Martha Sears Discusses Nursing & Motherhood
by Lauren Sears
As a kid, I would usually forget that my mom was a nurse. I never saw her in scrubs, or loop a stethoscope around her neck. In fact, I rarely heard about her nursing days. It was more my dad who reminded me of my mom’s nursing profession by frequently reminiscing about the days he pursued (and won) my mom while they were both working at St. Louis University in the 60’s. Then of course there was the proof, subtly displayed in my childhood home. Surrounded by a sea of frames, a modest 4×6 nursing portrait of my mother hangs proudly, putting all the other family photos to shame. Captured in sepia, my mother delivers a half smile while dressed in a traditional nursing uniform — a get-up my friends and I would consider “vintage.” For the most part, I didn’t know anything about the stunning nurse in the picture, so I was excited to sit down with my mom and hear about her life as a nurse before she was my mom. With an apple in her hand and a purple thermos full of water by her side, my mom and I sat at the kitchen table and talked about her nursing journey and its profound impact on her, on our family, and her life’s work.
Q: Did you want to be a nurse when you were little?
Taking a bite out of the apple, she ponders the question, “I really didn’t think about nursing till I was in high school. I guess when I was little I wanted to be a mom. I played with dolls — my sister and I played with dolls — but I don’t think I had any idea about education and career stuff till I was in high school.” She continued, “I discovered I liked Biology and Chemistry, and I thought, well that would mean nursing school would be easy because I wouldn’t have trouble with those subjects. During my junior year of high school, a couple of my friends were talking about nursing and we were figuring it out together.” I pictured her talking to her girlfriends about how fun it would be to be a nurse while they walked through their high school campus — preferably one that resembled Rydell High from Grease.
Q: Once you graduated from high school and decided to do Nursing, where did you go to college?
“After high school, I went to a three year RN program at St.Vincent de Paul Catholic Hospital in St. Louis. The Sisters who ran the hospital were the Daughters of Charity, the ones that wore the big white cornets (“God’s Geese” we called them). They still wore those habits when we were there, I think they modified them 3 or 4 years later. I did well because I was smart, and I got the highest academic award in my graduating class. I finished my nursing program with an RN diploma in 1965 — and then I started a fellowship program between the nursing school and Saint Louis University. It was a two year program where I would then finish with a bachelor’s degree. So the fellowship was kind of like a scholarship where I worked for my tuition, it was a good deal. And about one month into the fellowship, I met your dad. I finished the first year of the fellowship and we got married, then we had to move from there to Boston for Bill’s internship.”
Q: Did you work as a Nurse after you got married?
“Your dad made practically no money as an intern, so I worked as a hospital nurse. I had a complicated pregnancy with Jim so I switched to doing phlebotomy. When I was pregnant with Bob two years later, the childbirth class was so much better than the first one we went to, that I decided I wanted to teach these classes myself. I continued giving my childbirth classes for years; and before I got pregnant with Stephen [baby number 7], I was seriously considering becoming a doula or midwife. Also during this time, I became a certified lactation consultant after years of being a La Leche League leader.”
Q: What was it about Nursing that made you choose the profession?
“The idea of helping people. If you ask anyone who wants to do medicine or nursing, it’s always going to be I want to help people — that’s just what it is. It sounds so cliche, but that’s what it is. And I realized that, as a bonus, nursing would be a good preparation for becoming a mom. I’d know how to take care of my kids when they are sick, and plus I could be flexible with what kind of job I’d have; if I wanted to work part-time it was easy to do that.”
Q: How has Nursing shaped you into who you are and how you live your life?
“That’s a $64,000 question… Well, it’s a huge part of my identity. So first, I’m a child of God, then a wife, a mom and a nurse. Nursing has made me be very empathetic with people, very compassionate, and wanting to help them with problems. Being a nurse has helped me have a handle on a lot of personal circumstances, especially when my own kids were sick, and then myself, and then when your dad got cancer. I got to be his personal nurse… personal care here! When we had Stephen, it was helpful to be able to understand his issues.”
Q: How has nursing shaped your view of health and wellness?
“Nursing really influenced the way I look at health and nutrition. Years ago [with baby number three], we were friends with another couple who had kids the same ages as ours. She knew a lot about nutrition, and I was impressed with what she knew. And being a nurse of course, I knew she was right; I just hadn’t gotten to that level yet. For example, she didn’t buy baby food, she made her own — and I was like, that’s what I’m going to do! So then I started reading more about health and nutrition. Before Hayden was born [baby number four], I was reading a book about how bad sugar is for you and that totally turned me into a fanatic about sugar and understanding how dangerous it is for us to have so much sugar in our diet. Even in my childbirth classes, I was always big on teaching nutrition. And then you know, practice what you preach, you can’t be preaching all this stuff [nutrition] and not do it, right?” Chuckling, she adds, “Bob still jokes about how all the other kids got to eat the see-through lettuce and they were stuck with eating deep green lettuce.” I laughed too, and remembered the grade-school days at the lunch table, when I would try so desperately to trade the red peppers my mom would pack in my lunch every single day; but never, not once, did I have any takers. Oh, the life of a Sears kid!
Q: Would you say that nursing sparked your interest and passion for nutrition?
“Yes, and it was like I could be authoritative about it because I had the nursing degree to back it up, it’s not just my opinion.”
Q: What do you miss most about being a nurse?
“I miss just being there, even when I go up to your dad’s office [pediatric practice], I love being around. I miss being on the phone, talking to moms, just having that nurse-patient relationship. When I walk through the halls of hospitals, I just remember… it was so cool.” I wanted her to expand on that moment. What was that feeling like, walking down the halls as a nurse? She reminisced, “It was trippy, it was like, Hey, I’m in charge here! It was empowering because I loved what I was doing. I was good at it, and I got to make a difference.
As I listened to my mother tell me the evolution of her nursing career, I couldn’t help but remember what she said at the very beginning of our conversation. Before nursing was on her radar, she “wanted to be a mom.” I’m sure my seven siblings can attest to this: my mother is the definition of compassion. She also gives great foot rubs, and with no hesitation, will physically crush whole ice cubes into tiny ice chips when we’re sick. There’s no doubt my mom was designed to be a mom and to help others, nursing allowed her to do both. And through nursing, she found her passion in childbirth education, helping women become mothers themselves…that’s a full circle if I’ve ever heard one.
From our hour together, chatting about her eventful life before my time, I got up from the table feeling honored to call her “Mom.” And now, when I pass through the hallway and look at that youthful nurse in the small wooden frame, my heart is warmed, for I recognize her more than I ever did before.