Rachelle Merka, RN, and her 7 children

Single Mom of Seven Shines as a Travel Nurse

May 5, 2016

Nurses are natural caregivers. They often sacrifice their own comfort to take care of others. No one understands sacrifice better than Rachelle Merka, RN. Rachelle raised seven children on her own while studying for her nursing degree.

Rachelle was raised in a rural community in Andale, Kansas, where the majority of the population was German Catholic. She admits that she lived a very sheltered life and focused on her education and her family when she was young.

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She eventually went off to college where she met her husband and settled down. Within a short space of time, Rachelle was a stay-at-home mom with four children. She loved her time with her children and enjoyed the extensive support of her family and friends, many of whom were also stay-at-home moms.

It was only when her husband took a job in Texas that things took a turn for the worse. She had her fifth and sixth children while living in Texas, and out of the blue, her husband’s job required him to travel during the week. Once vivacious and gregarious, Rachelle found herself at home with six small children and without anyone for support. To add to her stress, they lived on an incredibly tight budget and she couldn’t even afford to go out.

Slowly, Rachelle slipped into a depression. She knew she had to get help so she visited her local doctor. To this day, she remembers what he said to her. 

The doctor told her that when his wife gets depressed, she goes skiing and that she should do the same. Dumbfounded, she went home without the support she needed.

As her depression escalated, Rachelle searched for a solution. At the time (and much to her regret), she felt that divorce was the right decision because she was so unhappy. It was a defining moment in her life.

Rachelle realized she needed to do something to improve her situation. She had always told her children that they needed to do their very best all of the time, and yet she wasn’t leading by example. At 38 years old, she made the decision to start nursing school.

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“It was probably the most difficult time of my life,” she said. “We had very little money and I wasn’t receiving any support from my ex-husband. We lived off of $12,000 for two years. My children wore hand-me-downs and we never had vacations. 

At the same time, the struggles helped my children and I focus on what was really important in life--family. I taught my children that we had a good life and that there were children out there who actually lived in poverty. It made all of us more grateful for even the simplest things in life.”

Determined to continue making her children a priority, even during nursing school, Rachelle never missed one of their games. “I took my books with me everywhere--to swim meets and baseball games. It just felt good knowing that I could still be there for my children.”

Rachelle credits strong leaders in the Boy Scouts for providing her boys with stable, male role models. She said they took her sons camping, fishing and hiking, giving them opportunities she never could.

It was during one family campout sponsored by the Boy Scouts that Rachelle fell in love with camping. “When we could finally find the time and money to take a vacation, we always went camping. We loved spending time outdoors together.”

But her 24/7 schedule was taking its toll. “The pressure was intense,” she said. “I would go to school, study, prepare dinner, do laundry and help my children with their homework, day in and day out. 

It was all getting to be too much. Once again, I went to a doctor and this time, he prescribed anti-depressants. Those anti-depressants changed everything. I was able to focus again and managed to complete my studies.”

Rachelle brings her youngest daughter with her when she travels and they enjoy outdoor adventures together on different assignments

The day Rachelle graduated, she was ecstatic. Everything she had worked so hard for had finally paid off. She started her career as a nurse, eventually remarried and had another child (number 7!).

Now, 13 years later, with most of her children grown and successful in their own right, Rachelle is enjoying a much-needed vacation--as a travel nurse.

She brings her youngest daughter with her when she travels and they enjoy outdoor adventures together on different assignments. Rachelle said she’s a happier person all around when she’s outdoors: so, for Mother’s Day, she plans to go to church, go hiking with her daughter and have a big family dinner.

Rachelle looks back on her life and her decisions, and while she might have changed some things, she never would have changed her choice of professions. “Nursing is a great profession for mothers. It gives you the flexibility to work and still spend time with your children. And travel nursing allows me to spend time close to my own family in Kansas. It’s been great for my parents and my children.”

As a nurse, Rachelle is a huge advocate for women suffering from postpartum depression. “A large percentage of new mothers suffer from postpartum depression and yet some doctors dismiss the symptoms, just like my first doctor had done with me. It’s a much bigger problem than people think, and it’s up to us, as nurses, to be advocates for our patients.”

Her piece of advice for other mothers out there? “Enjoy your children,” she says. “You get so busy with life that you want to make sure you make time for your children because, as we know, they grow up so fast.” No one knows that better than this mother of seven.