Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Unanticipated Strengths by Kirsten Ziegenhagel

While working on a general paediatrics ward for the first week of my clinical in Ghana, I discovered a number of strengths among the mothers with sick children. I have come to the conclusion that Ghanaian mothers are: (1) resilient, (2) courageous, and (3) patient. I was not expecting to see these types of strengths among mothers who were facing the uncertainty of whether or not their child would survive.

            The Ghanaian women seem very resilient. Resilience is defined as “the ability to bounce back” (Smith et al., 2008). The personal attributes of resilient people include “an internal locus of control, pro-social behaviour, empathy, positive self-image, optimism, and the ability to organize daily responsibilities’ (McAllister & McKinnon 2009, p. 373).” The Ghanaian women showed these attributes through the way they cared for their children.  No matter what circumstances they faced, they were still able to persevere. An example of the resiliency I saw on the unit was portrayed by a young mother with two-month-old twins weighing only 2 kilograms each. They were facing malaria, sepsis and gastroenteritis. The mother was advised to supplement her breast milk with high caloric formula in order for the babies to gain some weight. Everyday, the mother would attempt to feed her babies the extra formula with a teaspoon, the only resource she had to feed her babies. It would take her a very long time, but she would sit there spoonfeeding her babies one by one until they were no longer hungry. Whatever challenges she faced, she always did so with a smile on her face and at least one baby in her arms.

I was particularly impressed with the courage that these women portrayed. A lot of the children on the ward were extremely ill and these parents faced the possibility that their child may die. Yet every day on the unit when I would approach the mothers to talk to them they would smile and have a conversation about their child. They were able to laugh when something humorous happened on the unit and able to comfort or scold their child if needed. Their role of a mother did not change. The women were strong for their children and always able to comfort their sick child. An example of the courage seen would be in the mothers of the children who have unshunted hydrocephaly, an anatomical condition where the ventricles are unable to drain cerebral spinal fluid. These women would shower their babies with love and affection, continue to breastfeed and hold them. Despite how different their baby looked, this did not deter the mother’s from treating them any differently. Even when husbands were not involved with the babies after their diagnosis of hydrocephaly, the women continued to love their child.  I did not once see the mother’s of these babies cry. The women handled their baby’s condition with tremendous strength.

            The last strength I want to shed light upon would be the patience these women have. Some of these babies are hospitalized for months at a time. These mothers did not leave the bedside unless they were washing up or getting medication from the pharmacy. Everything revolved around their child and their child’s wellbeing. The women slept in plastic lawn chairs beside their child’s bed, they were patient while awaiting rounds from the doctors in the morning and the mother’s never complained of how exhausted they were.  I was amazed at how they were able to sit and comfort their child for as long as needed. Their patience was an invaluable lesson on what is truly important in life.

            The Ghanaian mothers I've seen are incredibly strong. The circumstances they may face never seem to knock them down. They continue to be resilient no matter how many children they have previously lost or how ill their child is. They continue to show courage by always smiling and patience by never complaining and always diligently waiting at the bedside. I was not anticipating discovering these strengths. I had the assumption that because their child was hospitalized, the mother’s would have shown their distress. I don’t think I have ever met such strong, incredible women. Their will to keep going even after all the hardships they endure has inspired me to be stronger woman in the difficulties I may face in my lifetime.

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