To Be Me

A wise midwife once told me that I worked hard my whole life to become who I am today. Why would I want to try to be anybody but me? This, I realize, is infinitely true. All along this midwifery journey I have been putting the pieces of me back together. Slowly, painstakingly moving towards wholeness the entire time. True, some of the pieces of me that got lost along the way (or got shredded, stomped on, or otherwise came to an unhappy end) did so as a direct result of my midwifery journey. Abusive preceptors, tough birth experiences, my own low sense of self-worth and self-esteem all did a number on me and my soul. And yet I find myself here in a time of putting the pieces together, slowly by slowly. Amazing preceptors who are kind and gentle teachers, births and other pregnancy-related experiences that helped me gain my confidence back (and discover new-found confidence I didn’t even know about), the most steadfast girlfriend a dyke like me could ask for, and this tiny growing bud of hope and optimism – these are all things that help me be who I am today. To stand in the light before the Goddess and y’all as myself – my whole self.

 

Deep Gratitude: Or How to Precept a Midwifery Student

I cannot even tell you what deep gratitude I have for my current preceptor. For a long time, I have believed very strongly that we need to midwife our students in the same way we midwife our clients. Unfortunately, that is often not the case. I plan to look more deeply at the cycle of abuse that is tied up in so many of our stories as we move from student to midwife. But that’s beside the point right now, because this is a post of thanksgiving.

For me, midwifery has been a long journey, not only to learn the skills and knowledge of being a midwife, but of stepping into myself as the person I want to be in this world. I thought I had been doing this my whole life, this work of stepping into myself. Midwifery taught me that I had only seen the tip of the iceberg. To me, midwifery seems to be the sort of calling that is deeply transformative on every level of your life. I am deepening my understanding of myself professionally, personally, spiritually, discovering who I am as a midwife, and working hard to come into my own.

I don’t think it gets much better than this with a preceptor. She is an excellent and thoughtful teacher. She cares about me as an individual and celebrates my successes. In many ways, she sees my successes as her own – which they are in part since she had such a big hand in molding me into the midwife I am today and who I will continue to develop into. Some of the highlights:

  • She initiates conversations with me when she sense I need to discuss something. Usually, before I even get the chance to ask to have the conversation. She makes communication with her easy and welcomes it. I never have to worry about whether “I’m bothering her” if I need to discuss or process something.
  • She focuses on teaching me how to think as a midwife, not just the hard skills. I know that when I leave her practice, she’ll feel like I’m ready to be a practicing midwife. I don’t know that anyone graduates from their midwifery education feeling fully ready to be out on their own, but at least I’ll know that she thinks I can do it.
  • She welcomes differing opinions. She lets me do things my way even if she doesn’t do it that way herself. If I learned something different in school or from a previous midwife, we look it up and discuss it.
  • She does everything she can to help me reach my educational goals. I mean everything.
  • She works to help clients trust and like me. If clients ask a question in an appointment, I often find her eyes on me as well, signaling subtly to the clients that I am just as competent to answer this question as she is. At births if I am acting as primary under supervision, she gives me the space to make decisions and do most of the work. Of course, she’s always there if I need her, but she works on pushing me to be my best.
  • When I ask for something to change, it happens immediately. It’s impressive, honestly, to be so deeply listened to.
    • For example, shortly after I came to Arizona I expressed that it would be more helpful for me when palpating a woman’s belly to either go first or have her not tell me the position of the baby if she palpates first. That way I can learn to trust my own hands and not just get what I expect to get based on what she said. The very next appointment she made the switch and has never ever gone back.
    • After a birth that was difficult for me, she was trying to get me to process with her. I told her I’m a bit of a slow processor, and don’t always know how I feel about things fully until a day or two later (which is true). The next birth I attended with her, she checked in with me immediately afterwards. She said, “I know you’re a slow processor, but I just wanted to check to see if you had any immediate thoughts” and then indicated that we could talk about this later too.

Precepting a student is just as much of a skill, art, and calling as it is to be a midwife. I feel such deep gratitude for this woman who has welcomed me into her practice and into her life with such a big and open heart. Thank you, from the bottom of mine.

Recent Events in the Life of one Student Midwife

What’s been going on in the life of this student midwife lately? A lot of beautiful things. I’ve been:

:: Attending some beautiful, smooth, and perfectly normal homebirths

:: Starting to perform more hands-on skills with clients, and just in general get more involved and enmeshed in this practice

:: Increasing my own confidence dramatically when talking with clients, piping up frequently to share my own knowledge or unique point of view

:: Helping teach childbirth education classes

:: Trying to beat the Austin heat by drinking coconut water, fizzy fruit juices, and delicious tomato cucumber salads

:: Listening to radio shows featuring Ina May Gaskin and talking about birth justice while cleaning my kitchen

:: Bringing breakfast in bed to my sweetie after long nights up with our new puppy

:: Getting opportunities to palpate bellies holding twins and breeches. Increasingmy skills and feeling honored to be a part of these mamas’ journeys

:: Getting more involved in the queer community in Austin

:: Taken on my first client where I will (keep your fingers crossed) act as primary under supervision for much of her prenatal care and at her birth. The first one of many, I hope

:: And finally, trying to take really good care of myself as I gear up for what may well be adeluge of births in the next couple of weeks

Austin, TX

My didactic studies are Birthwise are completed for the time being, and I have packed up my whole life in Maine and moved down to Austin, TX to precept with a beautiful homebirth practice down here. So far, A. and I are loving the city and busy settling into a charming apartment next to an even more charming park. I jumped into my preceptorship head first and have been working hard to get acclimated to the practice and what it is like to work with different midwives. I am both learning an incredible amount and realizing just how much I learned at my 8-month clinical placement back in Maine. It’s overwhelming.

To add icing to the cake, I just returned from volunteering for three days at the Association of Texas Midwives Conference which was held in Austin this year. I got to meet a lot of local Texas midwives and a fair number of students. Walking away from this conference, I feel even more excited and fired up about midwifery than I was before. The ideas are pouring forth from my brain. So much to do, but so little time!

I have lots of thoughts swirling in my brain and posts in the works. I want to write more about the conference, finally touch on what being a butch midwife means to me, and talk more about my plans for the future! I’ll keep you posted, just as soon as I have a second to catch my breath. Until then, howdy y’all.

I caught that baby!

The other day a friend and I were out about town. She turned to me to and said, “That is the cutest baby ever, look!”

To which I responded truthfully, “I caught that baby.”

“Of course you did,” she said a little wryly.

It was the first baby I caught by myself and it was such a joy to run into their family again and get a chance to hold the littlest one for just a few minutes. What an absolutely unexpected but completely wonderful happenstance meeting.

Which is to say I wanted to leave you all with a bit of a smile, hopefully. I am neck-deep in gearing up for the next semester, with half a dozen blog posts spinning about in my brain. I don’t know whether I will get a chance to post anything for a bit, but hopefully I can leave little tidbits like these periodically.

Going Off Call

This week I attended my last birth with the midwives at my current clinical rotation which means I am officially off call. I can turn my cell phone off at night and it’s not crucial that I don’t have to obsessively check that it’s in my pocket every time I leave the house. I’m off call for the first time since March, nearly. I mean, there have been a few times here and there that I haven’t been technically on call, but it never really felt like I was completely off call until now.

My clinical rotation has been an absolute whirlwind. I’ve seen a lot, learned even more, and am walking away sad to not see another birth for awhile and a bit relieved at the same time. I’ll finally have time to catch up on some sleep, finally have time to integrate the experiences I’ve had, and spend more time doing school work. My time at my clinical rotation has been quite full.

Working with my preceptor has been one of the most intense relationship I have ever experienced. Going in to this clinical rotation, I thought I was a pretty good communicator and that I was pretty assertive. Caught up in an overwhelming need to be respectful of clients, I instead found myself overly cautious and sometimes failed to say things that were important to say. I had to dig deep to find new ways to communicate with my preceptor in ways that were respectful but that also got the point across effectively. While I was there, their office went through a some staffing changes and ensuing turmoil. I found myself scrambling to keep myself organized as well as do my best to contribute to the smooth running of the office and practice. I learned just how big of a role an apprentice can have at helping to keep things together. I left feeling like a true member of a team, with far more responsibility than I thought I would have this early in the game. At this point, I have some pretty good ideas about how to make an effective proactive preceptor/apprentice relationship and how to help manage the chaos that may be an inevitable part of midwifery practice.

I have seen beautiful births where the mama didn’t even look like she was having a baby and worked with her body beautifully. I’ve seen births where the mama had a really hard time letting go and working with her body. Most of the births I’ve attended have been something in between these two extremes, incredible circumstances transforming our clients into otherworldly beings, surely a manifestation of the Divine. I’ve seen a wide range of normal and some things that definitely crossed the line into abnormal. I learned about how I might choose to practice as a midwife and also about how I would choose not to practice as a midwife. This seems very normal to me when I think about it intellectually, but I have definitely experienced it all in a very up close and personal sort of way. It’s a big part of why I haven’t posted more often this semester – I’ve had a hard time being able to distill my experiences down into something as essentialist as a blog post. My life has been a lot of half-formed thoughts and amorphous feelings lately.

The one thing I’ve been most delighted and surprised by is watching men become fathers. I knew getting into midwifery that I would find laboring women awe-inspiring, but I had no idea how transformational and healing it would be for me to watch men become fathers, whether for the first time or for the fifth time. It is nearly impossible to talk about the beauty of men as they step up and into a nurturing role for their partners and new babies despite any feelings of fear or uncertainty they might be having. There have been several distinct moments where I’ve been blessed to watch a man become a whole new person in a matter of seconds and watch his life transform as he steps into this new role of father. I have been impressed and humbled by what I have seen.

So I look forward to this brief time of rest, but I am also itching and antsy to begin attending births again, watch families be born, and watch parents fall in love with this new being in their lives. We’ll get there, and I’ll savor it all the while.

The Range of Normal

Recently, I attended an exquisitely beautiful birth. It’s not the first beautiful birth I’ve been to – I manage to find intense beauty even in some of the most complicated births. But this one felt different to me.

We are smack in the middle of our Labor and Birth Complications class and are learning about all sorts of things we hope never to see – some of these complications are fairly common and others, fortunately, are extremely rare. In this class, I definitely feel the pull to maintain my view of labor and birth as inherently normal within a broad spectrum of what is acceptable for a homebirth. Which doesn’t always mean this is an easy thing as I learned at my most recent birth.

Throughout this mama’s labor, I found myself much more vigilant and aware than I have been in the past about possible complications. Some of this resulted me providing better care than I have in the past. For example, now that we have studied fetal heart tone abnormalities in detail, I found myself being much more diligent at listening to with the doppler immediately after the end of the contraction and knowing exactly what I was listening for. It’s not that I didn’t know these things before, but learning about possible complications have cemented home for me the importance of this aspect of our care.

I also found that thoughts would flash through my mind. I found myself constantly double-checking to make sure that everything was ok. Is this bleeding normal or a sign of something else? How would you tell if this pain she is feeling is out of proportion to what you would expect – it certainly seems suddenly much more painful than it was during the last contraction. Ok, now the head is out. I wonder how long I would wait before I began to worry about whether this was a shoulder dystocia. On and on and on my mind chattered.

You know what though? It was comforting. I attended this birth with an absolutely clear head and felt like I finally understood everything that was happening. I had a context to place it in. It was like someone finally gave me the magic decoder ring and now instead of understanding every 4th or 5th word and just getting the general gist of paragraphs, I can now understand nearly every word and the meaning of every sentence. I figure that with time and experience, my hyper-vigilance will mellow out. For now, I’m just thrilled that the puzzle pieces are coming together for me. And I’m also pleased that I’m walking out of this experience still feeling very grounded in the knowledge that homebirth is safe and that there is a broad, broad range of normal.

The Midwife I am Becoming

Granny Kate is a woman I admire greatly. She says:

We don’t write our stories so much as they write us. With valient effort and attention to detail, we can edit them a bit. Some say we already wrote them between lifetimes, and wrote them the way they are as lesson plans for the next school in session.

This is a picture of a great blue heron standing at the edge of the Nisqually River. I grew up with the Nisqually River practically in my front yard, down by the hydroelectric power plant my father used to operate. We lived so close you could look out the window of the front room and see the bald eagles flying down the river looking for their next fishy meal. We lived in company housing and my father hated being so close to work 24/7, but I loved it. There was a nature trail and I used to walk down there and watch the river changing. Along the trail there was an old orchard with apples, pears, and cherries that someone had planted, long since overgrown and no longer producing edible fruit. You passed western red cedars, douglas firs, and tiny bleeding hearts along the trail. There was a large, shady, marshy area that grew stinging nettles and horsetails alternately. Sometimes people would come in and harvest the horsetails so the stinging nettles took over and vice versa for as long as I lived there.

The river itself was beautiful. It often had a deep blue-green color because originated at a glacier. Sometimes if there were heavy rains, it would run brown with mud. Every once in a while during these rainy times it would flood its banks, and carry huge downed trees along in its rushing waters. With the seasons and the storms, the banks of the river would change, and change the land as well. There was a large sand bar where the nature trail reached the river and this was different almost every time I went down there. There were all sorts of interesting things here. Bugs that skated along on top of the water that my father called Jesus bugs and other bugs that we called periwinkles that built their homes by cementing bits of river pebbles around their bodies until they resembled a multi-colored river hermit crab. It was here on this sandbar that I had my first kiss, and here that I left the physical remnants of that relationship for the Goddess to take after my first break up.

Lately, when I think about the importance of large bodies of water in our lives (for example, L. and I wonder whether we could accept a preceptorship inland, closer to lakes and rivers than to the ocean), I keep returning back to the indisputable ways in which the Nisqually River shaped me as a person. It informed my Paganism and was my first real introduction to the changing of the seasons and the ever-shifting nature of our lives. It sparked in me an on-going wonder and awe of the natural world and its processes. And it was a place of solace and solitude and some pretty important life events as well (I believe I even bridged from Brownies to Juniors on one of the bridges of the nature trail. See what I mean? Life altering.).

When I graduated from high school, I went to college near another river, this time on the other side of the country. Here is a picture of a very famous bend in the Connecticut River, not too far from Mount Holyoke College where I started my journey to midwifery through a doula course I chanced upon my senior year. I also deepened my activism there, learning priceless lessons about what was really important to me, how I could be more effective, and how to integrate this aspect of myself into my whole person.

Recently, the midwife I am studying with asked me why I was becoming a midwife. Unexpectedly, I found myself talking about the river, describing the flow of midwifery in my life as a deep, strong current that could not be denied or ignored. “The ocean refuses no river” as the chant goes and all paths in my life led, small tributary by small tributary, to this beautiful and profound journey that I am now on. Midwifery for me allows me to be more of me. I have found a way to live that connects me intricately to life’s cycles, to the opening up in the fabric of our lives that enables another being to enter the world, to the transformations of parenthood and the creation and expansion of families. It is a journey that allows for and encourages a more full expression of my Paganism and my walk with Frigga, regardless of whether I ever share that part of me with clients. It helps me be my best self, cultivating that wise and humble facilitator part of me I get to bring out to play more and more often. And maybe most importantly, the path of this river is shaped by powerful external forces. Reproductive justice and an ongoing analysis of race, class, sexuality, gender, disability, etc. etc. etc. have cut the path of this river, affect when and where it floods, and are the rocks that create rapids and currents. These are things that are crucially important in my life, things I want to give a lot of energy to and learn as much about as I can. While they affect everyone’s life, I am particularly interested in the way they affect and are affected by midwifery and birth in general. For me, one could not exist without the other. It’s what keeps this journey interesting, challenging, and inspiring all at the same time.

Driving for Midwives 101

Driving for Midwives is the one class I wish my school offered  but doesn’t. I consider myself to be a normally cautious driver, but I wonder what will happen to me as I keep driving to births! I have heard incredible stories from some of my teachers about being pulled over for driving too fast to a birth they thought they might miss. More often than not, the cops are understanding and allow the midwife to continue or even give them an escort to the house. I have yet to meet a midwife who drives slowly and sanely to births (or anytime between!) and following a midwife in your car can be nigh impossible.

I feel like I’m missing out on some very important information here! I’ve heard a few stories, but what really are the tricks I need to know? I recently learned that Maine doesn’t collect tolls at 2 am, so that’s helpful. But I’m sure there must be a plethora of advice about how to avoid tickets, how to travel quickly but safely, and how to stay awake driving home at 5 am from a long birth the night before. Anyone have knowledge or tips they care to share?

The Childbearing Year is So … Short

So 9 months is a long time, right? It really is. And then add on the 40 days of newbornness. 40 days can even feel like forever. But these days, I’m left feeling that the whole childbearing year is just a blink of the eye. Babies born not all that long ago start to look more like babies and less like newborns – edging into toddlerhood really. Feeling a mama’s pregnant belly today, I remembered how it was really not that long ago – just the barest passage of time, really – when I had felt her belly and hardly felt anything. Today, I felt legs and small bits and a clear back. And I could tell which end was the head and which end was the bum, very clearly. But not too long ago, I could just feel that the fetus was vertex, and nothing else. This attests both to my growing skill in palpation as well as her growing progeny.

We read sections from a book about developmental milestones with lifesize pictures of the growing fetus throughout pregnancy (and unfortunately I can’t remember the name!) to our clients. One of the tidbits we read to our clients goes something like this:  if a newborn baby continued to grow at the same rate it grew during the third trimester of pregnancy, it would weigh 200 lbs at age 2. I believe it! Everything seems to be flying by me. Not only is pregnancy such a short time, it’s hardly any time at all before those infants grow into human beings with their own undeniable personalities.

Add to that the deep affection and respect I feel for the families that we serve. I know they come into my life for just a short time, but in that time I see so much of their lives, get to witness one of their most intimate moments. I feel so humbled and honored and blessed to be a part of this. I’m beginning to see that I will need to continue to cultivate within me the ability to love deeply and then to let go with ease when it is time for families to move into their own space. I know I will be able to do this when the time comes, but for now I am content to be in love with each of these families for a short short time.