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