Brave Woman

Adventures of a future nurse-midwife


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First Promotion!

Posted by Lucille on January 13, 2014 at 11:15 AM Comments comments (0)

I got promoted to backup at SARC! It means some extra training and twice the time commitment, and a bit of a different role: backup only gets called when two calls come in at once, or if something weird comes up that primary isn't sure how to handle. Mostly my job will be to keep in touch with primary and let them know how great they are. It means I can soften that line between advocacy and friendship, and because there are fewer people on backup, it also means that I'll get to spend more time with a smaller group of some of the most kickass women in the world. I'm thrilled.

I've shared the news with a few people, and mostly their responses have been, "Wait, I thought you weren't getting paid? So you're not getting a raise, then? Then it's not a promotion, Lucille."

I recognize that I'm in an incredibly privileged position, to be able to invest time in volunteering while going to school and still be able to meet all my basic needs and then some. I am outstandingly lucky in this regard. My friends' responses were natural, and I don't hold it against them. But it still struck me as sad. Money is essential, yes, but why should that have to translate to the expectation that the only thing of value, the only thing worthy of excitement in getting a promotion would be the boost in income? In a way I'm glad that I got to experience this milestone- my first promotion- without that element. I like that, this first time, the joy comes from feeling valued and appreciated by some of the people I admire the most, and from the opportunity to learn more and have a greater impact in work that I care about. And I hope that later on, when being promoted does mean getting a raise, that that will enhance, rather than overshadow, the other joys.

[Follow up: I trained for backup last week and found out a well-kept secret: although there's never enough funding to actually pay advocates, SARC is able to send a small bonus, $1/hour, to their advocates on backup. Yay! It's not much but it's enough to buy yourself a little self-care treat at the end of every shift. Of course, mine will be going into the kitten fund.]  :)

I did my last shift on primary yesterday. It was one of the busiest shifts I've had- but the vast majority of my calls ended well. I got to talk to a lot of our frequent callers and I was glad that I got to have a positive call with them since I'll likely be hearing from them less often from here out. Come spring, I'll have to figure out what a backup call will look like on my painting. But until then, here's one year on the line.

Gifts to/from Myself

Posted by Lucille on January 12, 2014 at 9:55 PM Comments comments (0)

I'm playing with the concept of sending gifts to my future self. When I push through the last ten minutes of my workout, because as tired as I am I know I'll be glad I did it tomorrow, that's a gift to future me. When I tackle that last chore of the day so I don't have to do it in the morning, that's a gift to future me. I realize this looks exactly like not procrastinating. But believe me, framing it not as an obligation, but as a present, makes everything a lot more fun.

There are other kinds of gifts, too. Sometimes when I finish my studies and close my computer for the day, I pull up a cute picture of a baby elephant to greet me when I plug back in the next morning. When I turn my music off, I set up one of my favorite tunes to start the next day off on the right note. I hide candies in random pockets in my backpack in case of a rainy day.

And some days, I blow off responsibilities, because past me made sure to keep up so that I could take a night for self care when I needed to and that would be okay. Some days I find chocolates from past me just when I needed it. Sometimes I find notes with funny jokes and riddles that past me hid around the apartment weeks ago.

She's so sweet. It's a good thing she likes me.

Leaving TKD

Posted by Lucille on January 12, 2014 at 1:00 AM Comments comments (0)

I stopped attending tae kwon do for a while when Dad got sick last fall. Since then, I've been telling myself I'll be in next week...every week...and then somehow nine months passed without me making it to class. With school as busy as ever and my gap year on the horizon, I've been tempted by the opportunity to explore other interests. It seemed like a good time to reflect on my tae kwon do journey.

I can't claim that I've ever felt a strong passion for tae kwon do, or even the martial arts in general. Of course there is value in self defense (though if that had been my main goal, I would have chosen a contact class). Non-contact martial arts are a great way to get some exercise and build your awareness and control of your body without being injured. Tae kwon do absolutely does that- but so do a lot of activities. So why tae kwon do? I joined out of curiosity, but then I stayed, committed to it, threw myself into it. If I didn't feel powerfully drawn to the activity (at least compared to other options), why did I stay and invest myself in it for four years?

And my answer is the people. There's something special about connecting with others, across ages and experience levels. It builds a kind of community that can be hard to find in this modern world. There is a precious sense of inclusion, belonging, and value that comes from investing your energy in that community, accepting help and offering it to others in turn, united by a common experience.

I'm glad that I had the opportunity to experience this at tae kwon do, and also glad that I may have the opportunity to explore other activities, and hopefully find this kind of community again.

I contacted my instructor and went back to the tae kwon do studio to visit and say my goodbyes. It was a bittersweet experience, finding that after just nine months, the familiar faces were outnumbered by the new. Luckily many of the familiar faces were the teachers, mentors, and friends that had had the greatest influence on my experience at tae kwon do, and I was glad to be able to give them my thanks in person. I'd brought treats to share. Although I hadn't known this, it was also one of the instructors' birthday, and the kids ran, giggling, between everybody's legs while we caught up and shared stories from the last year. We dallied as the next classes started, and I left to hugs, reminders to not be a stranger, and smiling faces inviting themselves to my (not planned) wedding.

A bittersweet goodbye, a transition, and (hopefully) a new beginning.

I've started researching local classes I'd like to explore in whatever free time I have between internships next year. Choir and aerial dance are top contenders!

Fight, Flight, or Freeze

Posted by Lucille on January 10, 2014 at 7:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Several of my classes this term talked about the fight-or-flight response and physiological responses to extreme stress. At SARC, we always refer to the stress response as fight-flight-or freeze, because instinctively freezing is such an incredibly common experience for victims of violence. It's been observed in other species as well: think deer-in-the-headlights, or probably the most extreme example- possums. However, for some reason there is a lack of cultural recognition for the freeze response, and this definitely contributes to the guilt, victim-blaming, and self-doubt many survivors struggle with after an assault.

In every class, I've raised my hand and asked about the 'freeze' instinct. All of my teachers responded positively and took a moment to discuss it, but it bothered me that next term, when I am not here to ask, it is likely that it won't be addressed at all. I understand that our class time is limited, and that this is only the undergraduate level and we can't talk about everything. Also, the mechanisms of the fight and flight instincts are much easier to understand. Freezing behavior paired with fast breathing and a racing heartbeat can seem physiologically counter-intuitive.

Regardless, I was still absolutely convinced that the freeze response should be addressed in these classes, no matter how briefly, to secure and validate its place in students' understanding of stress. Not only is this important for anyone studying animal behavior (and a lot of the ethology literature does refer to it as the fight-flight-or-freeze response) but it would normalize and validate this instinctive response for any survivors in the course. It would also provide an opportunity to introduce pre-health students, who will undoubtedly work with patients who have experienced trauma at some point in their careers, to the normality of this stress response early on.

I made an appointment with my major advisor to ask if there was anything I could do on the departmental level to encourage professors to include this as a permanent part of their stress-response curriculum. (At this same meeting I also learned that summer biology courses have been cancelled due to the budget shortfall, which leaves me four credits short of graduating- but more on that later.) To my delight, I learned that there was in fact a committee that hears such curriculum suggestions. My advisor offered to present the idea if I wrote up a formal proposal. I wanted the proposal to be as well-backed by evidence as possible, so I ran home to dive into the research.

And here I hit a wall. Although scholars in all disciplines seem to agree that the freeze response is real and common, they have completely different models for the mechanism behind it. And because real time observation of the effects of traumatic stress is now universally recognized as unethical, there is not exactly a lot of new research. Basically, we know it happens, but nobody really knows what's going on at the molecular level, or why.

The next day in class, one of my teachers had actually added a five minute section on the freeze response to her lecture in response to my question the day before. She assured us of its validity, but seemed to have hit the same wall I had when it came to the mechanism behind it. I went up to her after class to thank her and share my own frustration with the conflicting models. We spoke amicably for a while. Eventually the conversation turned to my school plans, and I told her about my frustration with summer classes being cancelled. To my surprise, she started jumping up and down in excitement.

Long story short, I'll be making up those four credits by doing an independent study with her this summer, writing up a formal report outlining the different models for the freeze response. Whatever I find out she says she'll use in her course next year. Yay!

Politically Correct

Posted by Lucille on January 9, 2014 at 12:35 PM Comments comments (0)

One of my online classes this term was women, activism, and social change. The title notably avoided the controversial label 'feminism', probably because the word is so often associated with militant and accusatory attitudes and the image of the 'PC-police'. I often defend feminism against those negative stereotypes. It is a term I use to describe my activism as an acknowledgment that despite feminism's historical imperfections, present-day women's empowerment stands on the shoulders of the first and second waves of the feminist movement.

I'm thrilled to be discovering the world of feminism and was excited to find community (even online) with fellow activists.

Unfortunately, the online discussions for the class instead proved to be emotionally exhausting as I edited and second-guessed my every word, and was still accused of racism and victim-blaming three times a day before breakfast. I felt disappointed and guilty to find that our discussions often fit the negative stereotypes of feminism like a glove.

The readings were fascinating and I did learn a lot, but I was still relieved to see that class go with the ending of the term. My impression is that women's studies courses need to put so much emphasis on critical thinking skills to make up for the rest of the education system that students receive more training in critique than in problem-solving, to a detrimental effect. It is much easier to tell someone what is wrong with their idea than it is to suggest a better one. Although this critique is an imperative part of self-improvement, when that becomes the sole focus, the group is held back.

For now my concept of feminist community is still made up mostly of books and blogs rather than real conversations with real people. I hope that someday I can find or build an activist community with a solutions-focused approach. Until then, you know what they say: start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.

Small Gestures

Posted by Lucille on January 8, 2014 at 7:10 PM Comments comments (0)

I grabbed a seat in the back of the enormous lecture hall for the last cell biology midterm. For a while it seemed like I would actually have an empty seat next to me for the test, but someone ran in at the last moment. I looked up to see a physically masculine person in a short, tight pink dress with short, bright pink hair. Their legs were wet like they'd just been splashed by a bus, coffee was spilling over their hand, and they looked like this was just one of those days where everything was going wrong.

I've been thinking about getting my hair cut short over spring break and looking through pictures of different cuts, and their pink hair was in the same style I've had in mind. Since I'd noticed, it seemed wrong not to pay the compliment.

"Hey, I like your hair."

They shot me a suspicious glare. "It's a wig."

"Oh, okay, cool," I said, wondering how this had so quickly gone wrong and trying to salvage the situation, "I had to get a wig for a halloween costume one time. I know how hard it can be to find a good one that's affordable. Anyway, it looks great on you."

"Um, thanks, then," they said, their frown softening to a look of confusion. "What were you? For Halloween?"


"Like the character?"

"No, like the planet. I used cheap facepaint, though, so it wouldn't wash out all the way and my face was firetruck red for a month."

They stared hard at me for a second, then grinned and stuck out a hand. "I'm Susan."

"Lucille. Pleased to meet you," I said, and then raised my scantron as if for a toast, "And good luck to us all."

The professor was coming by and shushed us at that moment as he handed out the test. We shared a smile before flipping them over and starting the exam. It may not be a lab huddle, but hey, one small connection at a time. 

Muscle Practical

Posted by Lucille on January 7, 2014 at 5:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Technically this happened in fall term, but I forgot to write about it then and it's too good of a story not to share.

The muscle practical for anatomy lab consisted of muscle identifications and an eight-page packet of muscle origins, insertions, and actions (OIAs). To show that we understood the way the muscles fit together, we had to know the subtle differences in the OIAs for the different muscles (such as above the condyle, on the epicondyle, near the epicondyle, above the epicondyle, etc.) which essentially meant that we had to memorize the eight pages word-for-word. For three weeks, I lived and breathed OIAs.

Soon, every new thing I remembered made me forget something else. As the day of the practical approached, I dedicated more and more hours to the packet, but the more I studied the less I remembered and the more confused I felt. This sense of dread increased all the way until the day of the exam.

I was sitting outside the lab, frantically reading and rereading the packet. A dozen students sat scattered along the hallway, all bent over packets of their own. Every one of us looked tense and sleep deprived, and the stressed silence in the hall was palpable. A girl sat next to me. Giving up on cramming anything else into my brain in the final countdown, I threw my packet back in my bag and turned to her.

"So, how are you feeling about this? Are you ready?"

To my surprise, she tipped her head back and laughed. All along the hallway, students looked up in shock and horror. This test was graded on a curve. If anyone was feeling this confident, we were doomed.

And then we understood what she was saying as she gasped for breath between bouts of laughter. "There is no way! There is just no way! I can identify them all in a heartbeat, but look at this thing! Hundreds of muscles, three categories for each muscle, which could each have up to five different entries...we are literally talking about thousands of things that we are expected to know word for word! It's impossible! No one can hold all that in their brain, and it's not like this is anyone's only class either, I don't even know what they're thinking, there is just no way!"

Everyone had scooted to form a tight huddle around us by this point, grinning in relief, and we all chimed in with our own frustration and incredulity and laughed together at the absurdity of it all. When the door to the lab opened a minute later, we broke the huddle with a shout of solidarity, and, somehow, everyone walked into the practical smiling.

A week later we found out that we had an average score that was a solid letter grade higher than any of the other labs, wrecking the curve and meaning that everyone else's grades got bumped up to match. I may not ever have a class with her again, but I am overcome with admiration when I remember the stressed student that laughed instead of crying at a critical moment and somehow turned things around for our entire class. What a thing to be a part of. I hope that someday, I can be that much-needed note of laughter for someone else.

Glitter and Hot Calls

Posted by Lucille on January 6, 2014 at 7:50 PM Comments comments (2)

**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.**

I got my second hospital hot call yesterday! I felt much more prepared the second time around, but I still fought a rush of nerves as I was led back to Children's Emergency. The room was far less intimidating than it's adult version, even cutesy, with colored counters and little cartoon fish painted on the walls.

At first glance the survivor seemed too tall for this child-sized room. She was alert and composed, clutching a bright pink teddy bear with one arm and holding her mom's hand with the other. I was glad that she'd been brought to a room with this one extra layer, however superficial, of comfort and familiarity. There are days when no matter how grown up you are, you deserve cute little fish on the walls. Maybe they should consider painting the adult room.

There had been some confusion about which hospital I was being sent to, so by the time I arrived, they were already preparing to start the exam. I had just enough time to introduce myself before the survivor nodded for her mom to step out and the nurse sat down to get started.

I took a seat on her other side and watched silently while they went through the paperwork. The hard part would start any minute, and I had not even had a chance to say anything, much less build rapport. This was not how it was supposed to go. Minutes dragged on while the medical interview continued. Every now and then the nurse would pause to write, and the survivor would glance at me curiously, but in such short silences I could think of nothing to say.

Finally a detail caught my attention- her glittery nails. This is not the sort of thing that I would ever comment on in real life (I say, as though this were not real) but given the circumstances, I seized on it.

"I like your nails!" I said. I expected her to roller eyes at me (at her age, it's probably what I would have done), but she lit up with a smile and scooted closer to show me. Although relieved to have broken the silence, I felt a sense of dread. Her body language told me that this type of girl-bonding was exactly what she needed right now, and this has never come naturally to me.

I'm getting used to the fact that there is a measure of self-erasure in advocacy. On the line my responses are carefully wiped of anything personal- most of what I do is listen, reflect, and reframe. It is a very one-way relationship, and that's okay. But this feels less like self-erasure and dangerously like speaking as someone I am not. Add to that my discomfort with materialism and appearance-based culture, and I feel very out of my realm here. But this sort of effusive advocacy seems to be exactly what she needs.

And so I decide to wing it, and with a stroke of inspiration, I know that this is where 'I' come in. This is not self-erasure, this- the willingness to set aside my biases and burst through my comfort zone to try to meet her needs- this is all me. This is where my self exists in my advocacy.

And so I fake it. I match her enthusiasm, and I gush about how they're gorgeous, and just the perfect color for her. By a happy coincidence, I remember that I have a bottle of color-changing nail polish in my bag that was going to be a gift for a friend. I pull it out, and she is so excited that for a moment she forgets where she is and what has happened. We can't paint her nails because it could interfere with the exam, but I tell her that if we have to wait between steps, she can paint mine. As much as it is possible given the circumstances, she is thrilled. Every second of my discomfort is worth it a thousand times over. And it occurs to me that maybe this is the part of people's love of nail polish, purses, and shoes that I have always missed. Maybe it's not about materialism. Maybe being joyful about something both inconsequential and universal is an intentional choice, because it creates a platform on which perfect strangers can express solidarity.

She had some internal injuries, and so the medical portion of the process took a lot longer than my last call and involved a lot more staff. Although I initially felt apprehensive about working with staff that did not have specific training on working with survivors, my concerns proved unfounded. Every single healthcare provider was incredibly compassionate and supportive. This let me focus on her other needs, drawing on my doula training during the painful parts of the exam, whispering softly in her ear to remind her that she was safe and strong. Deep breaths. Despite her love of glitter, this survivor was much, much tougher than she looked. She blew me away.

I listened during the police interview and mused on my own inconsistencies. Not 24 hours ago, I submitted an essay about how perpetrators of sexual violence are themselves victims of patriarchy, whose personal growth has been stunted by cultural forces that value aggression in men and offer few opportunities for them to learn healthy communication skills. Intellectually, I believe this whole-heartedly. Emotionally, as I listen to her describe how the perpetrator hurt her, I yearn to go strangle the bastard. I decide that it's okay for these things to coexist.

Finally it is just the survivor, her mother, the nurse, and me in the room again. The survivor seems rightfully proud of herself for making it through this day and is looking forward to getting home. As I gather my things, I hesitate with the nail polish. SARC has a policy against giving out money or gifts on hot calls, but I feel conflicted. When the survivor is distracted, her mother leans over with pen and paper and whispers, "What was the name of that nail polish again?" I feel a rush of gratitude- I am not alone in this. This girl has a team of people to care for and support her. I watch the quiet strength in her movements as we all get ready to go, and I know with absolute confidence that she will be okay.

Back at home, I toy with the idea of a nail polish handprint. This bottle is mine now, without a doubt. I'll buy my friend some in a different color. But painting my hand in it doesn't seem like the best idea, and in any case I already know the perfect color for this hot call. I dip my hand in the cool liquid and leave a print that is warm, teddy-bear pink. Normally I don't touch my prints after I make them, but this time I shamelessly manipulate it to bring out the heart shape of the palm. Although it's silly and superficial, like the glittery nail polish and the cartoon fish on the walls, sometimes that's exactly what you need.

I'm 21!

Posted by Lucille on January 5, 2014 at 1:20 AM Comments comments (0)

My birthday was in the heat of midterms, so we celebrated with a small get together at my parents' place. I tried my hand at drink mixing, including fancy stuff like spherification and jello. My little brother sneaked a taste and concluded that I was trying to poison everyone.

The next day I got to go into the DMV to replace my license, which Travis's parents' dog, Lena, got a hold of the last time we visited. The DMV clerk couldn't stop laughing when I showed it to her and called over all of her coworkers. Then I got a shiny new driver's license, and it didn't even have that under-21-until-date banner! Moving up in the world.

Speaking of which, my brother is officially taller than me, and he is uncontainably thrilled!

Practicing Gratitude (Meetup Part 2)

Posted by Lucille on January 4, 2014 at 6:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Because I never really knew what I was walking into when I attended a meetup event, it was also an exercise in practicing gratitude. The meetup that pushed my comfort zone the most was a mind/body health group that I expected to be fairly straightforward. I was welcomed with a hug, led to the circle, and asked to say a little bit about what brought me there that day. Looking around at the group, I thought, what the heck, why not be radically honest?

"I'm in a very competitive, left-brain, memorization-based program in school. Outside of school I volunteer on a crisis line, which is almost the complete opposite, very right-brain and emotion/intuition based. I'm working toward a graduate program that will integrate these interests, but at the moment I'm oscillating between these extremely contrasted environments, both of which require a measure of self-erasure and are isolating in their own way, and I'm having trouble hanging on to a sense of community and identity in this dichotomized context. So, I guess I'm here because I'm looking for balance."

I sat there for a minute with that uncomfortable self-consciousness that comes from oversharing with a group of strangers, starting to doubt that my answer even made any sense. All of a sudden the group gathered around me. Someone offered me their hand, another placed their hand over my heart, and still another grounded my feet. Their voices overlapped as they took turns offering me validation, reassuring me that this contrast, rather than washing me out, could serve to accentuate my identity and offer a clarity of purpose.

I was caught off guard by their outpouring of kindness, and by the sudden intimacy of their attention, eye contact, and touch. It felt like a heavy backpack had just slid from my shoulders. A minute later I was enveloped in a group hug while I wiped my eyes and expressed my sincere gratitude.

After that, I got my first introduction to reiki as we held space for a man who was processing the aftermath of leaving his parents' religion. It was almost uncomfortably intimate, with my hand over this stranger's heart, but in a sense this was just another form of advocacy. I shared in the attentive listening, offering of support, and catharsis as we moved around the circle.

When we'd gone all the way around, the conversation turned to the conclusive proof I somehow didn't hear about that the CIA had discovered Atlantis fifty years ago and was participating in a conspiracy to keep the aliens hidden from the public. Oh boy. Not feeling comfortable participating in the conversation, but also not comfortable objecting in a group that had just been so welcoming of me, I decided it was time to go. I thanked everyone and made my goodbyes.

Outside in my car I took a deep breath of wonderment and amusement. Wow, was that not what I expected. I shook my head and smiled as I headed for home.

Although this was an atypical meetup, it offered a lesson in practicing gratitude that I tried to carry with me through the rest of my meetup adventure and beyond: take what is helpful for you, leave behind what is not, and go home grateful for both experiences.