‘As a student nurse, I brace myself in anticipation for every placement.’
My mind swirls with the logistics. I need to have the right date, time, and address, somewhere free and within walking distance to park. There is so much to consider. I feel relief when I get all that correct and I’m met by a friendly face who tells me, “Oh yes, welcome Sacha! We were expecting you!” My heart rate returns to a normal range, and I begin to focus on what will happen next.
I meet with the team I’ll be working with and listen in on the day’s handover. My role is defined and I begin work with a new colleague. The team will change over the life of my placement so building a quick rapport is essential. We chat together about general work-related niceties. Once those are out of the way, they want to know whether I have children.
In my experience, no matter the team or environment, it is always the first personal question I am asked, with a broad smile and encouraging eyes. My answer is always the same; I have had plenty of practice. Heart sinking, I try to hold their gaze. I say, “Not yet.”
Nurses are accustomed to asking extremely personal questions. They need to do so day in and day out to communicate with their patients, understand their needs and deliver person-centred care. They do it without embarrassment or judgment. They just need to establish the facts that they will base their care around.
When I got asked this question the first few times, I brushed it off as people being nice, wanting to find out more about me. I still believe this is the case, but I admit I’m getting “Do you have any children?” fatigue. What the questioner doesn’t realise is, that is the most painful question they could ask me. Of course, it isn’t their fault! They are only being kind by making conversation, trying to find some common ground with a new person. They don’t realise that each time I answer that question I feel the skin and bones that cover my heart crack open, exposing the pain and emptiness that being childless brings me. I hold back the tears that stab the corners of my eyes and I steady my voice and lower lip. I answer with a smile to match theirs, “Not yet!” I really try to emphasise that exclamation mark. I want to convey a few things with my answer – it’s fine! No really! Please, don’t feel sorry for me.
That isn’t the end of the conversation. After reassurances along the lines that ‘It will happen for you when the time is right,’ I skilfully refocus the conversation to ask about their children. I genuinely want to share their joy. I adore hearing about how old their children are, the things they enjoy doing at school, and the current trends for birthday presents. The truth is, I love children. I want nothing more than to be a mother. I hope, as my colleagues reassure, that it will happen for me too one day.
Sacha Dutta is an Adult Student Nurse studying at Greenwich University, about to commence her final year.