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Leslie Carr, RN, Nu’79

“I had been working with the Nurse-Family Partnership for a couple of years in a rural Pennsylvania county. The work involved doing nurse home-visiting with low-income first-time mothers, starting in pregnancy and continuing until the unborn child is two years old.

It is a nationally known, award-winning program in maternal-child public health. The position was especially challenging for me because of a lifelong stutter that has handicapped me throughout a long career in pediatric nursing.

I kept plugging away though, realizing that in all settings, most people cared far more about what I had to say rather than how I said it. Still, to put myself and my clients at ease, when I met them in their homes for the initial Nurse-Family Partnership visit, I would explain that I did have a stutter, that I stuttered every day in all circumstances no matter how I was feeling (brave or frightened, confident or shy, sick or well). I explained to each new mom that it had nothing to with them, being in their homes, or my faith in my ability and enthusiasm to work with them. I asked that they not take it personally.

Each new mom (often along with her family) was quick to assure me that they had a cousin (or someone!) who stuttered and were used to it, or not to worry/it was no problem, or that they were glad I said something to make it less awkward.

I will always remember one pregnant teenager who, after welcoming me into her home, sat on a chair across from mine while we started talking. She sat on her hands, looking like she was ready to jump out of her skin, struggling to stay attentive.

After my explanation about my speech impediment, she muttered, “Oh. Okay. That’s okay,” and then paused for a moment. Next, as she moved her hands from underneath her legs, she began to move rhythmically in her chair, arms in her lap, as her body and gaze relaxed. She said, “Well, that’s okay. I rock.” And she meant it literally. She was most comfortable, both at home and in school, if she self-soothed by vigorously rocking herself. It was not until I exposed my vulnerability–my trouble–and asked her to accept it, that she was free to reveal what she saw as hers.

We set off on a terrific start to a two-and-a-half-year relationship during which she trusted me to support and guide her and her baby during bi-weekly home visits.”

To submit your own story, visit: www.nursing.upenn.edu/humans.