Brave Woman

Adventures of a future nurse-midwife

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Doula Stuff

Posted by Lucille on October 2, 2014 at 11:00 AM Comments comments (0)

I haven't been writing about this much, but there's news!

I finished training. The Birthingway training was very different from the DONA training I did. It was more informative and had less of a feeling of connection. The big difference was that, at the end, I felt ready- though I think that may have had more to do with my SARC experience and all the outside networking I've been doing than with the class itself. However it happened, I'm here, ready with heart, hands, and business cards.

I got into the Birthingway Labor Doula Practicum. This program helps connect new doulas with low income families needing pro bono services, so that new doulas can get some initial experience while serving families that might not otherwise have access to doula care. (I even get to count it for internship credit! Yay!)

I have clients! Saying in my profile that I have experience working with survivors of trauma is bringing a lot of inquiries my way. This might mean I'm starting out my doula career by jumping in the deep end. If that's the case, well, goggles on.

I am so excited.

My SARC painting has proven to be an awesome way to make my own closure for calls and document my journey. (Plus, fingerpainting is really fun.) I want to do something similar for births, probably a tree with pinkyprint petals. The next step is to go get a really big canvas (the size being a tangible statement of optimism about getting into OHSU's nurse-midwifery program) and some petal-colored paints. At this rate, I'm going to have to hurry if I want to have the tree ready before I start getting called to births!

Kitten Cuteness

Posted by Lucille on September 15, 2014 at 6:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Snippets of life with Castor and Pollux.


We had to put the kittens in different rooms today so they wouldn't lick each other while we waited for some topical medication to soak in. I think this was the first time they'd been separated, ever. They sat on either side of the bedroom door like this the whole time.


Pollux has claimed the waste bin as his personal sleeping spot. I tipped it up this morning to throw a receipt away, and he walked up, tipped it over again, and curled up inside. I might have to concede this one because he's just too cute to move.


They're a little big- and it's a little hot- for their yin-yang pose, so I guess today this will have to do.


Okay, one more. Because cute.


I Finished Doula Training!

Posted by Lucille on September 15, 2014 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (0)

I finished doula training! Travis got me a surprise. I am the Chief Medical Officer of this apartment. Except when I'm on-call for a doula client, in which case I'm the Chief Non-Medical Support Officer.


Breath

Posted by Lucille on September 15, 2014 at 3:50 PM Comments comments (0)

(This is a reflection on writing my previous post, 'Grief'. It will make more sense if you read that post first.)

Writing on this blog has become a way for me to process everything I see and participate in in the world. I do surprisingly little editing. It usually takes a few days, if not weeks or months, for me to have time to write about an experience, and by then my reflection is waiting patiently in my head, already composed. Letting the narrative out onto paper feels less like writing and more like cleansing. I proofread as I go, of course, but it is very rare for me to go back to a post and change the content.

I edited 'Grief'.

It took a few days for me to sort out what had happened enough to write anything. As with hotcalls, there was then a process of thinking through where my story was in everything I had witnessed, and extricating it from the parts that were not my story to tell. And I was left with my experience. I offered support to someone I knew in the immediate aftermath of acute grief and trauma. Like many other people, I showed up. I brought food. I hugged. I cried. I breathed. Eventually, I went home.

I learned, by watching the people there who had experienced loss before, that this is what is done. You show up, you bring food, you hug, you cry, you breathe. This is how one supports a friend through grief.

Telling this story to myself, I felt a sense of inadequacy. A person I knew just lost a child. I did everything I could do. Which was...what? Breathing?

Pretty much.

But I felt exhausted. The dissonance between my narrative of what had happened and the way I felt told me that something had been left out. In the intensity of everything that happened, I had missed something. My story was incomplete.

And so it happened that at 2AM, weeks after this event, I woke up needing to write. I stumbled out to the living room and pulled out my laptop. I found my blog post. I added one paragraph. And then I went back to bed, and slept soundly for the first time in days.

I barely remember this. In fact, I might not have known it had happened, if the blog post had not still been open on my computer the next morning.

Before, the narrative part of my blog post ended with:

"It just kept going. We stayed and we breathed and we breathed. I have no idea how many breaths we took. The grief stayed, so we stayed, until it was the right time to go."

The paragraph I added, right before that ending, was:

"Every few moments, the giant, oppressive weight of the grief would seize us again, as though shouting, "I AM STILL HERE!" Sometimes we cried and sometimes we howled and sometimes we were shocked back into silence, except for our breath. We were gathered protectively around the mother as though our breath could fuel hers. Every shaky, hard-earned breath was a collective effort. And every time the shock, grief, and trauma fell over us again, squeezed the air out of us, we took our shaky, collective breath, and it was like a defiant whisper into the storm. We are still here, too."

That shift filled what I had been missing. Breath has POWER. Our breath took courage, kindness, and herculean strength. Every single breath healed us and broke us and healed us again. I had missed the difference between surviving something and living through it. Grief hung over us, and moment by moment we filled the air with the most potent symbol of human resilience there is. We breathed together. It was amazing. We were amazing. Every single thing that happened in that room was incredible.

This speaks to something I encounter with birth. In both labor and grief, time s-l-o-w-s down to where an entire storyline is encompassed in every single breath. When clients tell me they are worried about how they'll get through their birth, I tell them that we will start by taking things one hour at a time. Then when that gets hard, we will take things one contraction at a time. And when that gets hard, we'll take things one breath at a time. Because that breath-by-breath space of intense intentionality is where magic happens. That kind of breath can move mountains. It can hold broken people together. It can push brand new people into the world. I've seen a single breath do all three at the same time, because that is just the kind of ridiculously amazing creatures we are.

Another common occurrence in birth, at least in the US, is for women in labor to be connected to a whole lot of machines. This limits their mobility, and it's normal for moms to feel a little overwhelmed or even trapped in this situation. As a doula, you can't disconnect any of the machines, of course. What you can do is start talking about all of the things the mom wants to be connected to. You tell her how, right now, 350,000 women are having babies, just like you. In Portland, right this minute, there are about a hundred women in labor. They are swaying with you. Breathing with you. Opening with you. You breathe out your good wishes for all those moms and babies, and you breathe in all their good wishes for you, again and again. You are doing this together.

Birth, death, trauma, and healing are intertwined. This was my first, but certainly not last, field trip into Dad's side of the court. There will be many more opportunities to reflect on life, death, and heartbreaking beauty in between the little everyday moments like nursing school applications and kittens. We marked this experience as a community the way every community in every culture throughout history has marked crossings. We gathered.

The memorial was beautiful. Inside of each program, there was a sharpie and a piece of fabric for guests to write a short message. A friend would later sew these into a quilt for the family.

My message read, "We are breathing with you."

Grief

Posted by Lucille on September 15, 2014 at 12:55 PM Comments comments (0)

It was evening, and I was catching up on blogs. I came across this post on Momastery, a shout out about the launch of a friend's book, Rare Bird. Three years ago, Anna Whiston-Donaldson sent her son and daughter out to play and her daughter came back alone. Her son was swept away by a flash flood. The book became a channel for her grief, a story about her son's life and death, and a window into how a family survives the loss of one of its own.

The depth of that kind of grief was too big for me to even wrap my head around. I read her tips on how to support a grieving friend: show up, memorialize and honor, listen, remember, and don't give up. I felt that by putting in the painful work of acknowledging the possibility of this kind of tragedy, and giving a minute of thought into how I would respond, I had done my part as an advocate and conscientious citizen to prepare for the off chance that anyone I knew would ever go through that. I thought about happier things, caught up on other blogs, and went to bed.

The next morning, Facebook had exploded.

A family I knew had lost a son my age. I didn't know him particularly well. But I knew his parents and sister. I couldn't let myself imagine the pain they felt, and suddenly I could hardly see through tears.

Anna's first piece of advice echoed in my head. SHOW UP.

I found out where people were gathering. I called everyone that I had plans with later that day to cancel. And I got in the car.

I wanted to bring food. It felt obvious and foolish at the same time. As though it would help. As though anything could possibly fix this. It was the only thing I could think to do, though, so by goodness I was going to make it happen. I parked and ran into a grocery store. And then I stopped there in the aisle, staring at row after row of bright packaging. I was gripped with indecision and helplessness. If this was the most I could do to help, I wanted with all my heart to bring the right thing, and I had no idea how to tell what that was. I grabbed goldfish, potato chips, pastries, and juice.

The cashier gave me a look as she put it in the bag, and I imagined her wondering who the hell had taught me how to grocery shop. I took a deep breath. They don't teach this. They shouldn't need to, because this should never, ever happen. Healthy young adults who are cherished by so many are not supposed to die.

I got to the meeting place. A lot of community members had gathered, and I went around and hugged everyone, introduced myself to everyone I didn't know, and then hugged everyone some more. There were tables laden with food, including a lot of goldfish and pastries, but it all went untouched because we were too gripped with shock to eat.

And then someone got a text. The mother was on her way.

I wasn't expecting to see the family. I was here to drop off food and network with other community members to find out if there was anything more I could do. The dynamic changed as soon as we knew she was coming. Some people left. More people came. I decided to stay.

She is the only one who can tell her story, and I would not betray her privacy by sharing it here. But I can tell mine.

She arrived. We held space for the shock, horror, and utter agony, and some of us learned, and some of us remembered, that this is what is meant by 'grief'. One syllable. Short. From the outside it would seem conceptually simple, but I learned that this is the furthest thing from the truth. Grief is not a normal word. To the initiated, 'grief' is a code used to convey so, so much that could never be articulated otherwise.

We found a place to sit and hold each other and howl and cry and breathe together because it felt like a miracle that we had ever breathed alone. I felt the instinct to flee from this place of so much pain. "I reject this," I found myself thinking. "I reject this reality with every fiber of my being. I choose for this to be a dream." But I did not wake up. Reality continued being real, and his death was real, and his mother's pain was horribly, unspeakably real. So moment by moment, I made the conscious choice to stay, physically and emotionally. I reached out with my eyes, my voice, my hands, a tissue, a cracker, a bucket, a washcloth, a cracker again, another tissue, a bag for the tissues, so many hugs, words, and breaths, and stories, and stories, and stories. We poured ourselves into each other and into this new void that had just been torn open, kept pouring, moment by moment, and the pain didn't go anywhere, didn't lessen, it just STAYED. So we stayed with it. And breathed through it. Again and again and again.

Someone had brought a tray with bread, butter, and a jar of honey. The spoon wouldn't fit in the honey jar. Our decision-making was crippled by our overwhelming desire to help. Should we pour the honey? Or use the butter knife? Or the handle of the spoon? What was the best way, the most helpful way, the right thing? Eventually, someone got a smaller spoon.

An hour or so later, the mother accepted an offer for tea. A dozen people hurriedly rushed to make it, so eager for an opportunity to do something, anything, helpful. The electric kettle was broken. And again there was debate. Should we replace it? Should so-and-so run across the street for her home kettle? Should we just boil water in a pot on the stove?

I took the mother's hand and told her that if we could figure out the spoon and the honey jar, I had faith that we would find a way to make her tea. Her pastor told me that I was a very grounded person. I think I managed to say thank you, but my instinct was to laugh, because of all the ways I might have described myself at that moment, 'grounded' was the absolute furthest thing from my mind. Either the pastor was laughably wrong or, despite walking survivors through grounding exercises on the sexual assault hotline all the time, I had completely misunderstood the meaning of the word. I thought 'grounded' had something to do with being quiet on the inside. Now I think it has more to do with being able to find your breath through the noise. I don't understand how so many layers of cacophony fit inside our silence.

Every few moments, the giant, oppressive weight of the grief would seize us again, as though shouting, "I AM STILL HERE!" Sometimes we cried and sometimes we howled and sometimes we were shocked back into silence, except for our breath. We were gathered protectively around the mother as though our breath could fuel hers. Every shaky, hard-earned breath was a collective effort. And every time the shock, grief, and trauma fell over us again, squeezed the air out of us, we took our shaky, collective breath, and it was like a defiant whisper into the storm. We are still here, too. 

It just kept going. We stayed and we breathed and we breathed. I have no idea how many breaths we took. The grief stayed, so we stayed, until it was the right time to go.

I tried to be okay.

I had fully, consciously, put on my advocate hat, or doula hat, or whatever you want to call the hat I put on that sometimes lets me make myself emotionally waterproof so that I can be completely present for someone else's experience, and then be able to shake off and not take it home.

I took this home.

For days, I would randomly burst into tears. I turned over what I had seen and heard in my mind a hundred times, looking for a way to fix the irreversible, trying to find sense in the senseless. I brought home a tension that gave me a migraine two days in a row. Travis took care of me, despite being busy enough as it is, and I felt grateful and guilty because he shouldn't have had to do that. Sometimes it's hard to date someone who runs toward fire regardless of whether she owns a fire extinguisher. I do my best to find lots of sources of support so that he isn't saddled with the emotional cleanup too often, but sometimes, things sneak through.

I felt angry with myself. I am trained for this. I go on hotcalls sometimes that last eight hours, and I'm able to be okay after a good night's sleep. I was only there for a little over two hours. A friend offered a welcome breath of perspective by asking if I'd seriously gotten it into my head that I was supposed to be able to hold a grief-stricken mother for two hours and then act like I'd done nothing more interesting than go on a grocery run. Oh. It didn't fix it, but as soon as I'd adjusted my expectations of myself, I started feeling better.

Also, there are times when having a dad who's a grief counselor is a godsend. I am often struck by the parallels between doulas/midwives and hospice workers. Here's a poem I wrote a while ago:

Everyone passes through two crossings.

I stand at the entrance, whispering, "Breathe."

He waits at the exit, listening for its release.

We are the crossing-guards.

I felt like I wound up guarding the wrong crossing this week. A crossing that wasn't supposed to be there in the first place. I made time to stop by home and talk with Dad a number of times and he always seemed to know exactly what I needed to hear. Even when I know that the answer will be, "It depends," or, "There's not really an answer," he has a way of saying it that makes it sound comforting. One time as I was getting ready to go after a conversation about the parallels of our work, I gave him a tearful hug and said that I could never do what he does. He laughed and said, "Oh, didn't I tell you? I've signed up to be a doula!"

I love you, Dad.

Over the next week, I spent a lot of time on Facebook, signing up for the meal train, watching memorial preparations unfold, and sending words, pictures, and poems to the family, letting them know, as many ways as I could, that I was here, grieving with them, and that my door was open. And then Travis would drop kittens into my lap, make food, hold me while I cried, and tickle me into laughter, until everything I had poured out had been filled back up again.

I feel like I should end this post with a moral of the story or a word of wisdom about grief as a whole. I'm not sure I have that right now. There was no reason for this to happen. There is no sense in the senseless. My heart breaks knowing that the pain I took home this week was just the tiniest sliver of the pain that that this family now has to bear.

What I do have is a favorite poem from The Painted Prayerbook that Dad shared with me a few years ago.


A Blessing for the Brokenhearted

 

There is no remedy for love but to love more.

– Henry David Thoreau

 

Let us agree

for now

that we will not say

the breaking

makes us stronger

or that it is better

to have this pain

than to have done

without this love.

 

Let us promise

we will not

tell ourselves

time will heal

the wound

when every day

our waking

opens it anew.

 

Perhaps for now

it can be enough

to simply marvel

at the mystery

of how a heart

so broken

can go on beating,

as if it were made

for precisely this—

 

as if it knows

the only cure for love

is more of it

 

as if it sees

the heart’s sole remedy

for breaking

is to love still

 

as if it trusts

that its own stubborn

and persistent pulse

is the rhythm

of a blessing

we cannot

begin to fathom

but will save us

nonetheless.

 

– Jan Richardson

Whirlwind

Posted by Lucille on September 14, 2014 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Too many things have happened this labor day week to be able to give them their own post, so instead I'm going to let them tumble out together, because that's pretty much how they happened. The last two weeks have included driving from Portland to Chico to Berkeley to Chico to Portland again, making a trip to veterinary urgent care, seeing wonderful friends and family in California, looking for the bathroom at UC Berkeley and instead finding a radiation detection lab, sleeping on a boat in the SF bay, having the car broken into and my friend's bag stolen during a 5 minute pit stop at Starbucks, filing a police report for the first time, navigating lease negotiations, welcoming my little brother home from his first day of 8th grade, and officially starting my grad school applications. Whew! September, bring it on.

Mindfulness and Mad Scientists

Posted by Lucille on August 26, 2014 at 4:20 PM Comments comments (0)

I got to meet Robin from The Mindful Midwife last weekend! We spent a delightful couple of hours sharing stories and exploring the forest. We even found a baby squirrel!

Afterwards, Dad, Pascal, and I headed up to Seattle to go to my cousin's book release party for his awesome new book, The Non-Zombie Apocalypse. There were parasite races and pan galactic gargle blasters.

Such different celebrations back to back left me overflowing with delight and gratitude. Life is good, and even better shared.

Belonging

Posted by Lucille on August 21, 2014 at 6:20 PM Comments comments (0)

So many good things have happened this summer. Kittens, travels, cozy nights at home, squirt bottle fights, sunsets, yummy food with radiant people... I don't even know where to start. Life is delicious.

As always, it's been busy. It's also been different, in the sense that for the first time since leaving for college, I am not taking classes. The to do list running through my head is scaled not to the week or term, but the year: get doula experience, write a thesis, take the GRE, apply to grad school, get 2 more bio credits, graduate college, and figure out what comes next. It's intimidating and liberating to know that I am the one pulling all of this together- not without help, of course, but I have my hands in so many different projects that there is no one 'overseeing' the whole except for me. I have to, and get to, make it up as I go.

Uncertainty. This is the word that characterizes this time. It doesn't foretell anything in particular, just the purity of the unknown. I have no idea what the next year holds. There are so many questions that they overlap and entangle each other and refuse to fit into words. Uncountable. Unanswerable. 

Uncertainty.

I've written before about The Desire Map, an emotion-focused approach to goal setting that I picked up last term. The book prompts you to explore the emotions in different areas of your life and guides you toward identifying your core desired feelings. I went into it with a deep craving that I had not yet named. It was not for arrival, because I know that there is no such thing. It was not for trust, because trust implies attachment to a certain outcome. The word that emerged for me, long before I even got to that part of the book, was belonging.

Belonging- in a full sense, not strictly socially. A sense of fit, harmony, and consonance between myself and my niche in the world. Belonging in my career path. In my family. In my relationships. In my body, in my mind. Belonging.

The Desire Map talks about the importance of directionality. For example, you would not say, " I want to feel loving," or "I want to feel loved," but rather, "I want to feel love." Belonging, as a gerund, is more complicated. What is its directional opposite- not its antonym, but its pair?

The word I found was welcoming.

It felt right. Belonging and welcoming fit. They embodied the harmony I craved and led me to the subtle shift in mindset I had been looking for.

'I accept this' has been one of my grounding phrases for a while now. The change between 'I accept this' and 'I welcome this' is subtle and powerful. Every time I welcome this moment, and then this moment, and then this moment, I create my own belonging.

I welcome this. Even when I don't know what 'it' is. Even when 'it' is a flight through unquantifiable, unanswerable questions, hurtling toward a future I can't know. Belonging is not waiting for my arrival on the other side. Belonging is here, now, in the flight between the two trapezes. Belonging is not in finding the answers, but in welcoming the unanswerable questions, as they are, and inviting them to fly with me. I welcome this. I welcome everything. I say yes, to the whole of my human experience, welcoming uncertainty and finding belonging in the questions.

I have a bulletin board filled with pictures and quotes and poems that inspire me. I wanted to add something for each of my core desired feelings: belonging, welcoming, vitality, and wonder. But none of the photos I found were quite right for any of the words. And then I found this, by John Poppleton.

I see belonging and welcoming in the two women. I see vitality and wonder in the scene they create. And the light between them adds a hint of birth imagery to tie it all together.

What images, quotes, and poems ground you? What will you welcome today?

Road Trip

Posted by Lucille on June 8, 2014 at 4:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Travis and I really wanted his folks to meet the kittens while they were still kittens, and at the rate they've been growing, that meant we needed to plan a trip to California sooner rather than later. We found a weekend that worked for both of us, drove down Thursday, stayed Friday and Saturday, and drove back up Sunday. The kittens were model passengers and mostly slept the whole drive. We let them out every few hundred miles, and they even tolerated their leashes.



The true excitement of the trip was introducing them to Lena. Instead of running away or hiding, they stood their ground, hissing and even growling when Lena needed to back off. Lena (reluctantly) respected their space. Over the course of the weekend, that space bubble shrunk from half the house to a few feet, and just as we were about to load them into the car, we found Castor and Lena licking each other's noses. I think we lucked out with these two. Granted, I'm biased, but I think these might be the sweetest kittens in the world.



Insurance Companies Are Evil

Posted by Lucille on June 7, 2014 at 2:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Yes, I would take an evil insurance company over not having health insurance any day. But people over profit = ugh.

It turns out my therapist was actually out of network, even though I found her on my insurance company's website by clicking on the 'find an in-network provider' button. This means that our insurance coverage for my therapy visits over the last four months was 0% instead of 80%. On closer inspection, yes, there was a fine-print notice to select my network, which I missed. I made a mistake. But I also think that it would be easy for them to keep people from making that mistake if that was their intention. It took four months for them to process the claim, and, despite speaking with me over the phone every few weeks with my file open in front of them, the company representatives never said anything to indicate there was a problem. Once I knew otherwise, I called the insurance company and gave my information to a representative. She asked what she could help me with. Moments after I said the words 'claim denial', the line went dead.

The knowledge that if I had been just a little more aware, a little more careful, I could have prevented the whole situation left me with the potent combination of anger and guilt, and by the time Dad got home, I had devolved into a puddle of emotion. I took a deep breath and shared the news.

And he said, "Honey, if I had never made a mistake, particularly with regard to insurance companies, I would sit you down for a lecture right now. As it is, how about a hug?"

After a long hug, I asked, "You made a mistake with health insurance one time? What happened?"

"I finally got up the courage to tell my dad, and he said, 'Son, if I'd never made an insurance mistake, I'd sit you down for a lecture right now, but as it is..."

Some cultures initiate young people into adulthood with a bonfire. Ours initiates them by slapping them with a bill.

And under the anger and guilt, I welcomed gratitude-- gratitude for the fact that we have health insurance that takes care of most of our health needs, and gratitude that when it doesn't, we are actually in a position to absorb the fallout and be okay.

Because I've made so much progress, I decided to discontinue therapy instead of transferring to an in-network provider. I met with my therapist one last time to thank her. 

Mom commented that there was a bright side to my mistake, as it lead me to exactly the provider I needed to see. And, sitting here, taking a deep breath, and smiling, I have to agree.

Here's to moms and bright sides.


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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.