Welcome to our third Wednesday Workout.? In this series, we are listening to Christians in different occupations/professions describe a little of how they work out what is means to life out their faith on their workplace frontline.
For this post, I interviewed Mary (a pseudonym) who works in a major provincial hospital as a lactation consultant.? Mary?s role requires her to have regular interaction with new mothers and a range of medical professionals.
Murray: ?So Mary, there must be many times in your job where you experience significant satisfaction. ?When do you get the deepest sense of satisfaction and joy from the work that you do?
Mary: ?Knowing that you have a real and positive impact on someone else?s life gives me the greatest satisfaction.? It may not be just solving a physical issue associated with breast feeding but a fuller intervention.? What I mean by that is, I try to acknowledge and reassure the person all the time.? For many women, particularly when they are feeling quite vulnerable having just had a child and being unsure if they are ?doing it right?, a hospital and the whole medical experience can be quite intimidating.?
Murray: ?Tell me a little bit more about why the experience is intimidating?? I know in the context where I have primarily worked ? schools ? parents often say the same thing.? They feel intimidated by teachers and school administrators.? Is this what you are talking about??
Mary: Yes, there are strong power dynamics in these woman- doctor/nurse relationships and I see that in a fundamentally different way to many of my colleagues.? It is so easy to use your superior knowledge or your perceived status and position to intimidate the woman.? Even though that it seldom the intention, it is the reality of how the woman can be made to feel. They can be made to feel very foolish about their feelings or their actions.? And they are particularly vulnerable at this time despite arguably a better education about giving birth and feeding a newborn.
Murray: ?So what approach do you take Mary?
Well, the starting point for me is not what I think is wrong and what I think is the best solution but rather to come alongside the woman and just listen.? I try hard to listen carefully to their story and then, as I said before, acknowledge their concerns and reassure them.? I guess I try to treat them as equals and empower them in that way.???
Interlude: While Mary and I were having this conversation, a woman nursing a 14 month old boy came up and said, ?Would you mind if I interrupt? I just wanted to thank you Mary for all the assistance you gave me when my child was born.?? With a wide smile and clear sense of achievement, she went on to explain that she had managed to feed her little boy for 11 months and had only stopped because she had to return to work. I felt privileged to listen in to a conversation that authenticated what Mary had just said about the sort of relationship she seeks with the woman she cares for ? I was seeing it in action!
Murray: ?Are there any other areas where you experience real satisfaction, where you feel that you are making a difference?
Mary: ?Yes, the other area that excites me is working with student midwives and doctors ? I get to run training and education sessions with them so there is the opportunity there to not only ?fill in the gaps? in their medical education in relation to lactation issues, but I also get to model a different way of thinking about the professional/client relationship.? I get to describe how I approach the women who come in ? listen, acknowledge, reassure ? and I get some great feedback that this have been appreciated.
Murray: ?So we have talked about the times when your work is deeply satisfying, and I have just witnessed an example of that (see story above).? I am guessing, in fact I know, that it is not always like that.? Tell me about the times when you experience the result of the fall in your workplace?
Mary: ?You?re right – that links back to what I have already said.? There are many examples of unhealthy relationships within the health profession – rivalries, power inequities, bullying of staff and patients, climbing the ladder, backstabbing ? I could go on!?
Co-workers have told me that they have been advised not to refer women to our service? – the service we provide is not valued.? They will actively undermine it! So, I often feel that the work I do is not valued by other colleagues.? So one of the roles I constantly find myself in is advocacy ? advocating for the value of our program because I know the difference it makes to young mums.? But I am also advocating for the women and the importance of hearing them, listening to them more carefully.
Murray: ??Finally Mary, tell me about the ?redemption? work that you do.? Obviously, there are limitations to what you can say and do as A Christian in your workplace.? Apart from the ways you have already described, how do you find you faith working out in a hospital environment? ?Where can you have an influence for Jesus?
Mary:??Well I hope that my influence has most impact in my relationships ? staff and the women I care for.? I try to ?go the extra mile? and make an impact that way.? There are women coming to our church as a result of the relationship we have developed and me having the opportunity to quietly mention my church association.? Some have become involved with play group, one lady is coming to my home group and others are coming along on Sunday morning. ? ? ?
Murray:? Thanks Mary for sharing so honestly with me and our readers.
One of the models that I have been using to help people think about their fruitfulness of the frontline is the 4M model.?? As I reflected on my conversation with Mary, I could easily see how her workplace witness mirrored all of the aspects of the model:
- Mary MODELS Godly character and sacrificial service as she ?goes the extra mile? her workplace (1 Peter 2:11-12)
- Mary MINISTERS love and grace in the way she assists the women who come in.(Titus 2:9,10)
- Mary is a MAKER of good culture when she challenges power inequities.? She does good work as she listens, acknowledges and reassures vulnerable women (Matthew 25:37,40)
- Mary is a MESSENGER of the gospel, truth and justice and she advocates for the vulnerable and is open about her faith in Jesus (1 Peter 3:15-16)
Murray Wright (15 March, 2014)
PS: ?While not directly related to the work that Mary is doing, you might like to watch John van Sloten?s exploration of the profession of midwifery as a metaphor of God?s dealings with those to whom he has given birth ? you and me!?