn more about the Cooperative’s Trauma-Responsive Nurse Recovery training, email: JSherlock@snjpc.org.
Jennie Sherlock-Loeb of Medford Township is a board-certified inpatient obstetrics nurse and the director of clinical and professional education at the Southern New Jersey Perinatal Cooperative. Mandy Irby of Virginia, the founder of The Birth Nurse, is a trauma-focused labor & delivery nurse educator, transformational speaker & healthcare consultant, and podcaster.
Read the guest column in the Courier-Post by clicking here.