Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Details

I stood outside the bar, my heart beating shallow rapid pats beneath my sternum. The sky was gray and heavy, threatening rain. I was on the phone with my best friend's little sister, and I was very, very late. She had just been dumped, unceremoniously and casually, by her partner of five years only a week or so prior. So lately, we had been on the phone a lot, sometimes urgently as she cried, and sometimes in comfortable silence while we ate dinner and browsed the internet, separate but together even hundreds of miles apart. I say my best friend's little sister because it is factually accurate, but for all intents and purposes she is also my little sister and I love her fiercely. Given half an opportunity, I would unceremoniously and casually crush her ex's pinky fingers beneath my SUV before sitting him down for a good long chat. Unfortunately, time was not what I had to spare that night. She had called me when I was leaving my house, which meant I had thirty-three minutes to talk with her before arriving at my destination. At minute forty-four, my heart jogging along in my anxious chest, I tried to gently end the conversation.
"Sweets, I'm so sorry, but I have to go. I have a...thing I have to go to." (In my head, I chanted - don't say date, don't say date, don't say date. Nothing says "fuck you and your broken heart" quite like someone else going on a first date.) "How about I call you after, if you're still awake, okay?" She agreed, and I hung up.
I barreled into the bar. I was officially almost twenty minutes late. I was not fashionably late. I was inconsiderate-bitch late. The bar was crowded and yet I found his face in seconds. I remember thinking, Whoah, and then, Shit, I wish I hadn't ruined this by being late.

I apologized and flashed my most winning smile. He accepted, more graciously than I deserved, confidently ordered a water while I ordered a beer, and proceeded to enthrall me for the next two hours. In the car on my way home, I texted my best friend, Call your sister. I was supposed to call her back but I'm busy ;)

* * *

In the dark last night, I held our palms together, carefully lining up the fingers. I tell him how my brain is like a library card catalog, each drawer filled with hundreds of carefully printed white cards, all containing detailed information (much of it useless): here is one with all the lyrics to the Backstreet Boys song, "I Want It That Way;" here's one with a brownie recipe, here's one with the terrible things a nursing school preceptor said to me one dark Tuesday night in med-surg clinical in October 2012, etc, etc. I imagine either the vast swaths of more useful information I could hold, or the oasis of calm that might exist in there if I could stop remembering every little thing. He tells me his brain is like a 3-D web of ideas that connect to each other in complex ways, that the small clusters connect to bigger ones, and he can see how they all relate but when he zooms in close, it's like an impressionist painting that only makes sense from far away.
I don't remember details, he tells me. 
I can't remember anything but details, I reply. 
He drops his hand to my belly and I roll over, eyes heavy. I think, he says softly, that between the two of us, we'll figure it out.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Dream

Gonna pack up and set aside maternity clothes for you...
reads the text from my midwife friend and my heart does a swooping leap and dive that leaves me a little sick.

I delivered her second baby a week ago yesterday. She is my anchor here, our friendship having grown like a sturdy little tree over the last two years, slowly but steadily, tiny leaves of vulnerability opening up between us over the weeks and months. Her first-born can say "Auntie" now, and then grins with pride, waiting for my reaction. He is mischievous and tow-headed and I love him fiercely. He rolled over on my yellow rug at four months old when she told me, We're going to have another one, after swearing up and down that she only wanted one child. I smiled, unsurprised. And waited another six months with her until they started trying again, consoling her gently when periods came and went. We would laugh, saying ruefully, We know too much, and it's true, we do - it is both agonizing and utterly unremarkable to be an expert in all things obstetrics and women's health and then to be a pawn of fate just like everybody else. It didn't take long. That sturdy toddler is twenty months old now, learned to say "baby" and kiss her belly, not a clue what was coming. She came in at 3 AM, I didn't remember it hurt this fucking much, got in the tub, held my hand, walked and rested and swore, tried to manage her own labor, stopped when I snapped at her, watched her baby's heart rate on the monitor till I turned it away, smiled at me in between contractions, said quietly, just once, Don't leave, and eventually, laughing, pushed for all of fifteen minutes and I wept, tears coursing down my face as I lifted up her second little tow-headed boy.

We were walking in the woods near her house three months ago, the dogs skipping ahead. I want to have a baby, I said. Maybe I'll just do it alone. The words hung there, terrifying and raw. She didn't miss a beat. I think that's great. Then our kids can be little together.

It's not what I pictured. I wanted the guy (or the girl) and the dog and the house and the chickens and the babies. It's not what I got, though. Cheryl Strayed gets it:

"Oh, the dream. The goddamned man + baby dream....
But please remember that the dream you have of finding a long-term romantic partner and having a baby is not just one dream. It's two. The partner dream and the baby dream are so intricately woven that you can be forgiven for thinking they're one. It's lovely if it is rolled up into one. It's more than lovely. It's convenient. It's conventional. It's economically advantageous. It's hella good when it's good.
But it isn't what you have."

* * *

I don't have it all worked out. I still don't know most of the answers to only some of the questions. But I'm starting to think that unconventional and inconvenient might be what I've got. Because I've also got friends like her, helping me along.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Solitude

I decorated the porch for this apartment. It's on the third floor, and it faces south and west and the sun slants in, warm and quiet as the days grow steadily longer. It faces a tiny patch of grass and an alley and several other apartment buildings from which I can fairly often overhear people fighting, so it's nice, but, you know, it's also the kind of porch you get off the back wall of an affordable apartment. I put up twinkle lights and chairs and a little metal side table. I filled three pots with herbs and hung a planter and a thermometer with a cheery red needle. I almost never go out there. I don't sit in the chairs except briefly, sometimes, when I get back from a run. I have never, not once, plugged in the twinkle lights. I water the herbs and the planter out of habit. The porch feels like so many other things in my life - like a stupid naive field-of-dreams-type fantasy where I imagined that if I built it, they would come - "they" being someone to share this with. Someone to sit on the porch with me. Someone with whom to install a carseat safely into my sturdy, family-friendly SUV. Someone to eat the pile of leftovers sitting in my fridge until they rot.

And yes, through it all, I am fine. Painfully so. I am really good at being alone. I cook healthy food and I pay all my bills and I work my ass off and never call in sick. I'm open and friendly to cashiers and patients and coworkers. I take the dog for hikes and I go to concerts and I go out to dinner and I go see movies in the theater and I read epic novels from the library and watch interesting shows on Netflix and I talk to my parents and I nurture my friendships and contemplate relearning Spanish - and I do it all alone.

A colleague and I made small talk last night at a going away party. He asked me about why I take my dog to daycare thirty minutes away when I'm at work. I looked at him steadily. We've been friends for almost two years now. Because there's no one else to take care of her for twenty-four hours at a time, I said. He blushed. My perpetual singleness embarrassed him.  He had married (way above his station) and had two beautiful children by the time he was my age.

I told my therapist about Richard. About our relationship and how tumultuous it was, how I felt like I was always guessing at what to do and how to be. Why did you stay with him for so long? she asked me. For a lot of reasons, some of which I mentioned. But mostly because I worried - rightly, as it turned out - that he was my last shot at having a partner and a family on the approximate timeline I'd envisioned.

I change the radio station in the car when love songs come on. I drag my dog into the bed with me most nights, bending myself around her warmth. I cry, briefly and hard and then stop, telling myself savagely, The world doesn't owe you a partner. The world doesn't owe you a single fucking thing.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Moments

We look good together, he says, laying his arm next to mine. His is like copper and milky coffee. I thought I was a little tan after this summer, but next to him, my skin practically glows, its luminescence seems to pulse.
I feel his hand on my belly, and I think idly about how flat it used to be and isn't anymore. I ask him about the work he has to do tomorrow, we joke about the cat calmly sitting at the end of the bed, taking a bath. Privacy is hard to come by around here, I tell him. He doesn't seem to mind.
I like you, he says, and bites my neck, just until it hurts, and then stops.
I like you too, I tell him.
He goes home. I go to sleep.

The chlorine makes my nose twitch. It takes a total suspension of disbelief to get in, every time. It is good practice for work. I know how awful it will feel to get in, and still, I snap on my goggles and push off from the pool wall into the freezing cold. It is the worst thing I've ever felt and it lasts less than ten seconds, I'm already warmer as I stroke down the pool. Nothing feels as good as the first lap, slicing through the water, the fastest I'll be all day. Except maybe the last lap, worn out, my lungs raw, my mind blank but for stroke, kick, breathe; stroke, kick, breathe. It takes all my concentration to remember what lap I'm on, there is no room for anything else. Eleven....eleven...eleven, I chant with each out-breath, the bubbles streaming from my mouth and nose. And then, twelve...twelve....twelve. I am so tired when I get home, I fall into bed, my legs feel leaden and hollow and delicious.

My midwife friend and I, we go to a festival today. It is the most New England affair - the sun is like whiskey and a few leaves fall. In the shade, I'm glad I wore a sweater. We wander through vendors selling handmade wool blankets, delicate watercolor paintings of local flora and fauna, we step over hula hoops left on the lawn for anyone to use. A ragtag group of dreadlocked people play something vaguely bluegrass-sounding, and all of a sudden, she remembers the massage slot she signed up for in the shiatsu tent. She hands me the baby and runs off. He sinks into my shoulder, gums his thumb, and hooks the other hand around my neck. We wander like this for twenty minutes, he is sleepy, sun-warmed, and content. It's been ten months like this, him and me. Auntie Caitlin is here! they cry to him when I come over and he grins, reaches for me, scoops out my beaten down heart and offers it back.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Anywhere but here

It is so hot, the air is like a blanket over the house, this town, this lush green valley. The fan whirs dully and the lurid, waxy dreams cling to me like sticky cobwebs as my mind tries to surface from sleep. My limbs are heavy and damp, there are hot animal bodies pressed into me as I fight to open my eyes against the effects of the sleeping pills that blur the shift from night to day. It feels like giving up, admitting to my doctor that I can't sleep, that the sounds of fetal heartbeats, bump....bump.....bump-ing along at sixty beats per minute, half the rate it should be, that this is the soundtrack of my nightmares, playing on repeat over a looping reel of blue, slick, flopping babies pulled from bodies, silent. 
She listens calmly, makes a case for therapy and hands me a prescription for Ambien, which I fill, defeated but exhausted.

*  *  *

She'd just gone to the bathroom and as she climbed back into bed, the anesthesiologist was on his way, she wanted an epidural for this fourth baby's labor which was speeding along and leaving her breathless in its wake.
The nurse moved the fetal monitor all over her belly, her eyes found mine and time started its elastic stretching and pulling. 
Seconds that lasted hours of silence and then occasional beats heard, way, way too slow. 
She's on her hands and knees now, head into the bed, the oxygen is cranking at 10L a minute, I hear the angry hiss and I feel like I'm floating as I hear my voice ask for gloves, I apologize as I fit my whole hand inside her, feeling for a cord and all I can feel is the baby, her cervix, fluid.
Call the team, page the OB, open the OR, I hear my voice saying and there are four nurses now, we're wheeling the patient down the hall, she's on her back now, I pull her gown over her belly and feel silly for caring that the construction workers don't see her exposed because it will be the last thing she cares about if her baby is dead.
Her eyes find mine and I tell her calmly that she needs to keep taking deep breaths and that she's being very cooperative and I'm so sorry that this is happening but that her baby is telling us he needs to be born this very moment and so that is what we're going to do. 
I scrub for half the suggested time, the OB is here, her eyes are piercing as she checks the patient and the scrub tech dumps an operating kit onto the table with a crashing clang, someone slops half a bottle of iodine on her belly and it splashes the floor and stains dark brown. She's fully now, the OB says and makes a split second decision and I'm holding her legs back, I put my arm under her head and say, Now, you need to push like you've never pushed before. 
Deep breath in, that's right, chin to your chest, push with everything you've got. 
That's right, again, big breath in, no you're not contracting, we can't wait for the contractions, you've just got to push. 
They're putting a vacuum on the baby's head to help you, come on, one more time, yes you can do this, I know you can. 
Big breath in again, and now, GO, PUSH, NOW.

The baby takes a few tentative breaths and whimpers. I hold her hand and tell her calmly and quietly, Can you hear that? That's your baby starting to cry. The pediatrician is making sure he's okay. You need a few stitches, so the doctor is going to give you some numbing medicine first. That's right, deep breaths, it's over now, you did it. You did such a good job.
She looks up at me and the tears start in both eyes, running backwards into her ears on the operating table, she tells me with her words in a rush, I am so glad you were here.
I hug her, hard, her sister weeps into my shoulder and all I can think but would never say is, I want to be anywhere but here.

*  *  *

It's not entirely true, of course.
I love being a midwife. Most of the time.
But I wait, every time, for the time it doesn't end like this. 



DISCLAIMER: whenever I tell work stories here, they are conglomerations of multiple patients and I change details such that the actual stories no longer resemble any one patient's individual story. Yeah, HIPAA.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

If it gets any worse

I am awoken from a feverish dream regarding field hockey and a girl I worked with at camp two years ago whose photos I was stalking on Facebook the other day. The pager is unconcerned, it BEEP BEEP BEEPs with cheery insistence while I blink my scratchy eyes and read the text: She's thirty-nine weeks pregnant and wants to talk about some cramping she's having. I sigh a little internally, but note with relief that the migraine I've been nursing all day has retreated to a dull roar by my nap, which has also left me with damp cheeks and sweaty hair stuck to the side of my face. It's gotta be eighty degrees in here with the sun peeking under the shade, I think. I gulp water while I pull up the patient's chart and dial her number.
She answers, breathless and tells me about having cramps "a few times an hour" for the past few hours and she doesn't know what that means, and it feels different than the cramps she was having the other day, and she doesn't think her water has broken, and most importantly - what should she do?!

I speak slowly and calmly and we talk about all the things that are reassuring about her situation - about how she's not bleeding, and her bag of water is almost certainly intact, and it can be very, very normal to have some cramping and some contractions at thirty-nine weeks pregnant and the best thing she can do is drink fluids, and maybe take a bath, try to sleep, and wait for real labor to start.

So...you're telling me to just...wait? Wait for things to get worse? She asks me, a little incredulous.
Yes, I tell her gently. You can call me back at any point if you feel worse or if you have questions. I'll be here all night.

*  *  *

She hangs up and immediately my phone rings and it's my mom, telling me that the worst I had feared is true, that my dad's infection is not getting better, it's actually getting worse and that he's going to be admitted to the hospital for stronger antibiotics and so they can try to figure out what's going on.

 I was just there, I drove fourteen hours round-trip for a two day visit and it was worth every second and yet now I sit, three hundred miles away, feeling utterly helpless and missing them both so much that a lump rises in my throat even as I tell myself - calmly and rationally - that it's just a UTI gone haywire and ceftriaxone is a wonderful and effective drug and that the chances of him being fine and the chances my patient is not in labor are roughly equal (i.e., approaching one hundred percent).

So...I just need to be here. And wait. Hopefully for things to get better, not worse, I tell myself, and I feel paralyzed. Stuck too far away from the people I love, but in a job I adore and a life that is starting to feel like a soft t-shirt that fits just right.

The words are easy, I've already said them once today, to my patient earlier, and now to my dear mama - I'll be here all night. Call me if it gets any worse.

It feels like the most useless thing I've ever said.

Monday, January 4, 2016

New Year's 2016

1. What did you do in 2015 that you had never done before?
Worked as a midwife.
Drove across the country (and back).
Ended a relationship like an adult.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I had a goal of running a certain amount of miles in 2015 and nope, I didn't do this. I ran some when I was in Arizona, but I petered out, kinda how I always do. I am deep in the throes of trying to figure this out about myself - how to set goals wherein I celebrate the path of accomplishments on the way to complete "success," rather than going halfway or more and feeling like more of a failure than when I started. Helpful comments from the peanut gallery will be warmly welcomed. Please, I have no idea how to do this.


3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes! Two people! My good friend J. had a baby in July and I adore him and am aching now that they've moved to the West Coast but I am determined to go visit as often as I can. My new friend from work also had a baby in November, and while we are new friends (colleagues-becoming-friends?), her baby is a joy and I've been relishing all the time with them I can get.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No, not this year.

5. What countries did you visit?
The Navajo Nation is technically a sovereign nation, so...

6. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?
Rootedness. A sense of home. A love that nurtures and supports rather than criticizes and constrains.

7. What dates from 2015 will remain etched into your memory and why?
The day I drove away from Tuba City was a hard, but wonderful day. Breaking up with Richard was gut-wrenching and painful and ultimately a huge relief.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
 Graduating grad school, passing my boards, finding a job as a midwife were all big. But the biggest one was definitely the daily perseverance of being a new midwife. This shit is hard, guys.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Failing to communicate my needs. Not planning for predictable troubles or difficulties ahead.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
No, I've been (physically) lucky.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
My car. Love it so much that I can nearly forget the pain of monthly payments.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My parents', more than ever. They picked me up and saved me, over and over again.
My puppy's, smartest cutest dog in THE WORLD EVARRR.
My new colleagues', who have wrapped me in love and support and curse words and bad jokes and endless reassurances that yep, this shit sucks and you'll get through it.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Richard's, to some degree. My first MA landlord, for sure. Donald Trump's, as a general rule.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Yale. Moving expenses. Gas.

15. What did you get really, really excited about?
Getting a puppy.
Passing my boards.
Getting a job.

16. What song will always remind you of 2015?
Same Mistakes, by The Echo-Friendly

17. Compared to this time last year are you
a) happier or sadder?
Happier in general, I think - I feel so grateful and relieved to be settled and working through the toughness of where I am. I am sad to be "alone" again, but working through that too. And I am riding the waves of intense and near-daily anxiety and coming to terms with what I have to do about that.

b) thinner or fatter?
Thinner. Perpetual anxiety has shaved about 10 pounds, seemingly permanently, off my frame.

c) richer or poorer?
Well, I have an income now. But it all goes back to Yale, so who can really tell.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Running. Speaking freely. Sleeping. Standing up for myself.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Procrastinating. Panicking. Driving. Staring at my phone.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
I worked. And caught a sweet Christmas baby right under the deadline, at 11:30 PM.

21. Did you fall in love in 2015?
I fell so dramatically and quickly out of love that it made my stomach hurt. Then I turned around and ached with the falling in love of my patients and their babies and this awful and wonderful and terrible job of mine.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
I'm still working through Friends, in order, on Netflix. I'm in season 5 now.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
I don't have the energy to hate anyone. Pretty much ever.

24. What was the best book you read?
Etta and Otto and Russell and James, by Emma Hooper
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
Safekeeping, by Jessamyn Hope

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
I loved Brandi Carlile's new album. Also, without shame - Taylor Swift's 1989 album.

26. What did you want and get?
To be done with school.
To be a midwife.
A dog.

27. What did you want and not get?
A relationship that could become a partnership.

28. What was your favorite film of the year?
I liked The Martian. I can't remember if I saw any other movies in theaters this year...

29. What did you do on your birthday and how old were you?
I turned 27 in Arizona and felt more lonely than I ever had before.
I worked, and I caught a baby girl and tried to convince them to name her after me.
H. sent me a cake and Richard sent me nothing at all.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Not being so far from the people I love.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015?
Less leggings, more pants. I also cut my hair pretty short just recently.

32. What kept you sane?
My pup. Hiking. New friends. H., always. My parents, forever. Baths.

33. What celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
I'm a Bernie Sanders fan.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
Always, women's access to healthcare and abortion rights.
Our country's deplorable attitude towards refugees makes me sick.

35. Who did you miss?
Richard, every single day, until abruptly, not at all.
My family, like a fresh wound that never heals.

36. Who was the best new person you met?
All my new coworkers.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015.
You really don't need gloves on to catch a baby.
Wine and peanut butter is a perfectly reasonable dinner.
You deserve to be loved without hesitation, deeply, and kindly. In spite of - and maybe especially because of - how hard it is to love yourself in this way.
You will fuck things up. And you will apologize, and do better the next time.
Sobbing in the dark in the bathtub feels like shit, but it's better than the following alternatives: hard drugs, alcoholism, unsafe sex with strangers, binge eating and/or purging, quitting, breaking things, and online shopping when you have no money.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up the year.
I remember one night, a drizzling rain
Round my heart I felt an achin' pain
Fare thee well, oh honey, fare thee well.


2015
2014
2013
2012

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Mary's Midwife

I hope that Mary had a midwife. I hope that when the innkeeper sent them to the barn, he woke up his sleeping grandmother or great-aunt, some wise woman who, maybe grumbling a little as she wiped the sleep from her eyes, sat up and got to work. I imagine her sending her dithering grandson of an innkeeper to start boiling some water and gathering herbs while she pulled on her sandals and headed to the barn.

I imagine Joseph, scared and uncertain, wringing his hands while his young wife was wracked with pain. I hope the midwife set him a task and squeezed his hand while she rolled up her sleeves. I am sure that she wiped Mary's brow and felt her belly and watched her face and told her to breathe.

I imagine her pushing firmly into Mary's lower back, swayed and rocked with her while shooing inquisitive animals out of the way. Maybe she held a cool cloth to her temples and wrapped Mary's fingers around her gnarled hand and told her to squeeze as hard as it hurt and then when it was over to breathe, just breathe, and rest until the next one.

I imagine how scared Mary must have been. Young as history predicts she would have been. Riding a donkey in early labor. In exile with a husband who she probably barely knew, running from the law and turned away from every door.

I hope that when she felt like she was being wrenched in half, and she called upon her God and heard nothing but the sound of her bones being ground to dust by the force inside her, the midwife looked into her eyes and told her she was safe, told her it was almost time for her baby to be born, and to be strong for just a little longer. I imagine her speaking the words that cross cultural and linguistic lines - just give me one more push
you can do this
breathe now, deep breaths
it's almost over
this is the hardest part
here he comes
reach down, Mary, and take your baby.

Words that I say. Words I will probably say tomorrow. The words that midwives have been saying for millenia.

I don't even know if I believe in God. I believe in goodness, and being kind, but I can't wrap my head around some magical palace in the sky where we go to live when we die, that some people get into and some don't. But I do believe in birth. I believe in how it opens people, both literally and figuratively. I believe in the transformative power of doing the impossible task, of women being an island of one, the only person who can birth their baby, buoyed up by support and love and faith and warm hands and cool cloths. I believe in who I am when I am there. I believe in midwives, and partners, and mothers, always mothers. I believe that that which breaks us is the only thing that can truly heal the darkest parts of us. I believe that peace on earth begins with birth.



 Merry Christmas, everyone.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Can's and Can't's

There are lots of things that I can't do. Ski, for instance. Run in high heels. Watch a scary movie without having a full-blown panic attack. Grocery shop without buying at least one thing not on the list. Finish a knitting project.


There's a whole other list of things that I can't imagine I could possibly do until I find myself doing them. Moving, for instance. Moving again, that is. (If you're keeping track at home, this is move number 5 in the last 11 months.) As I empty these rooms that I so recently put my stuff down in, I tell my brain shhhh and I turn up the volume on my audiobook. It's no use getting upset about it, just keep loading up the car and moving your shit, and repeating steps 1 and 2 until you are out of here and into there and please god let this be the last time for awhile, I tell myself.

I didn't think I could resolve a shoulder dystocia, either. In my head, I was screaming to myself, I can't do this, oh my dear god, I canNOT do this, please oh please, let this not be my job, and meanwhile I had told the patient to flip over, NOW, and stuck what felt like half my arm inside her and pulled her baby's hand past its shoulder hard enough that I thought I'd break it, all the while knowing that a broken arm is better than a dead baby and then out he flopped, wailing and snatching his arms away from me and it was over and nobody died, not even a little bit.

I still don't think I can live in this body, in this life, forever without always longing for something just outside myself. My patients, every. single. solitary. day, asking me, "Do you have kids?" and I say, No, and smile. I used to say, Not yet.


I look down at myself and squeeze a series of concentric circles on my palms and try to slow my breathing as I idly imagine what it would be like to not feel such an intense disconnect and dysmorphia with my own physical self. Would it be like the moments just before falling asleep, or just after having sex with someone you love, or right in the middle of a run - would it be like those moments but all, or most of the time, rather than these mere flashes of feeling right and whole? I am both wildly curious and utterly disregarding. It is so foreign to me, I cannot even imagine it.

But then again, I couldn't imagine moving again, or being a midwife, or driving across the country, or camping by myself, or living on a reservation, or ending a relationship without once begging to be taken back, or house-training a puppy, or stitching a repair, or a million other things that I have done, am doing, will do.


The running in heels, though. I don't really care if I never figure that out.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

One Month In

I got to see an old college friend last night. She wants to be a midwife too, and so she went to my alma mater for an info session and then trekked even further north to grab a glass of wine together and camp out with me for the night. I had worked all day on the floor and I was beat. I caught a woman's baby who from the moment I walked in her room at 8:00 AM, I knew she was a survivor, and it was going to be a tough day. There is something so gut-wrenching about trying to help a woman who has survived sexual assault, abuse, and/or rape experience labor and birth and it will, I am sure, remain to my dying day one of the worst and hardest and most important parts of my job. It is exhausting and soul-sucking and deeply unsettling and scary, and a million times worse for her. By 8:00 PM, I wanted to lay down and die. She had had her baby, against huge odds, and I just wanted to go home. But I rallied and went and saw my dear friend and we drank wine and ate some french fries and even though I was so, so tired, I could feel my heart slowly filling by being with her.


She is so excited, and passionate, and worried she won't get into midwifery school, which I can only scoff at because she is at least doubly more qualified than I was, and I somehow managed to trick them into admitting me. I watched her gesticulate and talk faster and faster, with bright eyes and a big smile, about why she wants to do this with her life and what she thinks being a midwife means and is all about, and how desperately sick of waiting for this thing to start she is, and I thought, wow. Because that was exactly me, four years ago. To the absolute letter of it all. And even after the terribly hard day I had had, I felt such a swell of gratitude that I teared up a bit sitting in our old college haunt of a bar, in my clunky midwife clogs and giant wool sweater with my sweaty tangled hair tied up on top of my head.

I still can't believe that I get to do this thing, every day. This thing that is so hard but that I love so much. I am learning more than my brain feels it can hold, every minute of every day. I am grateful to have decades of being a midwife ahead of me (God willing), because it will take me three times as long as that to learn all there is to know.

I sit with women while they cry about how they don't know what to do, because this baby is not their husband's, and what should they do?!
I look into women's eyes while they tell me I'm lying to them when I tell them, give me one more push, she'll be here soon.
I laugh with patients when they hear their growing baby's heartbeat for the first time, a sound so joyful that if all I heard was that for the rest of my days, I would die happy.
I cry with patients when I tell them that their baby doesn't have a heartbeat anymore.


I come home to my empty house, snuggle my fur-babies while we all adjust to the single life, and I still, sometimes, feel like I want to curl up and die. But most of the time not. Most of the time, my heart is full of the sweet downy fur of baby heads and the bone-crushing grip of labor, and the love and support I can feel from the amazing colleagues who are mentoring and teaching me every day. I don't eat quite enough. I drink maybe a touch too much wine. I fall into bed, exhausted, every night. But I'm figuring it out. Slowly but surely, I'm finding my place here. It's a good place to be, and one I could barely have imagined four years ago.

I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that my friend will get into midwifery school. I know it with the same certainty that I know all babies come out and that you can always push a little harder than you think you can and that commanding a uterus to clamp down and stop bleeding is not something to laugh at. I know it because I did it. I know it because this world needs a lot of things, and one of those things is more midwives.