Karen is a pediatric hematology/oncology social worker at The Children's Hospital at TriStar Centennial Medical Center in Nashville. In her role, Karen refers her eligible patients to Make-A-Wish Middle Tennessee. She was kind enough to tell us a little about her most important role, being a mom.
Tell us about your kids.
My 2 ½ year old twins are Joseph and Amelia. They were born 3 ½ months early, and they were tiny when they were born. Joseph was 1 pound 13 ounces, and Amelia was 1 pound 2 ounces. They were in the NICU for a while (75 and 101 days), and they both had BPD (Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia) requiring supplemental oxygen when they came home. Amelia was very sick and just came off of supplemental oxygen at night earlier this year. She continues to have some issues with her heart and lungs, but you would never know it because it doesn’t slow her down.
Joseph and Amelia are very active and very different from each other. Joseph is a total boy who is loud and doesn’t sit still very long. He has big blue eyes and a contagious laugh. Amelia is sweet with a very soft voice, and she loves to cuddle. She has red hair and blue eyes, and she is very petite. They love playing together although they aren’t very good at sharing yet.
What does motherhood mean to you?
Motherhood to me means that I have 2 little people who depend totally on me to help them grow, learn, and feel loved. I cannot protect them from everything, but I can hold them when they hurt and show them what unconditional love is. It also means making very hard choices and putting myself second most of the time.
As a mom, how do you approach your role as a social worker differently than before you had kids?
I have always loved children, but now that I have my own kids I have a different perspective. I don’t think it makes me a better social worker, but I do think I see things a little differently now. Knowing what it is like to almost lose a child and to watch them physically hurt makes me realize what the families I work with feel. When the parents hurt, I hurt for them. When they celebrate a milestone, I understand what it is like to feel the excitement and a sense relief. I also know that sometimes nothing I, or anyone on the medical team, can say to help what they are feeling. Being a parent is so hard, and being the parent of a very sick child is not something you can explain to someone who has healthy children. I get that part of it now.
What do you wish people knew about social workers?
I wish people knew that social workers were not just about paying bills for people or taking kids away from their parents. Social workers can be the most kind and open-minded people you will ever run across. They may not be able to fix your problem, but they can help find a way for you to fix it for yourself or feel better about doing it.
Looking through your mom lens, what does a wish experience mean to a child?
Through my mom lens I think the wish experience is a time for a parent to let their child be a child again. It allows for something fun to get your mind off of the awful thing your child and family are going through. It also takes the pressure off of a parent to create that fun experience. Make-A-Wish takes a kid’s wish and makes it explode. Seeing the joy on your child’s face after all he or she has gone through has to be the best feeling in the world for a parent.
Do you want to tell about an especially great or especially tough “mom” moment?
There are so many especially great and tough mom moments that it is hard to narrow it down. My especially tough “mom” moment is when about a month after my kids came home from the NICU, we had beeping monitors and oxygen tanks and cords everywhere, and I was sleep deprived. The babies were both crying and I was losing my cool. I had to make the decision to leave them alone inside and go outside to take a minute to breathe. I knew I was not being a good mom, and had to get control. After a couple of minutes I had calmed down and was able to go back inside. Surprisingly the kids had calmed down a little (probably because I was calmer), and I could give them the attention they needed.
As far as a great moment I’d say it is every day when they hug me. They look at me, call me mommy, and I know that I am the only person in the world that they want at that moment. My son even holds out his hands and says, “Come here mommy.” It is the most precious thing in the world.