Sunday, September 25, 2016


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.'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.