Daneane McLaughlin, RN, BSN, has been a women’s health nurse for the entire 17 years of her nursing career. “I absolutely love pregnancy, I always have,” says McLaughlin. Ever since nursing school it's just clicked with me, it's been my niche.” For the last seven years McLaughlin has been a nurse home visitor with Nurse-Family Partnership, a free, voluntary program designed to support high-risk first-time moms—specifically risks caused by economic adversity—from pregnancy through their child’s second birthday.
McLaughlin visits her clients in their home and is able to see firsthand the obstacles they have to overcome. “It's a very intimate kind of relationship that we grow with our clients,” says McLaughlin. “As the name says, we're able to partner with our clients from exactly where they are, we literally meet them where they are.”
An important part of her role is empowering her clients to speak up if they feel that something is not right. “We start that messaging in pregnancy before there's even a problem. We say, ‘hey you have a voice, please use it, trust yourself. If you really feel as though something's not right, please speak up. And if you don't like the answer you get, try getting a second opinion. But do not take no for an answer. Please trust your gut and use your voice.”
When moms do not speak up, horrible things can happen, warns McLaughlin. She believes it’s the main reason why the maternal mortality rate in the U.S. is so high; according to the CDC, three in five pregnancy-related deaths were preventable, with preeclampsia being the leading cause. At Nurse-Family Partnership, McLaughlin is part of the maternal morbidity and mortality taskforce alongside her role as a home nurse. “As I talked to my clients and heard their stories, so many of them sounded so similar—how they felt dismissed and not listened to and not heard,” says McLaughlin.
And then four years ago, she had her own baby and experienced it firsthand when she developed postpartum preeclampsia. “At the end of my pregnancy, I was telling my doctor that I was seeing these red flags and the doctor literally dismissed every single red flag that I brought up,” she recalls. McLaughlin knew she wasn’t wrong and kept pushing the doctor. “He actually said, ‘because of your passion and because this is your area of expertise, I'll send you across the street to get checked.’ But not because he was seeing what I was seeing, and it frightened me not for myself, but for my clients. As a nurse we're taught to question. We're taught to not just take things at surface value. And I was really determined to empower my clients, to have the same passion for knowing that they are not wrong. I was nearly one of those statistics.”
As part of the maternal morbidity and mortality taskforce, McLaughlin worked with doctors and hospitals to create a standardized reaction to any of the typical things that cause mortality in the postpartum period. She points out that it is important that everyone—doctors, nurses and moms—is on the same page and getting the same message. “Because it's very confusing for the client when the doctor says a blood pressure of 160 over 90 is okay, but the nurse is like ‘no, you need to go to the hospital.’”
Nurses are in it to help people, but compassion fatigue is real
McLaughlin knew she wanted to be a nurse since she was six years old, and growing up looked up to her maternal great grandmother and her paternal grandmother who were both nurses. “My grandmother is still a nurse. She’s in her 70s, but she's very much young at heart. It’s quite rudimentary, I pursued nursing because I wanted to help people. I fit into the nursing profession well and I feel that the nursing profession fits with me well.”
But as a mother of two young boys, ages eight and four, she admits it can be challenging balancing family and work. She recalls that morale dropped in the early days of the pandemic, especially among nurses who had young children.
“At Nurse-Family Partnership, we are very tight knit and we enjoy being around each other. When the pandemic hit, we immediately went virtual to keep everybody safe, but we missed each other and our clients. Thinking back, no one was prepared. Suddenly, you’re a teacher and lunch lady and school nurse and custodian, everything your child needed at school, on top of juggling your work as nurse.”
Fortunately, the creator of the home visitation program at Nurse-Family Partnership, because of the nature of the relationship nurses cultivate with their high-risk clients, recognized the possibility of compassion fatigue and burnout while building the program—and that became especially critical during the pandemic lockdowns.
“We have clients with some heavy life experiences and they feel better by taking it off their shoulders and sharing it with us and we're heavy laden with it,” notes McLaughlin. “Additionally, we are quite autonomous in our jobs and we often work alone and it becomes easy to take those things and hold them in. But, thankfully, sharing is built in and it is encouraged, specifically to fight off burnout. We have one-on-one meetings with the supervisor just to decompress, so that you don't carry the load on your own.”
At the same time, McLaughlin is grateful for the spotlight on nurses during the pandemic and hopes that people recognize the value of nurses and the nursing profession. While the pandemic hit nurses hard, McLaughlin hopes that the spotlight on nurses also shines light on all the various ways you can be a nurse and it impresses upon young people to pursue nursing as a career.
“I want people to know that the front line is not just the hospital,” explains McLaughlin. “I want young people to see all the possibilities. There are nurses holding babies in NICUs, there are nurses in community clinics, in homes, as well as in some very exciting roles like in airplanes doing air lifts. There's a wide variety of what you can do with nursing. It's a really valuable profession to be in, especially if you care about people and want to make an impact on lives.”
At 40, McLaughlin has many dreams for herself, including completing the master’s program she started “once upon a time when I was bright eyed and ready to take on the world, but then life happened.” For now, she is grateful to her clients for letting her into their lives. “I appreciate when they let me see the depths of what they're going through, because we're breaking, we’re overcoming, a lot of cycles together.”
Johnson & Johnson Foundation supports the Nurse-Family Partnership through its work with United Way of Central Jersey.