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Life’s calling: Stories of nursing, teaching and mothering

Some professions, like teaching and nursing, are truly vocations. In May, we honor both with National Teacher and National Nurses Day. Two Tampa Bay moms share perspectives from each field, both of which are greatly impacted by COVID-19. From journeying to motherhood to realizations about balance, a bay area science teacher and a nurse practitioner—both accustomed to offering help—share ebbs and flows from the past year.

Life’s calling: Stories of nursing, teaching and mothering
Stephanie and Ryan Cooke at Superbowl LV.

Stephanie’s Journey     

An Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner (orthopedic surgery), Stephanie Cooke entered nursing because of the relationships she could forge with patients. “After shadowing, I saw the impact we make in people’s lives just through interacting. Twelve hours meant 100 patients. There was clinic, post-ops, traumas, and hospital work.” Organized chaos, surely, but the extroverted Cooke thrived.

While she was furloughed for weeks during the pandemic’s peak, patient contact went virtual for Cooke. “Telemedicine was tough. I couldn’t get good physicals. Appointments became counseling and coaching centered.” Now back in the clinical setting, she’s grateful for the interactions that attracted her to nursing—the opportunities to hear patients’ stories in person again.

House Call  

COVID-19 birthed meaningful choices in Stephanie’s personal life. “COVID forced slowing down and shifting perspective. My husband and I grew closer, realizing our marriage must remain a priority; knowing with certainty we wanted a baby.”

Before COVID-19 when the couple focused primarily on their careers, they tried getting pregnant for two years. In April 2020, Cooke began IVF. “It was one of the hardest experiences of my life because Ryan couldn’t attend appointments. He couldn’t FaceTime during ultrasounds. He did his best to support me but, understandably, felt left out.” A pandemic pregnancy was exceptionally emotional. “Sometimes, I almost shut down,” Cooke says. Nervous about the vaccine, she registered and canceled three times before getting vaccinated. “I’m still nervous. I want her to be protected but question whether or not I made the right choice.”

Claire Addison Cooke

Claire Addison Cooke, born April 5, 2021, is the brightest silver lining.

Encompassing Empathy

While Cooke doesn’t have clarity on what work-life blend will look like as a parent, she sees herself staying in practice. “Nursing gives me much purpose in life. Still, I want to attend Claire’s field trips and afternoon practices.”

Pregnancy during COVID-19 taught Cooke the centrality of empathy. “Now, when patients enter crying, I know how crucial my relatability is. I understand being alone, having no emotional caregiver next to you. I put myself in patients’ shoes, and I hope healthcare professionals would stay to help me or my mom. Greatness is showing compassion. It’s relationships; people are scared when navigating health issues. It’s my responsibility to slow down and acknowledge patients are also people with loved ones.”

Life’s calling: Stories of nursing, teaching and mothering
Lauren Maguire with her husband and three sons, Michael (9), Ben (6), and Luke (5).

Lauren’s Practice

Lauren Maguire, mom of three boys and a science teacher at Jesuit High School has envisioned herself as a teacher since age 5. “I’d come home from kindergarten and teach my sister everything I learned. It’s an innate, integral part of who I am.” The lightbulb moments she witnesses and the thank you messages she receives from former students affirm her calling.

But Maguire never anticipated straddling virtual and real worlds, as both mother and teacher amidst a global pandemic.

Even pre-COVID-19, Maguire’s life was packed. “I’d be at school by 7 a.m., with students already there for academic support.” By her own kids’ 8 p.m. bedtime, she was spent. COVID-19 enabled later wake-up calls, but “There’s no description for what ensued other than anxiety-inducing chaos,” She recalls. Initially attempting to hold real-time instruction for her high school students, while managing her three boys and their instructional Zoom schedules, she only sustained that online model for two weeks.

Choosing an asynchronous instructional model, she held Zoom office hours a few evenings per week. “Those times became therapy sessions. Students joined so they could actually see each other and chat.” Zoom-filled-quarantine days remained long but gave Maguire dedicated daytime for her own boys’ schoolwork and evenings for personalized, student feedback. “There was a learning curve—new platforms included—and bed by midnight wasn’t always possible.”

Maguire needed support, too. “My husband was my rock. He helped whenever he could.” Colleagues also offered strength. “We leaned on, refocused, and reenergized each other. No Super Mom goal. I reevaluated how I allocate time and increased in-the-moment presence with my own kids.” COVID-19 highlighted Maguire’s sentiments that, personally and professionally, she’s where she needs to be. “I’m intent on helping form young men of character and integrity. It’s more than teaching biology. It’s the big picture.”

Ready for a return to solely in-person instruction, Maguire is thankful she received the COVID-19 vaccine. She enters summer with the warmth of lessons learned on her back: wash away guilt; strike the right work-life blend for you.

Daring to Thrive

In their respective professions and roles as mothers, Cooke and Maguire chose to dance with the tides. True to life, there are ever-changing highs and lows. Paraphrasing the great Garth Brooks, we are all vessels, needing to follow life’s flow; learning from what’s passed. May all nurses and teachers have heads high above water.

Originally published in May 2021

Tara Payor, Ph.D.
Tara Payor, Ph.D.
Tara Payor is a language arts educator and has taught students from the middle school level to adult learners at the doctorate level. She earned a Ph.D., in curriculum and instruction, from the University of South Florida. A member of the Junior League of Tampa and KNOW Women, she has two children—Harlow and Hendrix.

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