The COVID crisis permeates so many elements of who we are and what we do. Many people are struggling with the emotional toll of life being out of their control, and it is no wonder when you consider all that has happened in the past 18 months.
For nurses and midwives, even with smaller numbers of infections compared to the international experience and periods of zero transmission, there continues to be reports of the healthcare system being under increasing pressure. This in turn creates a growing toll on the emotional health of those working on the frontline.
Flashback to the beginning of 2020, with our health system already overburdened by providing care for all manner of health concerns considered part of day to day life. We collectively watched with growing concern the start of the pandemic and the overwhelmed health services in Wuhan. That was the start of it.
From there, the reports worsened, COVID was detected in Australia, the rules and restrictions were progressively announced. Freedom to work, travel, exercise, visit friends and family, all came under the remit of governments.
It was, and still is, a bit surreal that a pandemic has and is really happening.
Everyone has their personal “COVID” stories. Here is a tiny snapshot of one of mine.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I was halfway through pregnancy with our family’s third baby. Visits at the hospital became a lonely affair with no partners or children allowed. The beautiful midwifery group practice rooms were relocated in the hospital to make way for a COVID maternity ward, and my hopes for a non-medicalised birth felt threatened. I was petrified I would get COVID and be without my support people when my baby was born or, my absolute worst nightmare, be separated from my newborn baby. Thankfully, I did not get COVID, but the arrival of our son was not without complications. With hospital visitors limited, including my partner, the time around his birth was another relatively lonely experience. More complications in the weeks that followed with my bub’s health and mine meant more medical appointments and hospital visits alone with him. What would have been stressful experiences pre-COVID were dialled up amid stage 4 restrictions and still so many unknowns about the virus.
Being on the other side of healthcare delivery, I could feel the underlying level of anxiety and stress of workers, including nurses and midwives on the front line. I was cognisant of the added pressure the health system was experiencing of needing to be THE support for those requiring healthcare who were attending to their health needs alone amidst stay at home orders.
And here we are, over 18 months on, continuing to experience lockdowns, the threat of COVID overrunning our health system, and restrictions on attendance to healthcare services.
How does this relate to professional practice?
As nurses and midwives, we put so much of ourselves into looking after others. The pandemic has asked nurses and midwives to step up a notch when they were already pushed. To continue to turn up to work. To care for our community and be the support in the absence of others. Nurses and midwives have been hailed for the compassion and kindness they have shown during this time.
Unfortunately, as nurses and midwives, we don’t always have the same amount of compassion and kindness for ourselves or our colleagues. We also often have so much compassion for others that we downplay our own experiences and tell ourselves, ‘it could be worse’, seldom acknowledging that whilst it could be worse, it still isn’t easy.
How does this play out for self-care, personal and professional relationships and the mental health of our caring professions?
As the pandemic goes on, as you continue to work caring for others, take a moment, or more, to think about how you are going. What are your COVID stories? What are your wins, even the small ones? Have you been showing yourself compassion and kindness?
Your ANMF Branch staff are there for you if you need it. You can also contact Nurse and Midwife Support, a 24/7 national support service for nurses and midwives providing access to confidential advice and referral. It’s okay to ask for help: www.nmsupport.org.au/