By Laura Raines , Pulse editor
He was from South Dakota. She was raised in Atlanta. They met in 1997 at the University of Alabama Hospital in Birmingham, where she was a trauma nurse and he was a nurse in the open heart intensive care unit.
Chad Pickering knew there was a good possibility he would marry a nurse.
“Working with so many young women at the hospital, there seemed to be a high likelihood of it happening. It didn’t matter to me either way, but when I met Shalice, I knew,” he said.
The two started dating in 1997.
“It was actually nice that we understood what each other went through in a day. We became best friends,” Shalice Nicholson Pickering said.
“It’s good to have someone to share with or vent to at the end of the day. Nursing is not always the easiest job,” he added.
They both liked taking caring of people and they appreciated the job security and flexibility that nursing offered. The two became traveling nurses and were married in 1999.
“We wanted to travel for the nursing experience and to see where we wanted to live,” she said.
“Having grown up in the geographic center of North America, I wanted to try coastal living,” he added.
They worked in California, Charleston, S.C., and Florida.
“In 2000, we spent a year in Saudi Arabia and traveled all over that part of the world,” she said. “It was an experience of a lifetime. I guess you can say we’ve lived our life backward. Most people travel after they retire. We traveled first and then had kids.”
“We didn’t go any place that there wasn’t a job for both of us, but being nurses, that was rarely an issue,” he said. “Nursing afforded us so many different experiences and a nice lifestyle as well.”
Sometimes they found jobs in the same unit.
“Chad is awesome and fun to work with. He’d know what I needed before I said a word,” she said. “It helped, because other nurses are often distant with travelers until they get to know them.”
Eventually, they decided to start a family and bought a house in Raleigh, where they lived for three years.
“We were nesting, but then we began having fertility issues and [we] were getting frustrated. When everyone on the block was getting pregnant, I knew it was time to move,” she said.
Parenthood became a possibility when Chad’s brother’s wife, Cindy Pickering, offered to be a surrogate mother.
“She was my angel,” Shalice said.
Matthew and Grace Pickering were born on Feb. 7, 2008, in South Dakota. Having the “priceless” twins was a life-changing experience.
“We understood each other very well and I was sure we’d be good parents, but no one can prepare you for what it’s like,” he said.
Wanting to escape the South Dakota cold and live closer to her family, the couple moved to Atlanta in August 2007.
“For three months we lived with my mom and saved for a house,” she said. “Chad worked three nights and I worked the other three nights, so it was like we were both single-parenting and never saw each other. It was very difficult.”
They bought a home and Shalice Nicholson Pickering cut back to working one night a week in the surgical intensive care unit at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Chad works three nights a week in the cardiac intensive care unit at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
“Even with Shalice cutting back, it still seems like we don’t have enough time with the kids together,” he said. “I feel fortunate to have the flexibility of 12-hour shifts and not to have to do day care, but it still seems like we can’t get anything done.”
He wonders how couples who work regular 40-hour schedules do it.
Not surprisingly, they’ve rethought their career plans.
“I had always planned to further my education, but right now I want to be a mom and enjoy every minute of it. Maybe later,” she said.
She won’t quit working altogether because she wants to keep her nursing skills up to date.
At one time, Chad Pickering wanted to become a nurse anesthetist, but he thinks he would miss out on too much of his children’s lives if he started a program now.
“People tell you to keep your priorities straight, but it’s hard.” he said. “Family is No. 1, but right now work is No. 1 and a half.
“I just started this job at CHOA. They set high goals here. I want to do well and [I] believe that I can.”
Becoming a father changed him as a nurse.
“Taking care of kids now at work is a whole different job,” he said. “I had a high degree of empathy before, but I didn’t really understand how those parents felt.
“The first couple of days seeing little babies hooked up to so much apparatus really got to me. It had never been an issue before.”
Being a father and a nurse has helped him in both roles.
“Children are so amazing, and I can’t help but think of my own when I’m working here,” he said. “I feel honored that parents trust me to care for their [children], and I think they can tell. This job makes me a better parent at home, and being a parent makes me a better nurse. I didn’t realize that would happen.”