Brave Woman

Adventures of a future nurse-midwife


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Coming of Age

Posted by Lucille on July 20, 2015 at 9:55 PM Comments comments (0)

My mom re-read my first letter to myself, linked from my last post. The next time I came over, she scooped me into a tight hug. "Oh, if I had only known...if I had any idea, I wouldn't have waited, I would have moved heaven and earth to get you out of there..."

It was one of those amazing hugs that only your mom can give, but I pulled away because I had to interrupt her.

"Mom. No. Absolutely not. I love you so much and I can only imagine how hard it must have been to have me be sick and far away, and to wait until I asked you to help me. But I am so, so glad you did."

I ended up having to pull up my post and read a quote from it to her.

"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."

"That was my moment, Mom. In the whole fiasco that was Berkeley, that is the moment I am most proud of. It didn't feel that way at the time, but that was my VICTORY. That was my coming of age moment. I'm so glad that you waited even though you knew I needed help. I hadn't figured it out yet. And because you waited, I got to figure it out for myself. I was caught up in this whole idea of who I was supposed to be, and instead of just having that taken away, I got to sit with it and make a conscious choice to set it down. I was trying to be independent, and I ultimately had to conclude that was unrealistic and unhealthy-- but I had AGENCY in my choice to step away from that. Instead of just needing help, I learned to ask for it. I really wish I hadn't needed to be so sick before I learned that lesson, but I'm glad I got to learn it for myself. I know that was probably one of the hardest things I ever asked of you. Thank you for waiting until I asked to come home. I'm glad you did."

That really wasn't what mom was expecting. After a while she said she could understand it intellectually, but that emotionally, even knowing everything I'd just said, all she wanted to do was fly down to go get me and hold me and make me well. And if I try to imagine my baby being sick and far away, I'm in the same boat. My babies are going to be lucky if I ever let them out of my sight. 

Did you know my parents let me go to Africa? Just weeks after graduating from high school? I mean seriously. My parents are some of the most courageous people I know.

Another Letter to Lucille

Posted by Lucille on July 10, 2015 at 2:35 AM Comments comments (1)

A year ago, I wrote a letter to my younger self at the time I was most afraid. (Which you can find here.) Today, I want to write a letter to the Lucille I was then, one year ago.

Hi, love.

I am writing again, just like I promised, with your own glimpse through the fog. You are on the edge of a really exciting year. You are jumping into a lot of brand new things, you brave girl, and you will learn so much.

Here is your spoiler. You will spend a LOT of time this next year feeling anxious.

And now I have another spoiler for you: that is okay. You are okay. There is nothing wrong with you.

The last time you leapt into a brand new adventure that was outside of your control, you took on a lot more than you thought you'd signed up for. You pushed your mind, heart, and body to their absolute limits. You were sick and scared, and it took a lot of time, love, and healing to get back on solid ground.

Now you are jumping again. I don't care that the adventure you're heading off on this time might objectively sound more mundane. Of COURSE you're scared. There is nothing weird about that. It would be downright weird for you NOT to be scared. All this means is that your mind and body are looking out for you, letting you know that you are taking risks, and reminding you to take care of yourself.

Anxiety is there for a reason. By the end of this year, you two will be old friends. You will go from either acting on anxiety or begging it to shut up, to saying, "Hi, friend. I hear you. Thanks for looking out for me, but I'm pretty sure I've got this right now."

It will take a lot of wisdom and courage to get to that point.

One last spoiler: you are wise and brave, and you've got this.

This year you will write a thesis, apply to grad school, and attend nine births. You are going to learn so much. Man, I'm excited for you. That doesn't mean it will be easy. One of the things you're going to learn is that working from home while being on-call 24/7 is emphatically NOT YOUR THING. That's okay. What a great thing to learn, right? I'm so glad you're learning this now. That lesson will not cancel out all the others, because you know that this is temporary. You can push yourself outside your zone for a year, learn a lot about yourself and the world, and be stronger for it. Learn as much as you can that is useful to you, and leave the rest.

You're going to learn that writing a thesis is not really your thing either. That's okay. You've got this, babe. Take a break to process life-news as you need to. Then come back and get it done.

One thing this year WILL be your thing: BIRTH. Oh man, do you love supporting families through all kinds of different birth experiences. You'll put your foot in your mouth sometimes, but overall, you're going to be great. Trust me. You know your calling. Now, being constantly on-call...that's going to be hard. That is not for you in the long term. But this is not the long term. This is the point in your life where you can actually make it work, and one day you're going to REALLY miss offering that continuity of care, getting to know families ahead of time and then being there through the whole story. It's going to be hard AND awesome. Soak in every drop of it while you can, and remember to nurture yourself as much as others.

Working from home will take a toll on your body. To the pound, you're going to gain as much weight as you lost last time. (And I'm a turtle if you think that's coincidence.) Here's the thing, though. Your body talks to you in lots of ways, and you're the only one that knows where your priorities need to be. If your body says that you need to spend that hour every week with a therapist instead of at the gym, listen. If your body tells you that right now buying bigger clothes will be a healthier choice than adding one more stress to your plate, listen. Do what you need to do. Keep tending the balance, knowing that this particular balance is temporary and that soon enough it will change again.

This next year, you will have a lot of big projects due nine months out, with no daily structure and no feedback along the way. That's going to be hard. You are used to accomplishing things and getting regular guidance. You're going to feel lost, chronically behind, maybe even ashamed. I know I can't actually give you this spoiler, but I want you to know anyway. You are going to get EVERYTHING done. Every single thing. Your thesis, grduating college, certifying as a doula, finishing your work at SARC, figuring out a plan for next year... It will all happen. You will spend so much time worrying that you haven't finished yet that by the time you finish it will feel less like a celebration and more like a contented sigh at the end of a nine-month long day. But you will do it. I'm cheering you on.

I know that you feel isolated right now. That's not going to get better quite yet, but you will get better at reaching out. I know it's scary. Keep practicing. Extroverting is hard, but it will keep getting easier.

Isolation, uncertainty, and anxiety will all challenge you this year. You are up for the challenge. And a year from now, you will look back and laugh at life's serendipity, marveling at how the lessons you learned this year may turn out to be EXACTLY what you needed for your next adventure.

The last time you were in an accelerated program, it ended badly. You were on fire: you accomplished more than you ever thought was possible, but in the end you were seriously burnt out and alone. You want nursing school to be different. I think the work you do this year will be exactly what you need to ensure that. You will start nursing school ready for a busy routine, ready to lay aside competitiveness and build strong connections with others, and knowing a lot more about how to take care of yourself than you ever have before.

I can't tell you how this part ends. I bet it's going to be awesome. And I promise to write you again with all the juicy details when I find out.

What I can tell you is that I'm really, really grateful for all the hard work you did this year. You rose to the challenge, pushed yourself while taking care of yourself, and changed more than you thought you could. Thank you. I don't know how nursing school is going to go, but I feel more ready to get what I want to out of this experience than I ever imagined. If I could give you a giant hug right now, I would. This year is going to be hard, wild, and worth it. It's okay to be scared. Thank you for taking it on.

One last time: you've got this.




Posted by Lucille on June 30, 2015 at 3:30 AM Comments comments (0)

I started this year with a long list of things due nine months down the road, and no plan for how to get there.

Somehow, it happened. This was a month of lasts.

Last doula birth. Last page of my thesis. Last SARC shift. Last day as an undergraduate student.

Relief and pride at another journey complete.

A few weeks after our three-year anniversary, Travis and I graduated.

For the first time in at least a decade, my family hosted a party, and family came from three states to celebrate with us. Having so many of our nearest and dearest in one place was absolutely magical, and even more literally so when Dad presented Travis, Pascal, and I with Hogwarts robes!

I am so lucky to be surrounded by so much love.

Last SARC Shift

Posted by Lucille on June 30, 2015 at 3:25 AM Comments comments (0)

I did my last shift for the Sexual Assault Resource Center support line this week, and got to end on a wonderful note. Friends/family calling for info on how to support a survivor they love is my absolute favorite!

Whole New Worlds

Posted by Lucille on June 30, 2015 at 3:00 AM Comments comments (0)

For the spring break of the year I would graduate college and Pascal would graduate 8th grade, Dad took the two of us all the way to Florida to go to Gatorland, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and Disney World. (Mom and Travis both had to work.) It was AWESOME. I ziplined over a swamp full of alligators. I started crying over breakfast at the three broomsticks, as the consumerism of a crowded theme park faded away and I saw hundreds of families united by their love for a story, for the words that began as one woman's scribbles on a napkin during her daily commute. The impact one woman's imagination had on an entire generation moved me to tears (hardly the first time JK Rowling has done this to me). Pascal and I screamed on the Hippogriff ride, got soaked trying to escape Jurassic Park, got lost in Diagon Alley, escaped Gringotts on the back of a dragon, traveled to Mars, and rode down Mt. Everest. It was a truly magical trip with two of my favorite people in the world.

And it came with a piece of good news that couldn't have had better timing. On the bus back to the hotel, my phone buzzed, and a glance told me that it was an email from OHSU. My brain went from 0 to 60. I started frantically tapping dads knee, asking if I should open it then or wait to get to somewhere private. He said go for it. I did. The email didn't start with anything obvious like 'Congratulations...' or 'We regret to inform you...' so it took me a few minutes on a moving bus to zero in on the words... "have been accepted." I yelled, "I GOT IN!" so loudly that half the bus jumped, and then started crying. Then Dad and Pascal started crying because I was so happy. Then other random people on the bus started crying and asking to take pictures of us and it turned into a scene. Right now the excitement has faded into overwhelming relief, but I know it will come back as this actually sinks in. I start in June. I am going to be a nurse!

No Midwifery, Yet

Posted by Lucille on June 30, 2015 at 2:55 AM Comments comments (0)

It is maddening, waiting for news that will define your immediate future. For something you have worked toward for years, that you crave so badly it makes your stomach hurt.

The OHSU website still said that the interview dates for the midwifery program were TBA. I didn't know when I could expect to hear anything, and the weeks of waiting were getting to me.

I finally called the admissions office to ask if the midwifery interview dates had been scheduled. "Let's see, the midwifery interviews..." she said, "Oh, it looks like they already happened."

There was a long pause.

"Oh, okay. Thank you," I said, and hung up.

I texted Travis to let him know what I'd learned, and that I was okay. I felt okay, really. Just numb.

It's a good thing he knows when not to listen to me.

He headed home right away, and got there just as the numbness subsided and reality hit.

I cried. A lot. He held me while I sifted through all of the emotions clamoring inside me. Fear of failure showed up, big time. Rejection. Hurt. Even anger. More fear.

But here's the thing. The fear of failure I'd been carrying around ever since I decided to be a midwife, it came true. And eventually the tears stopped. And I was there, in Travis's arms, in my home, with my cats, at the school where I was doing work that was turning me into the kind of person I wanted to be. The world had not fallen apart. I had, to the extent I had needed to, and then with help I put myself back together again. One goal had not been realized, or at least, had been delayed. Here I was. I was okay.

A few days later, I got an email inviting me to a nursing school interview.

Oh, man. This was the only other program I'd applied to. My backup, which wasn't feeling so much like a backup anymore. The stakes were high and my anxiety high with it. I practiced interview questions, and made up prompts to practice for the proctored essay. I agonized over preparing. I got all the anxiety out. And then on the day of the interview, I swallowed it, put on a smile, and showed up.

The interview was hard. It was a group interview with multiple interviewers. We all got different questions and had two minutes to answer each one. I fumbled my first few questions, and then nailed my last few, and left not sure how to feel about it. Everyone else was so experienced. I knew there was a really good chance that I was not getting in, but suddenly that didn't seem so horrible. Every single person I met there was amazing, and would make a fantastic nurse. The idea that 3/4 of us were going to be rejected highlighted that rejection was not a comment on us, but just on the limited spaces in the program. I decided to think of it as a learning experience and just keep showing up.

The next step was a proctored, timed essay. The prompt fit one of the ones I had made up and been practicing all week. I ROCKED it.

Then we ended with a Q&A session. After we had asked all our questions and had a tour of the school, they gave us a surprise. They just finished getting everything approved to open up a second cohort. That means twice as many of us will get in than we originally thought. Everyone left smiling.

I don't know yet what next year will look like. I'm scared of not getting in because I don't really have a backup-backup. But I feel like I did my best and I'm glad that at this point it's out of my hands.

Birth Tree

Posted by Lucille on June 30, 2015 at 2:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Travis painted this tree for me, and together we added a small dot for each of the nine patients I worked intimately with in Gambia, and a pinky print petal for each of the nine births I attended this year as a doula. Hopefully there will be many more to come.


Posted by Lucille on February 20, 2015 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (0)

 **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. All identifying information has been removed or changed. The characters are not real, but could be. I take creative license to communicate the essence of my experience while respecting the privacy of others.**


Because this is the first time I have written about births I attended as a doula in this forum, I want to emphasize that disclaimer. There is power in sharing stories. I want to share my story with you, with all its quirks, pitfalls, and triumphs. At the same time, I hold my clients' confidentiality in the utmost importance. I have gone over every word of this post to be sure that confidentiality is protected. Unless I was given explicit permission to share a story, I have removed or changed enough details that my clients could read their own story and not recognize it as theirs. My goal is not to share any individual's birth story, but to share a collection of vignettes that illustrate the spectrum of my experiences, in order to share my authentic journey as an always-developing person, woman, and doula.


I was running late to an interview. Pollux hadn't been feeling well, and as I was racing around getting my stuff together, I glanced down to see that he had thrown up on one of Travis's shirts. I didn't have time to deal with it right then, so I threw the shirt in the sink, texted Travis, picked my jacket up off the floor, and headed to the car. I was late to the interview. The couple welcomed me inside and into their living room. As I took my jacket off, a wad of cat vomit fell off my back and landed, with a smack, on their carpet. Their pristine, white carpet. There was a suspended moment of mortified silence where I would have gladly chosen to sink into the carpet myself. After the interview, I visited Travis in the engineering building, and burst into laughter before I could even begin my confession. The whole group was doubled over by the time I finished. I joked that someone must be on their way to confiscate by adult card and was comforted when someone told me that on the scale of interview horror stories, mine was fairly adult (though he quickly clarified that he meant that literally and not as a euphemism...I don't want to imagine how an adult interview horror story would go!) For now I hope this remains a unique experience. At least I won't have a shortage of stories for the grandkids.

The difficulty of doing something new and feeling like I'm making everything up as I go along. The relief that I can usually find one of many right answers, listen, and adapt as needed.

Realizing that my profile saying that I have experience working with survivors has been sending more interviews my way than anything else, and worrying that I'm jumping into the deep end.

A few months later, an interesting reversal: leaving for an interview and thinking, "I hope this client has a history of trauma." Laughing at myself because I would never wish trauma on anyone, obviously, but thanks to the thoroughness of SARC's training and the newness of doula work, supporting clients around trauma seems to be one of the few times I feel like I actually know what I'm doing. When I decided to volunteer at SARC (after exhausting all other options) I would never have guessed it would be such a good fit that it would someday shape my niche as a doula!

The clients who decided, for any number of perfectly valid reasons, that I was not the right doula for them.

The clients I never heard back from.

The clients who, after I explained that I would leave my contract with them for two weeks to give them time to interview other doulas and make the right decision for them, grabbed the contract out of my hand and signed it then and there.

Leaving my phone in the other room and missing a call from a mom whose water broke unexpectedly. It had been two hours since she called. So glad my bag was packed in advance! I rushed to meet her and brought her some lifesavers as an apology. It wasn't until the next week that I learned another client had been having strong contractions that night and almost called me. I'm never setting my phone down again!

Being called to the hospital in the middle of the night to take over so that a mom's partner could get some rest. Rubbing the mom's back during the peak of each contraction because it helped her sleep through it. Sitting in the quiet, the rhythm, and the peace of the room, watching over both of them. Wondering if this peace is what it means to 'hold space'.

Holding eye contact with a mom as a contraction surged over her, creating a space of focus between us that blocked out the rest of the room and trying to hold it steady, steady, until the wave finished crashing past and left us a brief pause before the next one. This, too, is holding space.

As an introvert, I'm hardly a party person, and most of the time, I couldn't tell a joke if I tried. Dad has a story about driving an injured friend to the emergency room, cracking jokes while they raced down the freeway, and he swears it's the funniest he's ever been in his life. I guess I inherited the gene. Right when a mom's contractions got so intense that they started to scare her, the partner and I started telling jokes, playing off of each other, getting the mom to join in until we were all laughing so hard we could hardly breathe and the nurse came over to give the mom oxygen. I can't remember a single thing I said but I swear I've never been funnier in my life. We even had the nurses in tears.

Containing my clinical curiosity so that I can keep my doula hat on instead of following the nurses around like an eager puppy. I want to learn everything! And maybe someday I will. Today, I'm learning this.

Feeling overwhelming admiration for the nurses, doctors, and midwives I meet.

The moment my calm faltered. Laboring women in Gambia were normally fairly quiet, at least when no one was touching them, and though I've read a hundred times that American women are louder, it still surprised me and brought up the fear that something must be wrong. I turned to the nurse midwife, begging her with my eyes to assure me this was normal and remind me what to do. She gave me a warm smile, stepped in with perfect calmness to support the mom's rhythm, and then made room for me to take over again. I felt a wave of gratitude and a hope that, someday, I may be in her shoes and get to help guide others on their way into this work.

Smelling that unique birth smell for the first time since coming back from Gambia, and having some part of it feel like coming home.

Laughing with a client about the gigantic, poofy pads they have moms wear to catch leaking amniotic fluid. Remembering mid-laugh that I am on my period and have no pads to change into. Finally getting up the courage to tell the nurse, who said that the gift shop sells pads but wouldn't reopen until morning. She offered me a labor and delivery pad from the cupboard in the mom's room. The mom thought this was absolutely hilarious. It fit me like a boat. Later, the mom wanted to get up and walk, so we left the room joking about our matching diaper-butts and strutted past the nurse's station like it was a runway at a labor and delivery fashion show. Bonus points for making my client laugh until she cried! 

Cramping in time with someone's contractions is still one of the most amazing and bizarre things I've ever experienced. 

Covering my laughter when a well-meaning husband who went to the cafeteria to get food and brought back what must have been the most pungent food they had. His wife wouldn't let it through the door.

Understanding why so much emphasis in training was placed on introductions. At a shift change, the dynamic between the mom and a new nurse/doctor/midwife is established in the first five seconds. Vowing, when I am a provider, to enter rooms with intention.

The mom who was afraid her partner would try to take the lead, and her partner, who showed up eager to lovingly follow.

Hitting the point in labor, at several births, where moms decided they wanted an epidural. Asking if they'd like some time to think about it or talk about options with the provider and getting a very confident reply. Affirming their choice. Hitting the call button and riding the waves of contraction with them while we wait for the anesthesiologist. Waiting outside because only one support person is allowed in the room while the epidural is inserted. Coming back into a much calmer room, and getting to talk through everything that had happened so far and validate, validate, validate. You were working so hard. You're right, things were happening really fast. You're right, things were intense but moving slowly, and I think it's completely reasonable that you didn't want to do that for hours. You know what's right for you and I think resting and saving up your energy for the next part sounds like a great way to go. You are amazing.

Being invited to go home and rest for a few hours and come back when things get moving again. Getting home, and getting a text that says, "Baby's heart rate is dropping. Come back now." Turning around, taking a deep breath and reminding myself to drive safely, while willing the traffic out of my way.

Having a pediatric team in the room while the mom pushed. Seeing the baby ease out, gray. Watching the peds team step forward, and before they could get there, seeing the baby give a huge, loud cry, and in one breath, turn bright pink. Joining in the tears, laughter, and applause that filled the room.

I got a model pelvis to bring to prenatals for educational purposes. Travis and I have been joking that we need to make a list of things that would only be heard in a home with a birthworker. First on the list is, "Honey, the cats are chewing on your pelvis again!"

I took on a complicated case involving low health literacy, lanugage barriers, and stark cultural differences to boot. I could not have invented a birth that more succinctly triggered all of my memories from Gambia if I tried. I hit my edge a few hours before we expected the baby to be born and started texting my confidantes for moral support. Half a day later, we were in the same place, driving on empty, pushing, and pushing, and pushing through. We were so close. And then the baby crashed. We heaved the mother into different positions to try to relieve pressure on the cord, unsuccessfully, and then before I knew what was happening, I witnessed my first emergency episiotomy. The baby was pulled out, limp and blue. Very much not breathing. It looked exactly like every dead baby I saw in Gambia. The family celebrated while the medical staff whispered perfectly enunciated orders, and I stood in the middle of it all, feeling like the only character in a dystopian novel who's aware that something is profoundly wrong. I chanted silently in my head, willing the baby to breathe, breathe, breathe, while the doctor worked to stopped the mother's bleeding. I didn't hear the baby breathe, but I saw when the shoulders of everyone working on the baby relaxed in unison. The baby slowly pinked up. I do a thing where I stay very calm in emergencies, and then afterward, when everything is perfectly okay, I go through all of the emotions that would have been normal at the time. I excused myself, ran to the bathroom, and let myself panic. I full-out sobbed for several minutes. Then the need passed as suddenly as it had come. I took a deep breath, put my calm face back on, and went back into the room. The care team at this birth was FANTASTIC. I wrote them a thank you note later. My eyes were still red when I left, and three different staff members stopped me on the short walk to the door to thank me for being there. One nurse called haltingly after me that she hoped I'd had a positive experience. It was certainly a learning one! 

Improving my self care. SARC does a fantastic job of supporting its advocates. When you are on call, you have a backup, who has a backup, who has a backup. Doula have to build your own network. I read a wonderful book by Amanda Palmer recently called The Art of Asking. This shifted my definition of self care. One of the most important parts of self care is not limiting it to yourself-caring-for-yourself. Asking for help is crucial. Accepting help is crucial. That means that tending to your relationships, caring for the people close to you, is also a form of self-care if you feel comfortable asking for help in turn. By this definition, pretty much everything is self care. Working. Helping. Relaxing. Asking. And that makes sense, right? Humans are animals: everything we do has a purpose and benefits us in some way (even if there are trade-offs). The crucial step in self-care is believing in your own self worth. After that, I think self care could more accurately be called tending the balance: between give and take, work time and down time, introvert time and extrovert time, energy in and energy out. I say 'tending' the balance because it's not something you can put in place and walk away from. It takes constant maintenance. I'm still (and probably always will be) learning. But with just a few births under my belt, I have gotten much better. I am learning, through trial and error, how to take care of my body at a birth and get back onto a normal sleep schedule after. I am learning how to ask for help. After this tough birth, I texted Travis to say, "I'm in the car. I'm not okay, yet. Put some ciders in the fridge and some pasta on the stove." When I came home shaking uncontrollably, Travis was waiting with my favorite food, fuzzy pajamas, and a stronger-than-normal drink, then tucked me into bed with my favorite stuffed animals. Later I would debrief with my designated debrief people and ask for support from my support people. I even talked with a family friend who's a resuscitation nurse, who walked me through the protocols they use to help babies get started so I know what to watch for. The next week would be midterms week for Travis, and I took my turn helping him. That is self care too. It's all care. It's all grace. It's all love.

I didn't bring gloves to my first few births. I'm non-medical, after all, so I figured I wouldn't need them. WRONG. Birth is messy. Gloves = required.

Supporting a third-time mom in active labor. Her style of coping was very internal with few external cues for the nurse and I to follow, but she had recently been assessed as 5cm. The nurse said that she was going to take her lunch now, so that in a few hours, when things got intense, she could be there to support the birth. About ten minutes after she left, the mom's eyes widened and she turned to me and said, "I think he's coming out." "You mean you have the urge to push?" I said. "No," she said, "He's coming out! Right now!" I have never hit the call button so fast in my life. The OB had to catch the baby with her fingers because her gloves were still only half on!

Pulling out my mama bear mode when an uninvited family member walked in at the worst possible moment, and a nurse made it clear that she couldn't be the one to stop them. I used my full body to literally block the door. It got the point across until I could step outside with them to explain the situation, and we laughed about it later.

More than once, witnessing pain during crowning that was fleeting but intense enough to bring my heart into my throat. Seconds later, seeing a wave of hormones banish the pain from her memory, to pave the way for a rush of love and joy. Offering eye contact and a supportive touch to her partner as we took a moment to catch up.

Marveling at serendipity. When I started doula work, I added a new item to my bucket list: be there to help welcome a baby that would share my birthday. I didn't think I'd get to cross that off on my very first try! They hadn't decided on a name yet and joked that if the baby had been a girl, they'd have named her after me. So a new item for the bucket list: help welcome a baby named Lucille!

Coming home from a tough birth that took a lot of advocacy on all sides and a whole team of people dedicated to getting baby out safely. I was exhausted and a little shaken but decided to troop myself to Sunday Assembly Portland even though I knew I'd get there late and have to leave early. I walked in to a room more packed than I'd ever seen it, with everybody up and singing, "There ain't no easy way out, baby, and no I won't...back...down." Instant tears of community from me. 

Breathing with a mom all through labor to help her keep her rhythm. Later, when she was pushing, not noticing that I was holding my breath with her out of habit until I realized I was about to pass out. Grateful that I was able to signal a nurse so I could step back and catch my breath, and grateful this happened as a student doula, when it is easier to give myself permission to make mistakes and laugh about them after.

Worrying that I would have to call in my backup before the baby arrived so I could catch my ride out of town. Welcoming a new baby into the world with absolutely perfect timing.

Identifying with a client. She and her partner were close in age to Travis and I, and had traveled to the same places, had the same books on their shelves, had the same sense of humor, etc. I know it's dangerous to identify with a client but I couldn't help feeling a little extra invested in her birth experience, looking to it as evidence than when my time came, I could have the birth I wanted, too. It was one of the most beautiful births I'd ever seen. And I think the first first-time birth I'd seen ever, counting Gambia, that included no interventions at all. She labored in the tub, on hands and knees, on a birth stool, on her side. She worked harder than she'd ever worked in her life, but just the way she wanted to and with total support from her team. I joked with her partner that whatever class he took is the one I'm sending Travis to when the time comes. I wept with them as they held their newborn in their arms.

Getting a picture of a brand new baby reaching forward, superman-style, as he was passed up to mom.

Watching a second-time mom with a traumatic first birth experience weep with relief and joy that her second experience went even more smoothly than she had hoped. Passing tissues to her partner, who was crying even harder.

Getting out of the way as the OB ran into the room and joined the midwife and nurses in a dance I didn't know to stop the bleeding, STAT. Stepping forward to marvel at the new little human that had joined us, and praise her pale but overjoyed mom.

Realizing I forgot something at a postpartum visit with one of my teen moms. I texted her to ask if I could drop by and get it. She was in a great mood and had several friends over, who were sitting with her on the bed. When I came in, she smiled and asked if I wanted to hold the baby. (I've made it a rule not to ask to hold anyone's baby. But if they offer, it's always an enthusiastic yes!) I took the baby, and then paused, realizing I had never seen the baby without a hat on before. She had the most expressive eyebrows I'd ever seen, on ANYONE, much less a newborn. I was 85% sure they were drawn on with eyeliner, but the artwork was so detailed that I wasn't sure. The room had gone completely silent. Finally I looked up, smiled, and said, "Wow, her jaundice has gotten much better!" The room exploded into giggles with everyone calling out for me to look at her eyebrows, and bragging about the realistic artwork. I wondered which one of them had seen my text and then said, "You know what we should do?! Let's draw eyebrows on the baby and see what the doula says!" while the mom beamed and the baby giggled up at all of us. If you come through labor with your sense of humor intact, you're golden.

Running out of ways to help and realizing that I could not keep trying to rescue her. Stepping back, saying, "Your baby needs your strength. He needs to come out now, and no one can push him out but you." Watching the aloneness I had been keeping at bay since we entered the room surface in full force, and holding space for it. There is a saying that whatever weight you carry into a birth, it will let itself be heard, one way or another. Grounding myself and holding her with my eyes, welcoming whatever comes. "It's okay. You are safe, let it out. It's okay to cry. It's okay for this to suck. This is so hard, and you are so strong. You can do it. You are already doing it. You've got this!" Seeing her dig deep into her inner strength and come back with resolve, and moments later, hearing a triumphant baby cry, a catharsis made even sweeter by the struggle it followed.

Watching in awe as a mom drew on gratitude to get through transition. She and her partner grounded each other and seemed to effortlessly work in sync. Hearing one of the nurses ask another, "Are you okay?" The first nodded, wiped her eyes, and said, "I just really love my job."

Getting a call from a mom saying she had her first Braxton-Hicks contractions. Congratulating her and encouraging her to rest and wait to see what her body wanted to do. Two hours later, getting a call from a worried partner saying her contractions were only two minutes apart. It turns out I can get from my couch to my car in 60 seconds, flat.

Stepping through the door at a postpartum and feeling my jaw drop. "You're...glowing," I said. I always thought the 'new mother glow' was metaphorical, but there was no other word for it. She laughed a fuller laugh than I had ever heard from her, nuzzled her baby, and said, "I really, really like not being pregnant!"

The mom who reported feeling some postpartum baby blues.

The mom who wept every time she held her son because he was so perfect.

The mom who could wholeheartedly identify with both of the above.


Winter Break

Posted by Lucille on February 20, 2015 at 6:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Winter break was delightful. I came home from a birth just in time to hop in the car, and then woke up in California. We stayed in Chico for a week. The cats LOVED all the extra space to run around and even tried to play with the dog on occasion. We gave Travis's parents kitten fever and even went to the humane society while we were there, but none of the kitties were quite right. We watched the first season of Outlander and ate delicious food with Travis's family. I got some awesome xmas presents, including a star wars communicator pin. Too soon, it was time to come back home- and then we celebrated New Year's with my parents and got to do xmas all over again! I made earrings with a good friend (I'm getting better at it!). I didn't have any clients due in winter break, but I caught a second birth right before the start of term. I don't even have many photos I can share of this break because I was so caught up in the delight that I forgot to take any. I think I'll take that as a good thing. Luckily, a family friend caught this one of my family with the kitties. Happy 2015!

Fall Term

Posted by Lucille on December 9, 2014 at 12:50 PM Comments comments (0)

I am sitting on the couch in my apartment, bundled up in cozy blankets, watching the December fog lift over the Marquam Bridge. Pollux is curled up next to me, wondering if he can stretch out across the keyboard without me noticing. I took my final, my last final at PSU, yesterday. Travis has more tests throughout this week, so it is just me and the cats here to enjoy the morning.

This is a hard term to write about, not because it was unpleasant or uneventful, but just because the memorable pieces of this term were not in a few deep stories but in a multitude of short snippets and vignettes, more naturally chronicled in Facebook updates than in blog posts. This term was the term that:

The yin yang kittens turned into yin yang cats.

I took developmental biology, my last class for my biology degree. All that remains for next term is my thesis!

My birth tree painting started! Travis is heading the operation at this point. (Finger-painting is a narrow and prestigious specialty, you know.) I'm doing my part by shooing the cats away and watching giddily. Watch a timelapse here. And yes, we duct-taped a phone to the ceiling to take this. We're classy. 

I started interviewing clients. Every interview is so different, on a full range from 'I am not even remotely qualified to be an adult' to 'look at me adulting all over the place.' The wait for their decision is the hardest. I absolutely want families to choose the doula that's right for them, but it's hard to hear that that's not you, especially when you're offering your services for free. I was feeling insecure about this the other day and Travis offered to role play an interview with me so he could give me feedback. He listened while I gave my usual intro, explaining that I trust him to know what's right for his family, and that I would be there to support him in those choices every step of the way. I asked if there were any specific hopes or concerns he wanted to talk about. He nodded, leaned forward with a straight face and said that it was very important to him that we only address the baby in Klingon.

I got my first clients! Like the interviews, there was a full range of experience, from 'I don't share your approach but I'm happy to support you as a doula' to 'can you please please please be part of my family?!'

Drumroll...I went to a birth! My first since Gambia, and my first as a trained doula. It was both a learning experience and a positive one.

I asked for help in new ways when I needed to. After the birth, I decided not to sleep until my normal bedtime to try to prevent jetlag. I had some coffee, overestimated my tolerance to caffeine, and then decided to work on my high stakes application essays. That combination brewed up anxiety in a way I hadn't expected. I ended up walking into the counseling center and asking them to help me stay calm until the caffeine wore off. I felt like a complete failure, but they were kind, said all of my SARC lines to me, and helped me brainstorm ways to be gentler with myself next time. One of their suggestions was to visit the writing center for help with my application essays. This was some of the best advice I received. I'm glad I asked for help, and I think my essays were stronger for it.

  I've been bouncing around between healthcare providers since leaving my pediatric doctor, but I finally have a primary healthcare provider again. I also got my first pap smear and mammogram. And then, I signed a healthcare information release form to myself, and got to look at all the pictures. So cool!

I took the GRE. I'd done a bunch of practice tests and I thought I had a good sense of how difficult it would be. Not even close. It was like slogging through mathematical mud. I felt betrayed by the practice book, which didn't come close to being that hard, and ashamed of myself for messing up so badly. I pushed through to the end and stared in disbelief at my score. I did really well! Oh yeah, unlike the practice book, the computer-based test is adaptive. It is actually designed to get harder and harder until you stop being able to keep up. Unfortunately, realizing my anxiety and guilt were based on faulty information didn't magically make the stress hormones disappear, but the good news is that kitten cuddles and a date night with Travis are pretty good for that. Pro-tip for those of you taking the GRE soon: It's adaptive. Don't panic. 

I persevered in my nursing school applications. A few snippets: "Travis! I can't decide which comma placement best embodies my commitment to patient-centered healthcare!" Also, I visited my folks the other day and said, "I'm adjusting to the fact that these essays won't be a representation of my best self. They're just not going to be my best writing, because I'm anxious and psyching myself out about it. But they might turn out to be a decent representation of my whole self, fumbling good intentions and all." Pascal tilted his head to the side and said, "Sissy, I'm confused. You're talking about your whole self and your best self like they're two different things."

I applied to nursing school. Big breath of relief, as that was a significant weight off my shoulders. And then, it was time to party! Except I'm an introvert so by party I mean taking a bath, listening to Harry Potter on audiobook, and enjoying some hard cider and chocolate.

I gave a talk at Sunday Assembly about finding inspiration in birthwork. You can watch it here:

That's all for now. Stay warm, friends, and if you'll be at any of the protests going on, stay safe. Thinking of you. <3