Brave Woman

Adventures of a future nurse-midwife


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Posted by Lucille on June 6, 2014 at 1:05 PM Comments comments (0)

I've started working on my statement of purpose for my nurse-midwifery application (the application hasn't opened yet, but one of the people who will be writing me a letter of recommendation requested it). I did end up with a workable draft, but it took the better part of a week and was much, much harder than I expected. Somehow, no matter what the prompt is, my brain always interprets statement of purpose essays as, "In three hundred words, please justify your value as a human being." This image captures the ensuing emotions pretty well.

As vulnerable as this process makes me feel, I can tell that it is important for me to dig into the why and get clear on why, exactly, I want to do this. I know, all the way down to my cytoplasm, that I want to work in women's health. I've explored many different pathways into this work and I feel more positive at every turn that nurse-midwifery is the right path for me. It resonates with me on a level I can only describe as a calling. It would seem that something I feel this deeply should be easy to communicate, but the opposite seems to be true, as I feel like I'm walking through quicksand every time I try to put words and reasons behind something that feels so intuitively right as to be self-evident.

The language I'm using to anchor my statement of purpose is "support women". I supported women in Gambia. Then I volunteered at Planned Parenthood to support women. I volunteered with the women's resource center, supporting women. I support women on the SARC line. In a few weeks, I'll be re-trained as a doula and supporting women in labor once again. I would love nothing more than to come support women in this program as a nurse-midwife.

But these words started to feel empty. What does it really mean, 'to support'? Much like 'advocacy,' 'bear witness,' empower,' and 'hold space,' these are words that I use to describe what I do, but to which different people ascribe completely different meanings. The lived experience of supporting women feels so much deeper than what I can articulate in words that I find myself comparing it to capturing a three dimensional scene in a photograph. The medium imposes necessary limits that you just have to learn to work within.

In the meantime, I am doing my best to think of my calling as something I carry within me, rather than as a pull toward something external (i.e. a career path). This image spoke to me recently:

I feel called to support women. And regardless of whether I carry the title 'midwife', I will strive to act out this calling in my daily work, no matter where this bizarre journey called life takes me.


Posted by Lucille on June 5, 2014 at 12:45 PM Comments comments (0)

So much oxytocin. GAH. I love these two to pieces. It's only been two weeks, and already they feel like a natural part of this apartment, as though they were simply always meant to be scurrying underfoot. Like when you forget that the dishwasher is running until the sound suddenly shuts off, there was a sense of incompleteness that we didn't notice until it disappeared, leaving a breath of oxytocin-fueled stillness and the sound of two quiet purrs.


Pan Leukopenia Scare

Posted by Lucille on June 4, 2014 at 5:35 PM Comments comments (0)

There were a lot more mixed emotions around adopting the kittens than I expected. We were ready to cuddle them to death, but for the first few days they were far more interested in playing with each other and disappearing under the bed. Of all emotions I expected to feel in the first few days as a kitten-parent, rejection wasn't one of them. But I think that's just how it works when you decide to care for something. You open up all this loving room in your heart, but instead of filling it all at once, they fill it with little bits and pieces, day by day.

For us, this process was unexpectedly accelerated.

Over the course of one day, Pollux went from being healthy and energetic to vomiting, having diarrhea, and not wanting to stand. We called the vet and they told us to come over ASAP. His symptoms matched a virus called pan leukopenia (which there is a vaccine for, but they were too young to have had the whole sequence yet) and it kills kittens in a matter of days. The vet let us know that if the test came back positive, they would be hospitalizing both kittens immediately.

They left to run the test. And there was me, for half an hour, holding my kittens.

Not the kittens. Not anymore. My kittens.

As if to prove the point, they came over and curled up in my lap like this.

After a half hour of suspense, relief. The test was negative, though they did have parasites. Luckily, the treatment was effective and within a few days, the kittens were healthy, playful, and most assuredly ours.

Kitten Names

Posted by Lucille on June 3, 2014 at 12:05 PM Comments comments (0)

One of the kittens is a fierce orange and the other is a blueish silver. They reminded me of the sun and moon. I liked the names Leo and Luna, but Luna is unquestionably feminine and our kitties are both boys. There was also Leo and Alastor, for sun and stars, but neither of us could hear 'Alastor' without thinking of Mad-Eye Moody. And then Travis hit gold.

Castor and Pollux.

Our kitties are brothers, born in Gemini. And in the Gemini constellation, Pollux is yellow and Castor is a pale blue.

Welcome to the family!

Kitten Consensus

Posted by Lucille on June 2, 2014 at 11:40 AM Comments comments (0)

The last few months have held a lot of discussions- between Travis and I, between us and my parents, between us and his parents- about kittens. This was a tough decision because there were a lot of legitimate pros and cons as to the timing. This year, I will be spending a lot of time at home, which means I'm in a unique position to offer round-the-clock training and care. (And also in a unique position to benefit from some feline company.) But there are substantial reasons to hesitate. We are not financially independent. We are renters. Our lives hold so many question marks I've stopped keeping count.

After a lot of conversations, the consensus seemed to be that the cons aren't likely to go anywhere anytime soon, while the pros would only apply this year. And so, with our parents' approval, Travis and I took a trip to the humane society.

And fell in love.

We knew we wanted two kittens, preferably littermates, so that they could entertain each other. The shelter had two littermates. And they were the most adorable creatures I'd ever seen.

We placed the two lovable fuzzballs on hold and raced home to get ready.

The next day, I bounced around the apartment in a giddy cat-proofing whirl. At the same time, I kept expecting someone to burst in, accuse me of being an impostor, and tell me they're taking my 'adult' card away. I still use a nightlight, for goodness' sake, and I was about to be entrusted with two creatures' lives! I couldn't wait to shower them with love and care and kept erupting into fits of giggles from the anticipation.

We drove to the shelter that afternoon. They had gotten a lot more kittens overnight, and we considered asking if there were any more littermates that we could meet. The receptionist was busy at first, so we wandered over to the window. They had a little bed for each kitten.  Most of the beds were full, but there was one empty bed, and next to it a bed with the two kittens we'd chosen snuggled up together in a little yin-yang symbol of fur. All desire to check out the other kittens vanished. Those two were ours.

A woman next to me pointed to them and said, "Aww! I want to get those two!"

It took everything I had to say, "I'm so sorry, we actually put those two on hold yesterday," instead of possessively hissing at her.

And an hour later, we had two little fuzzballs in a box, driving home.


Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2014 at 9:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Travis's family drove up to Portland and my parents got to meet them for the first time. Worlds collide.

We left with Travis's family for the beach. On the first day, we drove over to the Tillamook Cheese Factory, took a look at all the machines and people involved in bringing deliciousness to stores back home, and got some ice cream. Also, I bought a journal for my brother made from cow pies.

Lena had never been to the beach before. In fact, she had never been off-leash before, because when she goes to the dog park she really really really likes trying to make friends with aggressive dogs three times her size. She zipped up and down the beach with uncontained joy for hours. Best dog day ever.

When the weather warmed up this term I pulled out my summer clothes, unworn since they were last 'dried dry' to rid them of bed bugs, and discovered that all the dry-drying had left them child-sized. Over the course of this term, I've been slipping out to go shopping on my study breaks, but finding affordable pants that both button above my pubic bone and are not made out of spandex has been surprisingly challenging. We drove down to the Lincoln City outlet mall on our second day, and I found exactly what I'd been looking for. So I bought one in every color. My jeans are all the exact same fit now, but hey, I have pants!

That evening we went out to the beach again and walked along a jetty. At the very end of the jetty, I spotted something in the water. Probably just a log. And then it moved. "Guys guys guys! There's a seal! Look, there's a seal right there! Look! Look look look!" The seal heard my shouts and came closer to look at us, then did a flip into the water. We all cried out in excitement. The seal started showing off, leaping into the air and falling back into the water with a splash, again and again. We watched him for the better part of an hour. As the sun was going down, the rest of the group started heading home, and I reluctantly turned to follow. The seal swam along the side of the jetty, keeping pace with me. Then as the water started getting too shallow, I turned around to wave and the seal did a final flip in farewell and disappeared under waves that were glistening in the light of the sunset. Magic.

Onward, to Cannon Beach! We checked out the tidepools and learned about starfish wasting disease and other tidbits of ecology. Travis and I made friends with a hermit crab. Also, Lena and I matched.

On our last day, Travis and I went wave jumping (I'm proud to say that I've never gone to the Oregon Coast without getting in at least to my shoulders). There was a wicked rip tide, so we ended up getting out sooner than planned, but it was a lot of fun in the mean time!

The best parts of the trip, of course, were the unplanned shenanigans involving Game of Thrones, Cards Against Humanity, chocolate wine, and wearing backrests on our heads. This joyful absurdity is the true magic of vacations.

Travis's brother and his girlfriend left the day before us. As we waved them off, Travis's dad commented, "Wow, can you believe that the kids got along this entire trip?"

Travis's brother leaned out the car window as they drove away and yelled, "Yeah, but that was all Travis's fault!"

And too soon, we were on the road back home. Here's me wishing joyful absurdity and sunsets your way.

Onward to Summer!

Posted by Lucille on May 31, 2014 at 6:30 PM Comments comments (0)

Travis and I had planned to spend the day after finals relaxing. Instead, we both woke up with a sense of imminent doom. Surely, there was another urgent deadline that needed our attention! We must have forgotten something! (We hadn't, but sometimes it takes a day or two for the finals-week adrenaline to subside.)

So, we channeled that energy into rearranging all the furniture, and by Sunday it felt like we'd moved into a brand new apartment without ever opening the door. Woohoo!

Emotionally, I still haven't really registered that school is over. But we have a lot of exciting things on the horizon, including a trip to the beach, so I'm hoping that my brain will catch up to the calendar soon! I hope that you have good luck (and good weather) in whatever summer plans are coming your way.

Friends, be well, and take care. And enjoy the sunshine!



A Letter to Lucille

Posted by Lucille on February 14, 2014 at 7:55 PM Comments comments (0)

I found a wonderful new midwifery blog recently, The Mindful Midwife, which I've been devouring. I love the way she writes. She owns the power of vulnerability while at the same time pouring gratitude into every facet of her work. One of the writing-as-self-care tools that she uses is writing letters to her younger self (sometimes a few months ago, sometimes years) offering love and reassurance about the future.

I really should have been studying for finals. (Don't worry, that all still got done.) But I woke up one morning in finals week, pulled out my textbook to study, and felt words tumbling over each other, bubbling up from my heart and threatening to burst through every pore in my skin. So I put my textbook away, pulled out my computer, and let them flow.

The timing was perfect. In a number of days, I would be done with college classes. Although this feels like a significant milestone to me, I haven't technically graduated yet (still working on my thesis), so there was no ceremony or event to mark the transition. Through writing, I found a way to mark the transition for myself, and to take some time to reflect on my college experience as I get ready to enter the next chapter.

College did not start the way I expected. In fact, looking back I think I can say that college was exactly nothing like I expected.

Three years ago, I would have given anything for a glimpse of where I'd be in the next week, month, year-- a simple nod of reassurance from my future self that everything was going to be okay. And now, if my younger self could hear me, I'd be in a position to offer that reassurance. It may not have looked anything like I expected, but everything really did turn out well.

Here I am, facing the next big leap in my life, the future once again a question mark on the horizon. I may not know what's coming next. But I know enough to be able to reach back to my younger self and give her the nod of reassurance she needed. I sat down to write a letter to my younger self at the time she felt most vulnerable. This is what came out.


It is fall of 2011 where you are, and you are very, very sick. You weigh close to a hundred pounds and have just been turned away from urgent care. You have stopped on the side of the road because you don’t feel safe at the dorm. Tears start flowing and you can’t stop them. As more and more fluid fills your throat, it becomes harder and harder to breathe. It’s like trying to gasp air through a straw. You are so lost and scared, and the more scared you become, the harder you cry, and the harder you cry, the more difficult it is to breathe. You are starting to panic. A minute from now, you will pull out your phone and dial home.

You don’t know that in half an hour, your uncle will pick you up and drive you to the airport.

You don’t know that in three hours, you will be in your parents’ arms.

You don’t know that in five hours, your doctor will take one look at you and say, “They thought this was what?”

In six hours, you will be on antibiotics and pain medication.

In twenty-four hours, you will be bundled up on the couch, watching Serenity and ravenously eating the best food you have ever tasted in your life.

In a month, you will ace your final exams.

Two weeks after that, you will leave Berkeley and transfer back to Portland.

You will start healing your mind, your heart, and your body.

You are going to be well.

I know how scared you are. You’ve been in hyperdrive for almost a year, navigating your last term of high school, and then Africa, and now Berkeley. There has been such an intense onslaught of new experiences, on all parts of the spectrum, that you have stopped trying to make sense of it all and are just trying to hang on.

I know the words you have been chanting to yourself since you got here. You remind yourself of what everyone knows: that leaving home for college is a critical coming of age experience. That as hard as it is, it will be worth it. That people would kill to go to this school and that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. That the listed tuition isn’t the real price and that if you just keep trying your best, scholarship money will appear when you need it. That moving away from your family is an important part of discovering yourself. And that if you can just keep pushing through this transition, everything will start to magically fall into place and your years at Berkeley will be the best years of your life.

These words have kept you going. And you are terrified, absolutely terrified, of letting them go.

You have taken out your phone now. You have started to cry even harder, because you know this is not just a phone call. This is you jumping ship. Throwing in the towel. Raising your white flag.

You have been holding on to the promise of the ‘college experience’ that is always said to be just around the next corner. And right here, here on the side of the road with your phone in your hand, you decide that it’s one corner too many. You surrender.

You press ‘call’. Your mind is full of Facebook pictures of your peers at college campuses across the country, appearing to have the time of their lives. Your thin body is shaking with sobs. And some part of you believes that with that push of a button, you have finalized your failure.

I want you to know that making this call is one of the bravest things you’ve ever done.

For some people, their coming-of-age experience is one of self-discovery. For you, it is learning when to call for help. And just now, here on the side of the road, you have done it. You have faced your fear of failure and decided to put your health first. At your weakest, you have taken the dream you’ve nurtured for the last three years, and made a conscious choice to let it go. I know how painful it is. Let yourself grieve for this dream. You don’t know it yet, but by letting this dream go you have opened up the possibility of so many, many other dreams that you could never have imagined.

They won’t look the way you thought they would. But some of the best years of your life really are just around the corner.

You will cherish being home with your family. You will be there when Pascal loses a tooth. You will be there to set off fireworks with him on New Year’s. You will be there to bake cookies with Mom. You will be there to race to hug Dad when he gets home from work. And you will be there for the day you stop letting Pascal win the race and he starts honestly beating you. Soak in these moments and don’t dwell on the individualistic narrative that leaving your family is essential to self-discovery. Sometimes self-discovery means finding out just how much you love being home.

You’re going to fall in love. You’ll start to heal, to regain your strength, to rediscover your sense of childlike wonder. You will rebuild connections with friends you thought you’d lost. Your classes will inspire you. You will feel valued by your teachers, and empowered by your school. People will continue to react with shock when you tell them you got into Berkeley and decided to leave. But you will never regret it.

Like all journeys, this one will not always be easy. You will have to hurt people you care about and let some friendships fall away. It will teach you a new kind of compassion. Be gentle with yourself, and be open to learning this lesson without holding onto guilt. You are in a constant process of becoming, and you have to be willing to let go of good things to make room for change.

So many delightful things are around the corner for you. Closer than you think. In fact, it will be months before you look back and realize this, but in your very first class on your very first day at Portland State, you will sit next to someone who will change your world. You will make a friend. You will fall in love. When the time is right, you will get an apartment together, and for the first time since you left for college, you will call the place you sleep at night ‘home’. Your love will deepen and grow into a partnership like you’ve never felt before.

I won’t tell this story as a conclusion. You see through the happily-ever-afters and know that in our journey, there is no point of arrival. We live in a world of impermanence and constant change. You know that love and loss are inseparable from one another. But I hope that you hear this as a story of hope nonetheless. And I hope that if you ever look back at this letter from a point in the future, a point where even I have not yet been, this will still bring you hope no matter how your story has unfolded. Know that you have the potential to build this kind of relationship. Know that there are people who crave the things you crave, and will invest time and energy to build a loving partnership with you. Know that, as impermanent as all parts of our lives may be, love is possible, love is real, and love happens. We live in a world where this kind of love exists. Smile for that and spread this love wherever you can.

I know how much pain you feel right now. The pain in your throat is an echo of the pain in your mind and heart. You traveled so, so far away and you did not come back the same. You were prepared to face poverty, but not prepared to face the violence that came with it. You carry the pain of the women you held while they were brutalized on the labor bed, and the pain of the countless newborns that you saw come into this world and that you held to your chest and rocked on their way back out. It feels like this pain has risen into your throat and is choking you.

I know how isolating it is. You feel enormous gratitude for the people that helped you go to Africa, and you are afraid of hurting them by sharing the pain you brought back. You hear countless stories of travelers immersing themselves in developing countries and coming home in awe of human resilience. Instead, you came home sickened by systemic violence. Now when you hear the uplifting stories of other travelers, you wonder what you did wrong. You were praised by so many people for wanting to go to Africa, and you worry that the pain you feel now means that they were mistaken, and that you are less than what they thought of you.

I wish I had answers. There are so many things that don’t make sense to you, and that won’t make sense. There are things in this world that are senseless. When is it our responsibility to resist chaos, and when is it our responsibility to step back and simply bear witness? We might never know. What I do know is that what you did in Gambia may have made a bigger difference than you realize. I know, I know-- that’s not why you did it. You didn’t hold those infants and those women’s hands because you believed it was the right thing to do; you did it because it kept you standing. That’s alright. I am learning more and more about the power of holding someone’s hand through a crisis, bearing witness to something you cannot change. There are people with more training in this than you or I will ever have. You held on and bore witness on instinct, without training, despite the risk. You reached out your hands again and again, without even knowing their true power. I think that even if your mind was reeling, your hands knew what they were there to do. I am so proud of you.

Let me bear witness for you now. Feel my arms around you, love, and let them calm your tears. Let your breaths come more evenly. Three years away, I am breathing with you.

You have learned that the dark and the light do not cancel each other out. They coexist. In this same way, the pain you carry now will mix with the joy, and the many joys that are yet to come. Without diminishing, they will weave together into the tapestry of experiences that is you. Maybe someday we will look back on this tapestry together and find that the tapestry is enriched by the contrast. Our journey is not over yet.

Oh, Lucille, you have so many wonderful things to come.

You will jump back into the world of science and be filled with wonder by the intricacies of the human body. At the same time, you will take your first steps as an advocate and find new strength and a new sense of purpose supporting survivors of assault.

You will grow simultaneously in these two very different worlds. Sometimes it will feel isolating. You are not purely a scientist, and you are not purely an advocate. You are very truly both. Just like pain and joy, your different ways of being will not cancel each other out. Let them coexist. You will feel pressured to choose one identity or the other so that you can have the benefits of traveling an established path, with a group of peers, a mentor, and some road signs. But you will know that this is not for you. Remember your power to envelope contrast, gently, without being pulled apart. Instead of washing you out, this contrast can serve as a beacon toward the path that is right for you.

Can you imagine that in a few short years, your waking thoughts will be filled, not with questions about where you will go to college, but with questions about where to go from there? Some things haven’t changed much. Leaving college feels a lot like leaving high school, in that you are sprinting toward a cliff edge, with a fog blocking your view of the other side, and when you hesitate out of a fear of falling the only advice anyone has is to sprint faster. You will want someone to recognize that this is a really terrible way to initiate young people into adulthood. I hear you, love. It is. I hope that someday we will find a way to fix it, but now is not that time. Now is the time to charge full speed ahead.

As you get closer and closer to the edge of the cliff, your peers will start to veer off toward their respective paths, the structure of college will start to fall away, and you will feel more and more alone. You will yearn for a sense of connection, mentorship, sisterhood, and belonging. You will dream of being part of a community of midwives, blending science and advocacy in every part of your work. Your desire will be so powerful that it scares you. Let these desires come to the surface. Look at them, in all their intensity, without being afraid. Hold them tenderly as you power forward to the jump and let them guide you toward where you are meant to land.

Here, on the side of the road in Berkeley, I am taking your hand. I know how afraid you are. I know how earnestly you wish for a glimpse, just a hint of what the next few years will hold. You have so many wonderful adventures ahead. I wish that you could read these words and feel the reassurance I’m sending you. And I wish that any moment I could find a letter from myself three years from now, offering me my own glimpse through the fog. I’ll have to write one when I land safely on the other side.

You have come so far, love. You don’t know it yet, but you are about to come home. Take the time you need to heal. Embrace your limitations and fears with compassion. Nourish your mind, body, and soul, so that when you round the corner, you can jump into the next part of your adventure with open arms and an open heart.

All my love,


It's A Bird! It's A Plane! No, It's A Teenager!

Posted by Lucille on February 13, 2014 at 8:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Pascal is officially 13! He and his friends are going to a Frozen sing-a-long at the movie theater next week. (You called that, didn't you?)

We went out to dinner to celebrate and were approached by a balloon artist. Instead of getting something himself, Pascal said that what he wanted most for his birthday was for me to get a balloon hat and wear it for the rest of the night. I thought it looked dashing.

Happy birthday, kiddo.

A Dolphin Dream

Posted by Lucille on February 12, 2014 at 7:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Good news- I got into Birthingway's summer doula program! And my books have started to arrive.

This term has been stressful. I'm doing things as they are due, and the due dates seem to keep changing! I'm taking care of myself, studying dutifully, and riding it out. One week at a time. And in the meantime, I'm fantasizing about this summer by cracking open my doula training books during my study breaks.

Last night I was feeling particularly anxious about the many deadlines piling up for school and I was having trouble falling asleep. Trying to calm my thoughts, I flipped through a chapter in one of my doula books on guided visualizations. I fell asleep and had the most wonderful dream.

In the dream, I am both the mama in labor and her doula. Mama-me has some strong contractions going. Doula-me knows what's coming and wants to help mama-me find a rhythm. Like my book described, doula-me offers the idea of a visualization. They build a visualization where mama-me is a dolphin, riding each contraction like a wave. With each wave, they add more details, describing the little schools of fish, the sun against the water, and the color of the sand.

The waves are getting stronger. Mama-me flows with them. Doula-me keeps the visualization going, describing the water flowing smoothly off the dolphin's back. Her body is built for this, she says. The waves are big and rolling now, and the dolphin glides over them, riding over the top of each swell.

Soon the waves are much, much stronger. They start coming from all sides. Mama-me is tensed and starting to feel scared. Her mind is overwhelmed with the intensity of the contractions. Her focus is slipping. She grips onto doula-me's hand and says, "The waves are too high! I'm going to go under!"

Doula-me meets her eyes and speaks softly, with calm reassurance. "You're a dolphin," she reminds her, "Your body was built for this, and part of that is being able to hold your breath for a really long time. It's okay if you go under, because you're just going to come back up again."

Mama-me nods and lets the contractions wash over her, letting herself slip beneath the surface for a while, and is not afraid.

It was a perfect metaphor for this term. There are routines and self care skills that I have learned to make time for, no matter what. Like sleep. In the heat of dead week and finals, I've had to let some of these things go in order to get everything done. With this dream, I let go of the need to guard my body, and gave myself permission to push my myself to lengths I normally wouldn't consider- to do what I need to, trusting that in two weeks, I will have time to recuperate. Summer will be here, and I will surface again.

I woke up smiling.



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HIPAA Disclaimer

Sometimes I have the privilege of being a part of intimate, powerful moments in other people’s lives. I cannot and would not share these stories, because they are not mine to tell. However, they touch my life and become part of my own story. When I share these moments here, you can trust that I have not broken anyone’s confidentiality. The characters are invented. They are not real, but could be. I take creative license to communicate the essence of my experience while respecting the privacy of others.