From bedside nurse to mom in the NICU

How Children’s nurse, Josiane Pépin’s professional and personal paths have come full circle

Working with patients and families in the Neonatal Follow-Up Clinic is more than just a job for Josiane Pepin – it’s a calling that brought her personal story full circle. Before Josiane became a mom of three, she was a bedside nurse in the Children’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), caring for the hospital’s sickest and preterm babies. She never imagined she might one day find herself in a NICU family’s shoes, needing around-the-clock care for her 34-week old twins, Gustave and Édouard, born in January 2018.

“They needed 12 hours of respiratory support when they were born, and were tube-fed my breast milk once it came in,” she explains. “Gustave had apnea and reflux due to his prematurity, and Édouard needed phototherapy for jaundice. Even though I knew how lucky I was to be giving birth at almost 35 weeks gestation, I was still positive I was going to carry my twins until the end. It was quite unexpected.”

Because of her experience as a bedside nurse, Josiane says having the tables turned suddenly made it difficult for her to embody the role of mom over her role of bedside nurse in the beginning. “Given that they were sick and hooked up to machines in those first few weeks, it took longer for that maternal bond to be formed,” she explains. “I found myself asking a lot of professional-type questions because of my knowledge and experience, rather than looking at things simply as a mother. I trusted my colleagues completely, but it was a foreign feeling to be in my place of work as a mom.”

After just over 2 weeks in the NICU, Josiane was given the good news that her boys were healthy enough to come home – a date she will always remember. Today, her boys are 16 months old and thriving, but she says the experience of being at her sons’ bedside has had a lasting impact and has changed her perspective considerably.

New role, new insights

Upon returning from maternity leave this winter, Josiane began a new nursing position as part of the multidisciplinary team in the Neonatal Follow-Up Clinic, working with many other families who’ve experienced many of the same things she has in her personal journey as a mother. The clinic follows patients born prematurely and who experienced various health complications at birth to follow their development and to refer them to appropriate services if and when needed. It’s a role she says feels destined to fulfil in many ways, because she has an even greater sense of what each family may be experiencing.

“My own journey offers me another kind of expertise that I maybe couldn’t quite offer before I had my children,” she explains. “I try not to compare too much, because every situation is different, but I think I have an additional level of empathy for these families and the patience that they have to exercise on a daily basis when they have multiples, for example.”

“I can definitely relate to how difficult it can be to stay organized, to manage the complex logistics of family life and to manage the fights between kids!” she laughs. “I feel great when I can offer tips or resources that were helpful to me and that I used personally, and I think families appreciate it too. As a parent, it feels validating when you meet someone else who is going through parenthood and they validate how difficult it can be sometimes. The first year is tough. I’m here to tell them I survived and that I’m still learning how to accept that my house will never be as clean. It’s all about patience, and I learn that along with my families.”