Charlotte Minnema opens up about NP school, miscarriages, and graduation
How long have you been an RN and what inspired you to become an NP?
I have worked as a Registered Nurse (RN) in Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for five years and have always known that I wanted to be a Primary Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. I decided I wanted work with pediatrics to promote wellness throughout their lives after exploring both Neonatal Nurse Practitioner and Certified Nurse Midwife tracks. Although I love my being an NICU nurse, the ability to establish and maintain a relationship with families, and be more invovled in the education and health promotion of children is something I wanted to do.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in completing your program and what resources did you turn to for help?
My journey has been nontraditional from the beginning of the program. As a full-time student, I had many challenges such as deliverying my son with one month left in one semester, breastfeeding while working part-time, and the responsibilities of being a wife and a new mom. Thankfully, I had received support from our amazing faculty and administrative and completed that semester with straight A’s. My son even joined me for my final presentations.
The difficulty of school grew in my last year of the program. I was now harmonizing clinicals,, my DNP project, and my role as President of our Graduate Student Organization in addition to home. I was lucky if I was home one day a week. Looking back, I could not have completed this program without the support of my husband, our family, and our babysitters.
Then late November 2019 we were excited to find out that we were pregnant again. I was hoping to pass boards before the baby arrived. Unfortunately, that pregnancy ended due to a blighted ovum which is an empty gestational sac. I was crushed. I had to go in for a dilation and curettage (D & C) the first week of January. Why did this happen to me? – is what I asked and continue to ask myself. It was tough caring for babies and children while dealing with a miscarriage. The aftermath was even slower because we had to wait for blood results and ultrasounds. I was able to grieve during winter break and held myself together when I returned to school and work. What I didn’t expect was a village of supporters when I shared my loss on social media. Women I knew for years outreached to me and shared their experiences of pregnancy loss as well. This was incredibly comforting.
By the end of March 2020, we were pregnant again! This time all of my symptoms were reminiscent of my first pregnancy. I had nausea, vomiting, and exhaustion. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had hit, my clinicals were cancelled for the remainder of the semester, and I was diagnosed with shingles the same day I presented my DNP Project Thankfully, I had completed enough hours to complete my degree and sit for boards. I was also assured that the Shingles would not impact the pregnancy. Continuing with life, my family and I threw a “graduation party” on my commencement day taking photos of me in my gown and my little bump. Then on May 4th I went for my initial ultrasound and saw the fetus which was a relief from seeing an empty sac the last time. I noticed that the chest was fluttering, and the ultrasound technician confirmed my worst fear, there was no heartbeat. While studying for boards and jumping through the hoops of credentialing for my new PNP job, I experienced my second pregnancy loss. It was harder to deal with this one. The amount of stress I was already feeling topped with the loss of another pregnancy has been incredibly difficult. To navigate these waters again, I joined a recurrent pregnancy loss support group, and continued to lean on my faith and family. I would not wish this heartache on my worst enemy.
If you have experienced a pregnancy loss, in graduate school or not, consider sharing your story when you are comfortable because you are not alone. According to the American College of Obstetrician and Gynecology (ACOG) early pregnancy loss is common and happens in 10% of pregnancies. Further, March of Dimes state that “1 in 100 will experience recurrent pregnancy loss.” Women all over the world have experienced loss of a pregnancy and empathy is an incredible gift to share during this journey. Today, I can empathize with others because of my story. Women should take pride in caring for their families. I salute new mothers and mothers with older children who are in graduate school because it is difficult to do what most people could only dream of.