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.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Same Mistakes

When Richard and I had been dating for a couple months, we took an overnight trip to New York and went to the MOMA. I had never been, despite living there for two years, so I was excited to go. I was excited about this new guy I was dating, too - he was different than anyone I had ever known before, and I was giddy with the newness of dating someone post-Alix. I felt like an adult - Alix and I were so young when we were together, and this felt different. Look, we were going on a trip to New York! Like a day-long date! It felt like a big deal.

The museum was packed. We started on the top floor, and I wandered happily from painting to painting, reading the descriptors of some but not all of them. I would catch his eye periodically, and we caught up to each other before going down each subsequent floor. I was happy. Anxious, yes - mostly because of how crowded it was and because I was starving but still too freaked to eat in front of this new person (yes, really) - but happy. On the first floor, we sat down on a bench and I could feel the waves of tension and...anger? rolling off of him. I was perplexed. I asked him what he was upset about, I couldn't think of anything that had gone wrong. He turned to me and told me When I asked you out today, I thought we'd be spending it together. You just walked around the whole museum without me and I just don't understand why you'd do that. I was baffled. I stumbled through some messy mix of an apology and a defense of the fact that I usually just wander through museums and if he had wanted us to look at each painting together, he should have said something...? He was pissed. I clearly didn't care about spending time together. It was obvious that the point of going to a museum was to look at stuff together. I should have known that. I got pissed back. I said he needed to communicate something if he expected me to know what the hell he was thinking, that I wasn't a fucking mind reader and that if this was really something he was going to get bent out of shape over, then he could leave.

So he did. He got up, and he walked away. I sat in stunned silence on that bench, my heart pounding and my empty stomach now clenching with nausea. I took some deep breaths. I'll call Jess, I told myself. I'll call Jess, and I'll go stay with her and Scott tonight, and I'll take the train back myself tomorrow. It'll be fine. I can do this. What the hell is wrong with him, wait, no, what the hell is wrong with me? Is this it? Are we done, him and me? I'm so confused. I got up, prepared to walk out the door and head to Brooklyn. I felt better. I felt like maybe, just maybe, I had dodged a bullet.

But there he was. He'd turned around and walked back. He apologized. He said he shouldn't have left like that. I mumbled that it was okay and we went and ate lunch and we never spoke of it again.

* * *

He and I broke up about a week ago, after three years of communicating just as poorly as we'd done that day in New York. I loved him - I still love him - so fucking much. Every day now is a messy mix of anger, shock, depression, guilt, failure, and gut-wrenching loneliness. There is so much more to us, to him, than I've ever written here (out of respect for his and our privacy). There are deep and beautiful things about the person he is and the people we were together. And all those wonderful things couldn't trump the problems we had. His version of this story is undoubtedly different. That's part of the problem. The stories we each have - about who we are, about what we planned, about what's important - don't line up. They don't match. It hurts a lot right now and I miss him.

I feel like I'll never get this right. How can I love the people I love so deeply, and still keep fucking it up so profoundly?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Moving. Again.

Moving makes me act like a toddler. In Target last night, I saw a stuffed pirate octopus and commenced carrying it around the entire store before purchasing it. Don't ask me why I need a pirate octopus. You know the answer is that I don't. I think it's a coping mechanism for all of the strenuous adult-ing that moving requires. For instance, it's sunny and 91 degrees here in New Haven today. At 9 AM. The only thing enhancing the sweat that has already started collecting between my boobs is the cat hair that's adhered itself because Tucker is so anxious about the missing furniture and piles of boxes that he's attached himself to my person, in spite of the obnoxious heat. The effect is only improved by the reproachful looks he keeps giving me, as if it is my own personal failing that it is so warm and I am so sticky.

On the other hand, moving puts you in touch with all sorts of sympathetic souls. I went to U-Haul this morning to rent a dolly, thinking it'll vastly improve the experience of hauling my worldly possessions from a basement in this heat. The man said Sure, we rent dollies, here, come with me. He took me around back to a virtual breeding ground of dollies (U-Haul in a college town, eat your heart out.) and handed me one. I asked him how much and he smiled. I'm trusting you not to steal it, so you can have it for free. Seriously? I asked. Seriously, he said. I take pity on you guys. Good luck with the move and bring it back when you're done. I might be the first person to ever skip with a dolly.

The octopus, and the buckets of iced coffee, and the nice man with the dolly - it's all a distraction from how hollow my heart feels about leaving this place. I love this house. I love how the sun slants in through the playroom windows, how the toilet and tub are so close together you have to pee sitting sideways, how we'd stand over the heating vents in the winter and let the warm air whoosh up our pajamas. In spite of myself, I even love this town. I love the patients and families that tolerated my fumbles and missteps, the pizza places and markets we walked to hundreds of times, the trails and parks that wore down my sneakers with the many miles I ran. I love our neighbors, the little boy who calls me Auntie Cait and steals my heart with his towheaded grin. I love that I fell in love here, and that I can walk by the place he and I met ten times a day because it's quite literally around the corner.

I will miss this house. I will miss this home. And I will miss the girl I shared it with most of all.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Growing Things

Here in Connecticut, it is so green. So much is growing, and without effort. Frat houses have green lawns and the rhododendron that grows outside the crack den on the end of my street is covered in pink buds.
It's also so humid. It's rained twice in two weeks. The sidewalks are damp afterward and my hair curls obnoxiously into a halo around my head. The dog steps warily around puddles and shakes excessively in the merest drizzle.
I have to check the weather again. It is no longer 75-85 and sunny every day with a low of 45 at night. Three days ago I woke up sweating with the fan on full blast and this morning I woke up shivering under a pile of blankets. New England, what.
I watched three cars run red lights during one errand this morning. Two people cut me off and a third honked maniacally when I signaled to turn left. Yesterday, a man yelled obscenities at me when I walked across the street in a crosswalk, with the light. He said something so nasty that it's not fit to print and made me gag a little bit. For crossing the street.
There is internet everywhere. And cell service. And cars. And people. Everywhere, there are people. There are men, catcalling and staring and so fucking obnoxious that I realize just how good I got at tuning them out before I left and didn't have to hear it once - not once! - for four months. I walk with my keys tucked back into my fist, sharp edges out. I walk quickly, with my gaze in the middle distance. I only let the dog say hello to dogs walked by women. I had forgotten, so briefly, what it is like to be a woman in this world. I was just an outsider in Arizona. I was an outsider, and I was white, and that was enough.
I babysat my neighbor yesterday - two-and-a-half now, he is a muscle-y, squishy, tow-headed toddler who leaps into my lap for "a snuggly hug for Auntie Cait" and my eyes will not stop filling at every little thing. The man who handed me my cap and gown this morning at pick-up told me "Congratulations," and I almost burst into tears, again.
It is both the biggest relief and the most enormous discomfort to be back here.
Here where I also don't belong, where someone else is living in my room and I have to remember to shut the door when I'm peeing and oh yeah, flush afterwards. Here where the apartment is being shown every other day and every little thing reminds me that I am leaving, have already left, should never have come back.
Here, though, where my dearest friends envelop me in tight hugs and eat nachos with me and tell me it's okay that it was hard out there and you don't ever have to go back.
Who sit in endless dressing rooms in four different stores to help me find a graduation dress while I struggle to accept a body that has grown smaller again, except without me starving it, but simply by eating less takeout and hiking with a dog at 7,000 feet every day.
I feel useless and uneasy and anxious and blessed. I drink iced coffee on the sun-warmed grass and the sheer abundance around me feels almost pornographic compared to the barrenness of where I have been.
I feel like this has all been a sham, but then when I'm halfway between sleep and waking, I dream of babies. Heads emerging, mothers moaning, and the way my hands work separate from my brain now. Sure of themselves, flexing and easing life out, corralling pudgy slippery limbs and handing them over, her belly an oasis, her hands reaching. I may not belong here, but I surely belong there.
I feel like a midwife.

Thursday, April 2, 2015


Sometimes, everything here feels wrong. The plants are all so sharp. When I walk the trails to the reservoir, the spring winds blow sand into my eyes and my feet still slip and slide over the shifting dirt and I tramp through plants that leave me swearing in pain as they attach themselves to any exposed bit of soft fabric or skin.
The effort it takes for all of us to survive out here is not lost on me.
I feel for these plants, in their mindless effort to leave some mark on this world, even as I curse them and pull their thorny spikes from my continually scratched and bloody calves and palms.
It feels like work to live here.
It's rained once since I got here, and despite that, the reservoir seems to be ever more loosely contained by its banks and so even though I have walked the same paths for weeks, I'll occasionally find myself suddenly unmoored, looking around for a familiar scrub brush or boulder (spoiler alert: they mostly look the same to me) because the water has overtaken yet another path and forced me to tramp through yet more spiky, desperate plants and when I finally lift my sweaty head it is only to realize, yep, I'm lost again.

My car is on its last legs, a cruel joke I feel the universe is levying against me while I am 2,500 miles from all my worldly possessions and my former home and my school to which I must return in order to graduate and pass an enormously expensive test to be given the papers which legitimize this thing I've worked so hard to become.
I skim an email from FedLoan Services while I speak on the phone with the mechanic. He tells me this next repair will be around $100 (the last was $500), but that my car will probably not last another six months. He recommends I start looking for a new car. I make noncommital noises of agreement while I try not to tally the amount of money I and my parents have poured into this car in the last year.
FedLoan Services encourages me to perform my exit interview for the loans I have received so that I may know my "total loan commitment" and begin preparations for paying back the more than six figures I borrowed.
I sip on a $4 cup of coffee that I bought in order to use the free wi-fi that doesn't extend to the reservation, and I am awash in the irony of the entire situation. It's so funny that I fight back tears and when I shift position, something unbearably sharp digs into my foot and I gasp. I reach down and pull a thorn out of my shoe and leave behind a flaming red spot of blood on my heel.

I think that I've learned to stop expecting things to be a certain way, but then I find myself exhausted by the seemingly endless labor a woman who is having her fifth baby endures. There are no guarantees, I tell myself while she shifts positions one more time, and I tell her, again, that I believe in her and that she can do this, and in my head, I ask God to please, for the love of all your creation, turn this baby face-down. She stands, and cries, and I rub her shoulders. She tries to pee, again, and I hand her ice water for a small sip. She sways, and cries some more, and I press hard into the small of her back, and it's been long enough that I need to call the doctor if we're no closer. She lays down, I check her again, I'm losing faith. She pushes twice more, the baby has turned and comes surging out, yelling on a wave of meconium-stained fluid and reaching, reaching for her mama and I am grateful, all over again, for this crazy place and this crazy job, and for the moments that make me forget the shambles my life feels like it's become.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


When a woman is in hard, heavy labor, asking her what her pain level is is the equivalent of asking to be slapped. It's high. Really fucking high, and your stupid zero to ten pain scale doesn't really work for me, thanks very much. Instead, we ask her how she feels she is coping with her pain. It's the same idea, and yet the complete antithesis. Usually, people can tell you very genuinely how they feel they're coping, and it almost never has very much to do with how much objective pain they're experiencing. As a midwife, I spend a lot of time explaining labor pain prenatally, and trying to encourage women to let go of our evolutionarily honed reaction to pain (Run! Fight! Escape!) because this pain is different, and productive, and is bringing their baby closer to being in their arms. We talk about being in the moment, about being only in this contraction and then letting it go. Don't think about the ones that have already happened, or the ones ahead of you. Just be here now. And then sometimes, none of that works and a patient can't or won't push because it hurts just too, too much and I have to put on my no bullshit voice and say, "Yep, you're right. It does hurt. It hurts so, so much and you still need to push because that's the only way it's ever going to end." Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

When people ask how I'm doing out here, it feels like the "what's your pain level" question and I don't know how to answer. Shitty, I think, or It's fine if I'm feeling polite. Some days, I'm too anxious to eat and my stomach is in knots until I walk out of the hospital and the knot loosens slightly, until I walk into this house that is not mine and so far from anything familiar and a new knot forms and I fall into bed, exhausted, at 8:00. My patient last week bled a bucket of blood while we watched, rivers pouring out of her while we tried everything we could to make it stop. A different patient had a baby after being raped by a friend and had a panic attack about going home because she couldn't wrap her head around loving this baby while hating how she came to be. A third patient spent forty-five minutes of her first prenatal appointment telling me why she hadn't presented for care until she was twenty-three weeks along, why none of her other five kids live with her, and why oxycodone is the only thing that works for her sciatica and how she really, really needed some more.

So I come home, after days like this, and I watch Netflix movies, and apply to jobs, and drink endless cups of hot tea. On my days off I drive to the canyon so I can lay in the sun on the warm rocks and read in the total silence but for bird calls. I drive with the window open and I take pictures of cows. I drink more tea. I make biscuits to go with my vegetable stew and then eat two bites of stew and two giant biscuits and then I'm full and have to wrap up the stew and tell myself I'll eat it tomorrow. I look for puppies on shelter websites and reread the cards and letters I've been sent, and feel them like warm hugs wrapped around me.

The pain is still there. The loneliness, the isolation, the unknowns, and the anxiety. But the coping is there too. I'm breathing through it all. I'm doing okay. Just don't ask me to rate it from zero to ten.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Gaining Ground

I turned 27 the other day. I told my sister on Skype the night before that there was no going back now, that "late twenties" is almost thirty and I just don't know how I feel about that. When do you stop having existential crises on your birthday? I'm genuinely curious.

I was trying to be very calm and matter of fact about being alone on my birthday which was all well and good until I just absolutely fell apart about it the night before and sobbed myself into a snotty mess for twenty minutes. Washing my face after and peeling my contacts off my red eyes, I knew that it wasn't really about my birthday at all, it was about being more deeply and achingly lonely than I've ever felt before, and something about the supposed significance of the following day was just clanging that particular bell.

It's an interesting space, existing in this loneliness. It's just here. It is here, and I am here, and we exist together, my loneliness and I. All that said, I am glad I am here. I am fiercely proud of taking this leap. Most days, I feel brave for doing this. Sometimes, I just feel like an idiot. And then I see things like mountains and the sky and I learn about a plant called "Mormon tea" and my mind unfolds a little bit more and the loneliness backs off just a touch.

I caught a baby girl on my birthday. I campaigned hard for them to name her after me, but no dice. I told her mama it was a good day to be born while she laughed as she saw my whole right leg was soaked in the wave of amniotic fluid that had followed her baby girl into the world. The next day in clinic, one of the midwives, upon hearing it had been my birthday the day before, began dissecting my personality via my star chart. Patients walked by the open door, charts piled up around us while she told me matter of factly that I was a chatterbox, that I had strong friendships, that while I was meant for a career in "birth, death, and transformations" (duh), I was also aloof and way too analytical. My loneliness makes me feel raw most of the time. I've lost a layer of buffering between me and subtle cruelties, and the tears welled in my eyes when she said I was aloof. Am I? I wondered. Probably, I mean, she said so.

I tried to tell the story like it was a funny little lark of a tale the next day, while I helped a different midwife pack up her UHaul to leave this place. I tried to say it all lightly, like I didn't care what she had said about me. "Aloof?" this other one asked skeptically. "I don't think you're aloof, if anything, I thought you were way too forward when I met you."

How do I keep forgetting how raw my edges are, before I open my mouth?

I slept, finally, last night. Today I spent a day doing homework in a sunshine-filled coffee shop, bought myself a scarf, ate pizza with a med student who leaves on Monday, but whose company has been a tiny anchor in this sandstorm. She sent me a 12-minute read about how to not give a fuck and I felt a weight lift from me when I read it tonight. I'm being more careful about where my fucks are given. Not to people who don't know me who say things that cut my tender edges. Not to this house that doesn't feel like home, but is ultimately temporary.
To my patients, battling through their darkest moments in front of me - yes.
To the puppy I might take home from this desert land - yes.
To trying to find a job that pushes me and also respects me - fuck yes.
To the people who love me from so far away, but whose kind words and gestures and gifts reach me even here - always yes.

Because this is all that I am.
I exist in the space where it all bleeds together, the sand running in my bones, my edges sharp and raw, tender and bruised, healing back together stronger than before. I proudly own my thousands of imperfections and trace the seams of where I have put myself back together over and over again, badly broken by things much worse than idle words. Getting up, stubborn, coming here and ignoring their words, reserving my fucks to be given with care. This is 27.

Saturday, January 24, 2015


The dogs here are teaching me. They are teaching me that dogs are descendants of wolves and that until knowing these dogs, I have not really known dogs at all. They wander the Rez, in twos and threes, with dirty sandy fur and mats around the burrs stuck in their ruffled necks, their keen brown and blue eyes calculating me coolly, warily. We communicate through a series of agreed upon movements and gestures; words are meaningless. I squat down, turn my palms up and wait. They crawl towards me on dusty bellies and I rub under their chin and over their ears and they lick my chin and roll over in almost aggressive displays of submission. A few of them join me on my runs, usually. They find me on the trails, often so quiet behind me that they make me start when I look down and see their dark noses pushing into the backs of my knees. They run ahead of me, their white-tipped tails leading the way. They circle back around me when I have to walk, exhausted by the sandy, slippery trails and the 5,000 feet of elevation that my lungs are still protesting fiercely. If they are strays, they are smart ones, but mostly they are pets in the Navajo way of thinking. Only we crazy white people invite animals into our homes and into our beds. These dogs are animals. They are fed, and watered, and cared for, but they are not furniture-shredding, barking, insolent creatures. They are a self-sufficient pack, and they are teaching me a whole new order to the universe that depends sorely on paying attention. One wrong move, one tiny lip curl, one uplifted ear, and I could be seriously bitten out on the dark sandy trails. So I pay attention. And I learn body language like I've never learned it before.

I walk into clinic rooms and hospital rooms and feel my whiteness like I'm naked, like a brand on my face, like a sign around my neck. I am so cautious, I am constantly second-guessing what I say. I take deep breaths and speak quietly and try to tell myself that if I can figure out dog body language, I can do this too. The words feel strange in my mouth as I learn new ways to counsel and consent people that are all in the passive and third person voice. "A woman might ovulate and conceive a baby before her period returns. It can be difficult for a woman's body to become pregnant again so soon after she has had a baby. Would you like to hear about options a woman might have for birth control?" No, she would not. Not her body, and not her baby, certainly, because that's as good as inviting it to happen. So I shut up. And I give her condoms and Plan B and talk about lactational amenorrhea and do a breast exam without lifting her gown, learning to trust my hands more than my eyes in order to protect her modesty. I watch her face when I ask her, barely above a whisper, if she feels safe at home. Her husband is on the other side of the curtain, silent, holding their new baby. I look for the slightest twitch. "Yes," she says quietly and I move to the other breast. "What a beautiful baby," I say when we're done. Her husband smiles at me and nods. "Yes," she says simply.

I am learning to trust. I trust the dogs not to bite me. I trust my hands to find suspicious lumps without the aid of my eyes. I trust my voice to convey my intentions, even when my words are clumsy and wrong. Above all, I trust my patients and their deep and abiding ability to survive in this desolate and barren desert, their children loved and adorable, their hands worn and calloused, their eyes still bright and happy.

And the more I trust, the more I can see.

Monday, January 12, 2015

From East to West

Do you know how big the continental United States is? Because I'm learning. And it's enormous. It feels oceanic, glacial, expansive - I've run out of adjectives. The bigger it feels, the safer my car interior and my nightly hotel room boxes begin to seem. I sit for whole minutes in my car, the engine off, gathering my courage and my wits in order to get out and move my tiny insignificant self from one safe port to another and then back again. I have never filled and emptied my gas tank so much before (it feels). I'm still shocked every time that the nozzle clicks off and the total reads $19.01, $18.49, $15.12. The last time I remember seeing gas for $1.79/gallon, I was in high school.

Indiana and Illinois are the flattest things I have ever seen. I felt like an ant in a gymnasium. The horizon never seemed to move, and had my gas tank not been steadily emptying, I would have thought I was suspended in a floating, unmoving bubble rather than covering miles of ground.

Outside St. Louis, Missouri, I got into a fight with Siri. She was so calmly telling me to exit at an exit that wasn't there until, whoops, suddenly there it was and her crystal clear self telling me to "Exit now," was too much for me and I told her she was an idiot and that she needs to warn people before the exit, because that is literally the point of having Google Maps with navigation features. She told me to drive six miles further and get on I-44W another way and it worked so I calmed down and felt badly for yelling at her so I and asked her to tell me about the St. Louis arch and she placidly read me the (entire) Wikipedia page about it. (Dear Tom Hanks in Castaway, with Wilson - I understand you now.)

Illinois is home to the world's largest wind chimes. Betcha didn't know that was even a thing. Oh, but it is. And across the street from this gem - which, by the way, I pulled the rope for and made it chime and it was the single best moment of my day - is this other gem:

Coming soon! Maybe I'll catch it on my way back through.

The further south and west I go, the less and less variety there is on the radio. Christian music, country music, and Christian country music are my three options. The commercials are for tractor sales and during the news breaks, DJs discuss the price of soybean seed at the local auction house. I feel sometimes intensely foreign, like my bright blue Connecticut license plate is a kind of nakedness that I can't cover up. Other times, it just feels like a flatter, more expansive version of the farmland I grew up in. Then I'll see a hand-painted sign that says, "OBAMA LIES," or two billboards stacked on top of each other, the top demanding, "DO YOU KNOW JESUS?" with a phone number to call (Hello, Jesus? Yes, I have some things I'd like to discuss with you...), and the bottom directing me to the closest "ADULT SUPERCENTER STORE, 2 EXITS AHEAD." And then I feel naked again, with my HRC magnet and my Coexist bumper sticker, and I have to take deep breaths before leaving my car and remind myself sternly that by and large, people are good and kind and wish me no harm, and the dead bolt is locked, and my phone is charged, and I am safe, I am safe, I am safe.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year's 2015

New Year's 2015

1.  What did you do in 2014 that you'd never done before?
Caught babies.
Camp nursing.
Was more kind to myself than unkind (I probably was capable of this pre-adolescence, but it's been a long time, so I'm calling it a new development.)

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?  
Last year, I said I would...
1.  Be consistent with fitness. Short answer = no. Long answer = let's be honest, I'll always be working on this. I have a plan for 2015 that I'm not writing about because it'll jinx it. I'll write about it once it happens.
2.  Nurture the relationships and friendships I am blessed with - stop being lazy about Skype, phone calls, and emails to the people I care about. I think I did better with this. Communication is hard, but god if loneliness isn't harder. I had some rough times this summer, feeling so cut off and alone. But then I'd write a letter and inevitably, get something awesome in return. Richard, Hallie, my mom - they all wrote me fantastic, loving, hilarious letters and cards that brightened my days.
3.  Less screen time.  Books are awesome, even my textbooks. I was definitely more proactive about turning screens off this year. I've been reading a bunch this break.
I need to give myself credit for other things I did this year that I never planned to:
1. My dentist scolded me, so now I consistently brush my teeth twice a day. And I floss every day (I've been doing that since I was a kid, but I know a lot of people don't, so I'm taking credit for that one, so there.)
2. My midwife scolded me, so now I take calcium every day. I also take magnesium, zinc, and melatonin to help me sleep and whether it's the placebo effect or not, it works more often than not.
3. I take my contacts out every night. Boom. No exceptions. My eyes love me.
Resolutions for 2015:
1. This running thing I can't tell you about.
2. Keep reading for fun, even when I'm busy.
3. Be patient. With Richard, with myself, with the world.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes! My oldest friend had a baby in April and it was magical. Another close friend is due in July and I am all of the happy (and also all of the when-is-it-my-turn).

4. Did anyone close to you die?

No, and for that I am grateful.

5. What countries did you visit?

Not a damn one.

6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?

I would really, really like (nay, need) to be working as a full-time midwife and be done with school. I would also like to live in the same place as my boyfriend. The long-distance thing is wearing me down.

7. What dates from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
March - went to a good college friend's wedding (the first from our friend group)
April 10 - Bailey was born
July - Bailey's mom - my oldest friend - gave me a week's notice about her wedding that I flew home to go to, and I am so glad I did.
November - had the shift I've been waiting for, left the hospital and cried happy tears in my car and remembered why I wanted to be a midwife in the first place

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Keeping going.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Doubt. Scary, gut-swallowing, soul-eating doubt.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

I had a bad cold over Thanksgiving. That was it.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Plane tickets to be with the people I loved - last-minute, planned, cross-country, whatever. My people matter.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Richard, always. He keeps the faith when the floor falls out from beneath me.
H., again. She knows the soggy rotting bottom of my hollowed-out heart.
My parents, forever. They love me not in spite of my imperfections, but because of them.
My patients, no matter their circumstances. Birthing babies is hard. Every one of them made it to the other side.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

I quietly unfriended a lot of people on FB this year.
14. Where did most of your money go?

Yale.  Until I die.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Catching babies.
Working as a nurse.
Being done with classes.
Looking ahead - with terror - to integration.

16. What song will always remind you of 2014?

"Middle Distance Runner," by Sea Wolf

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder?

Little of both. I'm happy about the possibilities the future holds, but I am sad to be moving so quickly away from the past that I know and love.

b) thinner or fatter?

Maybe a little fatter? Don't really know.

c) richer or poorer?

Poorer. Always.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Breathing very slowly. Running very fast. Sleeping. Swimming. Loving without expectations.
19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Getting angry. Doubting. Eating takeout. Worrying about the future.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
Here on the lake at my parents'. Richard came for a few days, and I remembered that home is how his chin fits on my shoulder, not in an empty room in New Haven.

21. Did you fall in love in 2014?

Every day, for the rest of my life.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
I watched a lot of Gilmore Girls with H., some Grey's Anatomy, and some Biggest Loser. I also went on a 2-week SVU binge that gave me nightmares every night so I had to stop.
23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

No, but I did have someone tell me this year that I was a terrible, cruel person. I consider it a personal accomplishment that I don't hate them.

24. What was the best book you read?

Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande
Still Points North, by Leigh Newman
Far From the Tree, by Andrew Solomon

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Radical Face

26. What did you want and get?
Being almost done with this grad school thing.
Another year with the one I love.
My parents' health.

27. What did you want and not get?

A baby, still.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?

Mockingjay, Part 1 was fun.
The Fault in Our Stars left me gasping through sobs. But in a good way!

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 26 and skipped clinical, flush with the knowledge that this is the last year of my life that I can even remotely do something like that. My mom and aunt came to visit the next weekend and I loved showing them around New Haven. I felt exactly the same as 25 and I missed Richard in a way that felt like a bitter taste in my mouth.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Seeing Richard more.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?
This was the summer of blue camp shirts and wearing the same pair of shorts for four days in a row. The rest of the time, I wore a lot of sweaters and boots and scarves.

32. What kept you sane?
The cats. Richard. Hallie. My family. When babies cry right away. Sleep.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

The new NICE guidelines that recommend out-of-hospital, midwife-attended birth for healthy women! (So I know this is a stretch, but I'm admiring the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and calling it a celebrity/public figure.)

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

I was stirred, in multiple and complex ways, by the deaths and court cases this year (Michael Brown, Eric Garner).

35. Who did you miss?

Richard, every damn day.

36. Who was the best new person you met?

Bailey. She was so brand new, we were all thrilled to meet her.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014.
The perineum is sometimes shorter than you think it is.
If you think a mom sounds grunty and like she's pushing, you should trust yourself.
Babies come out. Big babies, little moms, crazy midwives - doesn't matter. Babies come out.
You'll know when it's a hemorrhage.
Exercise helps with bad feelings.
There are unknowable depths to the people we love. This is a good thing.
Never underestimate the power of an ice pack.
How we die matters just as much as how we are born.
It's okay to be scared.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

Ships are launching from my chest
Some have names but most do not
If you find one, please let me know what piece I've lost.

Long post!  Congrats if you got through it all!

Here's to a happy, healthy 2015 for us all!

New Year's 2014
New Year's 2013
New Year's 2012