Brave Woman

Adventures of a future nurse-midwife

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Midterm

Posted by Lucille on October 25, 2011 at 4:25 PM Comments comments (0)

I promised a housemate I'd make cookies for everyone if I passed my chem midterm. The midterm was terrible. There were no questions on any of the things that had been emphasized in class, people were crying, and a couple guys walked out in the middle. So far I only have my short answer score: 9/24. But oh well. Honestly I just wanted an excuse to make cookies.

     We got an information sheet for a research project we have to do. My chem partner and I spent the rest of class talking in whispers in the back about what we'd like to do, which so far involves doing something with the gas mask he happens to have on his desk, testing the effectiveness of the hazmat suits he has in his closet, or comparing the efficiency of various explosives. I looked in my planner and noticed that I had a couple hours free after class, so we decided to go back to the house and make cookies. In hazmat suits. Scaring the bejeezus out of everyone that walked by.

October

Posted by Lucille on October 25, 2011 at 4:15 PM Comments comments (0)

My brother at the pumpkin patch. The sign at the bottom says, "No jumping."


I'm Officially a Californian!

Posted by Lucille on October 25, 2011 at 4:10 PM Comments comments (0)

There were two earthquakes today, 3.9 and 4.0. The first one was centered directly under the infant care center. Meaning, where I work. I wasn't there when it happened and I didn't actually feel it, but my chem partner was in his dorm room on the seventh floor two blocks away and he said things were falling off shelves. I was at an Israeli dance party at Hillel when the second one happened. I must have been airborne because again, I didn't actually feel it. But a lot of people were freaking out. A friend who was in class told me that dust was coming from between the bricks in the wall and they'd evacuated the building. The doomsday guy was waving his sign in front of campus, "Zero days left!" while students and teachers ran past him. I went back to the house to try to sleep, regretting that my room was underground and wondering if I was about to be a part of 'the big one'.

       My roommate turned around as I came in. "Can you believe how much people are freaking out? I mean, come on, it was only a 4. It's California. It happens." Sometimes it's nice having a Californian for a roommate.

       Woke up safe and sound the next morning, with all the buildings intact. The big one passed us by en route to Turkey. Thoughts and prayers for the people there.

       I also learned that next time the doomsday guy gets to zero, I need to go to one of the doomsday parties. The pictures of everyone dressed up like zombies that populated facebook the next morning looked like a lot of fun.

I <3 Econ

Posted by Lucille on October 23, 2011 at 2:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Today in environmental economics we mathematically proved that Switzerland is capitalist and the US is socialist. It made my day.

More Things About Berkeley

Posted by Lucille on October 23, 2011 at 2:10 AM Comments comments (0)

       1. Berkeley time. Everything at Berkeley starts ten minutes late, so that you can take classes back to back. I love it. It's like the perfect combination of Gambian Maybe Time and American Real Time--everything is later than you'd think, but by a precise and predictable amount. Now all I have to do is figure out how to get across campus in ten minutes!

       2. Doomsday guy. He stands in front of Sproul Plaza with a sign that says how many days are left and hands out fliers denouncing the homosexual agenda. I wore rainbow socks one day and he told me I have no savior. My chemistry buddy walked by him in a lab coat and he told him all Bachelor of Science students were going to burn in hell when the rapture came. As you can tell he's a pretty cheerful guy, but he's a little too obviously out of it (if there aren't students around, he'll continue talking to himself and offering fliers to the air) for anyone to try to reason with him, and he's such a conspicuous figure on campus, there at the front of the school, every morning with the same speech and his little papers, that there's almost a measure of affection for him.

       3. The maps. Up is not north. Nor does it say, on these maps, that up is not north. I think they made up east for the map at the western entrance, and then when they added more maps they thought it would confuse people to change it, so now east is up no matter where you go. I figured this out when I first got here and then got to help freshmen and parents who were lost. It was kind of fun.

       4. Dwinelle. There is a building called Dwinelle, nicknamed the freshman maze, because they cruelly hold all the workshops there in welcome week. Two brothers wanted to build a building and they decided to each build half, but they didn't talk to each other at all and so the building makes no sense, the floor levels didn't even match up, and don't get me started on the numbering. Maze indeed.

       5. Sharing. I had assumed, given that everyone in college is short on cash, that people would be very careful with their food and possessions. Instead, the shared poverty makes it a free for all. Everyone shares their food generously and accepts with the same freedom. It's all communal. I kind of like it.

Justification

Posted by Lucille on October 23, 2011 at 2:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Now that I've shared the bit about them cleaning out the uterus after birth, I think it's only fair to tell you the justification for it. One of the nurses explained to me that it's to make absolutely sure the bleeding from where the placenta was has stopped. I guess if there's other blood coming out it's harder to tell. In the US, if a woman starts bleeding too much after a few days, she just drives back to the hospital. There, the woman could be in the middle of nowhere by that time and would simply die. The idea is that a few minutes of excruciating pain are worth ruling out future hemorrhage. I still felt that it could have been done A LOT more gently. They felt that if it's going to hurt anyway, you might as well go fast and get it over with. It doesn't change my view of it, but I thought I should let you know that it was well intentioned.

Wordfall

Posted by Lucille on October 20, 2011 at 1:45 AM Comments comments (0)

This post is going to be a little disjointed, but bear with me.

       The definition of rape includes penetration by things besides a penis, such as fingers or objects, if it's without the victim's consent. I hadn't known that before. By this definition, my encounter on the beach counts as attempted rape. It still scares me how close it was. And there were times at the hospital when I watched ten or twelve rapes a day, with some births in between, for a week straight.

       It's hard for me to talk about the dark side of Africa. I hate that America views it as a hellhole, and I don't want to contribute to that impression. Africa has a full spectrum with a good amount of both extremes. As awful as some of the things that I saw were, there were things that were that beautiful. That kind of beauty is almost impossible to capture with words, and in our sheltered world is almost unimaginable, so it's hard to share. Besides, when you say things like, "I watched ten rapes a day," people tend to go running.

       I LOVED going to Africa. I absolutely want to go again (just, you know, not right now). I wanted to take a journey into the unknown, and I succeeded. I came back with memories bordering on magical that I will treasure, and memories of equivalent darkness. Although I've done a lot of writing about it, I still feel like I'm having trouble making sense of it all. Almost as soon as I got back I threw my bags in the car and left my friends, my boyfriend, and my family, moved to an entirely new city, scrambled to get myself enrolled in classes, and figure out how things work here, then had a major health crisis, and am just now getting back on my feet and feeling like I might someday gain control of this, like this strange reality could eventually become familiar. I finally have two seconds to breathe.

       And when that happened, I suddenly couldn't stop thinking about Africa. I miss the people. I keep dreaming about the rainforests, the sunsets, and the color of the sandy roads at dusk as the bats start flying overhead. I can't help buying mango juice, looking for that taste of mangoes fresh from the forest. And in my dreams I keep standing by women's beds while they squeeze my hand and scream. For the sake of breaking down this slew of emotions into things I can deal with, these are the memories from the maternity ward that haunt me. You know about fundal pressure, so I won't describe it. I held starving infants that rooted desperately against my chest looking for food and finally became unresponsive. I never actually had one die in my arms, but I held them long enough that I knew they were going to. And then, there was one more that even after everything I'd seen I could never bring myself to write about. During pregnancy a lot of extra padding builds up in the uterus to protect the baby. In the US, women are given some extra bulky pads and let that come out gradually over the next few weeks, like an extra long and heavy period. There, they removed that tissue manually. They would reach inside up to their mid forearm and scrape out her uterus like a jar of mayonnaise. Obviously it was excruciatingly painful. I always tried to leave the room, but there were times I couldn't, when the mothers gripped my hand while they tried to hold back their inevitable screams and I tried not to vomit all over the floor. Did your stomach just turn over? Imagine the intensity of being there first hand, and now imagine beauty of that same intensity. They really were in balance.

       But unlike in chemistry, positives and negatives don't cancel out, they just both exist. I want to give myself permission to take the time to heal from this. It's a good kind of healing, healing that will leave me stronger, or at least wiser, I hope, but it's healing all the same and it's going to take time. I am in the unknown here. How will this change my life? How does it fit into my identity? I want to let the things I experienced affect me, even though I'm scared of that journey.

       I've gotten back in touch with some friends I hadn't talked to in a few years, and it's making me realize just how much and how rapidly I've changed, just in the last few months. I was always the math and science girl. I got into a magnet school in sixth grade, taught myself advanced calculus in a month in high school, and aced a physics exam that started, "Using the data in the following table, please calculate the age of the universe." Okay, except for the writing fiction thing. And choir. And drama. Fine, a lot of things interest me. But the left brain, analytical side always won out. And now, just within the last few months, I've found myself clear on the other side of the spectrum, further into the right brain hippie side of things than I've ever been before. I'm trying to be a midwife, for Pete's sake. What happened to theoretical physicist? I signed up for yoga instead of martial arts. I joined a queer sorority, went to a doula workshop, and now hold babies and attend pagan circles in my spare time. (?!) To some extent, in the choices that led me to these things, I felt like I was flying blind. I knew that a doula workshop interested me more than a lab internship, but I couldn't have told you why, and there was so much going on that I didn't think about it that much.

       Now I have a theory. I think that I had to surround myself with that healing feminine energy to help myself recover. There's only a certain extent to which you can rationalize experiences like this, and even then, the emotion will remain. In ways I couldn't have planned out, this crazy right brain spree of mine has led me to experiences that addressed what I've been through from the other side. I wouldn't have imagined the serenity that came from sweating my heart out in yoga, and re-centering around breath from breathing with a partner in a doula workshop. There, I was surrounded by a powerfully loving and nurturing community, in an environment where I could talk about my experiences comfortably, without fear of scaring them off. I saw women being lovingly supported through labor, and even saw fundal pressure and C-sections carried out with that same level of gentleness and care. Analytically, it doesn't change anything. There are still women being horribly mistreated all over the world. But emotionally, it makes all the difference.

       This morning, I held warm healthy babies, and watched them drink until milk ran over their smiling lips, and they gave a soft sigh of complete contentment, curled up against my chest, and fell asleep. I went to class feeling whole.

       An interesting aspect of this is that, if it is a response to Africa and the many many transitions going on in my life, I have no idea if it's permanent. Who knows, maybe I'll end up a theoretical physicist after all.

       I had no idea that recovering from Africa would lead me on so many additional adventures.

Regarding Rape

Posted by Lucille on October 20, 2011 at 1:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Word went round that a guy on one of my friend's floors who was pledging a fraternity forgot to bring his pin to a meeting. He was told that in order to regain his honor and maintain his eligibility for the fraternity, he had to have sex with this girl who was there. (By all accounts I've heard, she was sober and did not object.) He was thoroughly drunk, and led her up to his room looking ashamed and embarrassed. They came out a while later and gossip ensued. This is the same fraternity that led to 'you cannot tell pledges to have sex with a goat' being included in our risk management handbook.

       The story came up when we were talking about hazing, and a couple people said things like, "Ew, that's so gross." "What an idiot, I can't believe he did that." "He shouldn't let himself be controlled like that. Everyone knew what happened, he totally embarrassed himself."

       I know this is not rape in the traditional sense, but there were some pretty eerie similarities. He was threatened with punishment if he did not agree to an unwanted sexual act. That's considered coercion. Even if that wasn't the case, people who are intoxicated are not legally able to give consent. Men who have sex with intoxicated women are accused of rape all the time. It seems odd that the opposite would be considered a different story.

       What if this was considered rape or sexual assault? It came up in conversation in a group of educated women who are very aware of sexual violence issues, and what did we do? Blame the victim.

Another First

Posted by Lucille on October 20, 2011 at 1:15 AM Comments comments (0)

For GRL I had to do a make up assignment for each class I missed, and one of them was on women's health issues and involved making a chart of STDs. It was the first time I'd read such a list and thought, "Hey! I have that!"

       CMV, the virus that mimics mono (and is spread by saliva, which is why it was included) was right there under chancroid and chlamydia. And in the 'notes' section: People who work in childcare centers may be at increased risk. Those darn tiny people. I was a little confused though by how this could be a childhood illness. Besides all the other symptoms, I lost ten pounds in three weeks. If that happened to a toddler they'd be, like, dark matter.

       So that's where it comes from!

       Here's the scary part. Someone in the house has mono for real. Which means that, theoretically, I could get mono twice in one semester. I'm working on inventing a germ proof force field. Until then, nobody breathe on me!

Now They Tell Me

Posted by Lucille on October 18, 2011 at 2:05 AM Comments comments (0)

I'm not failing chemistry after all.

       Before I explain, some background info on chemistry. Four different people told me there was no textbook. You see, last year, there wasn't. Budget cuts. (Think about that. The number one public university in the US could not afford textbooks for their science programs.) This year, they got a deal on ebooks. The problem: nothing ever, under any circumstances, was said about this in class to let us know that there was a link to the textbook on our OWL page. Trust me, I checked with people who were there every class. They just expected it to go by word of mouth. The same attitude is reflected in the lecture slides, for example, "Solve the following problem with the ICE method." Nothing was ever said about what the ICE method is. They assumed we were reading the textbook.

       So when someone finally let me know that I had access to a textbook, studying became much more productive. But I still had one tutoring session left, so I brought some practice midterms and met my tutor at a coffee shop. We started going through the test, and I was getting every question right. She stopped me. "Okay, you know this stuff. So let's think about what you can do to be prepared on test day, so you don't repeat whatever happened last time to make you get a D."

       "Well...I mean, I don't really think that was the problem. I got a D, but it was a really high D, I got 69.8%--"

       "Wait. Say that again."

       "I was only 0.2% away from passing, I got 69--"

       She covered her face with her hands, "Oh my god...I forgot you were a freshman! Why don't people tell you guys these things?"

       I stared at her looking confused.

       "The grading scale is different at Berkeley. 75% and up is an A. You got a solid B+!"

       We laughed about that for a long time, both feeling a mixture of pissed off and euphoric, and finally I said, "Okay, I have another freshman question for you. It says in my planner that registration for spring classes starts tomorrow, but I'm not really sure what I have to do for that..."

      She slammed her hands on the table. "You mean no one has told you about it? You haven't gotten any emails or anything?" I shook my head. So she showed me how to find my appointment through BearFacts, use Ninjacourses to plan my schedule, and sign up for classes on Tele-BEARS. And then gave me her number so I can text her if I ever have more questions.

       So I'm not failing chemistry. I'm actually in the top third of my class. I guess I can stop panicking now.


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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.