A Safe Passage

“It is part of our task as revolutionary people, people who want deep-rooted, radical change, to be as whole as it is possible for us to be. This can only be done if we face the reality of what oppression really means in our lives, not as abstract systems subject to analysis, but as an avalanche of traumas leaving a wake of devastation in the lives of real people who nevertheless remain human, unquenchable, complex and full of possibility.”

~Aurora Levins Morales, Medicine Stories

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I just spent a transformative two days in a workshop for birth workers, exploring the dimensions of providing support to survivors of abuse during pregnancy and their transition to parenthood. My heart and mind are stretched wide open and I am flooded with gratitude for the space that was created by this amazing circle in two short days.

When I tell people I am on the path to becoming a midwife the response is usually some variation of: “Oh, wow! That’s so amazing! What a joyful way to spend your days, welcoming babies into the world!” Or, more to the point: “Oooh, I love babies, that sounds so fun!”

I haven’t yet figured out a gentle, graceful way to reply that it wasn’t just the babies that called me to midwifery. I do love babies, and the thought of being able to attend births as a midwife fills me with delight and excitement.

And yet…

Again and again, I am reminded that my calling to midwifery is different.

It’s about supporting the people who are deciding whether or not now is the right time to become parents, who may be struggling with their ambivalence about being pregnant and feeling invisible in that struggle.

It’s about sitting with the thirteen year-old who showed up for her first annual exam, who’s terrified of what she’s about to experience, prepared to feel humiliated and ashamed of her body. 

It’s about discussing birth control options with the person who’s never felt truly seen by their health care provider because their legal name doesn’t “match” the way they look to the over-culture of gender binary. 

My calling to midwifery is driven by the deep, desperate need for more health care providers to be holding space and offering compassionate care for the stories and experiences no one else wants to hear about: abortion, adoption, loss, domestic violence and abuse. It’s about affirming the spectrum of potential experiences of pregnancy, acknowledging that while one family may be ready to welcome a baby into their lives, another is confident that now is not that time. I want to be the midwife who compassionately provides care in both these scenarios.

These aren’t necessarily the things that most people envision when I say I’m becoming a midwife. But this is how I envision spending my days.

This weekend was another one of those affirmations of my calling. It came at just the right moment, too. As hard as it is to believe, it’s been nearly a year since I started nursing school. The last few weeks of the term are always a period of reflection on my learning, while setting goals for the term ahead. This particular transition has raised lots of questions for me about how to intentionally move forward to not only meet basic skill competency, but also how to build my own practice, or way of being, with those that I will serve.

What I gained from this weekend was more than a checklist of indicators for abuse, or evidence-based guidelines on routine universal screenings, or a cheat sheet of “Things to Say When Someone Discloses a History of Abuse And You’re Caught Off-Guard and Would Rather Go Hide In the Bathroom Because What They Shared Was So Enormous.”

While there is value to the “concrete take-homes,” I also carry with me the space that was created to reconnect with the reasons why I felt called to become a midwife in the first place. It was an opportunity to reassess what I bring to this work, in terms of both skill as well as underlying assumptions. It was a reminder to critically examine how I take on the privilege and power of being a “licensed” health care professional, and the unintentional harm I might be causing in that process.

It was also a pretty harsh reality check. For the first time since moving away from my doula practice and starting nursing school, I have to come to terms with the fact that my role, scope, and responsibilities are shifting. In just a few short weeks I will begin my 10-week integrated practicum in labor and delivery, the final step of my nursing education. It will be my first time at a birth in over a year and a half, but I will be coming back in a very different position than when I left…a position that affords me a different status and level of access to institutional privilege.

This weekend was not just an invitation, but an obligation, as Audrey Levins Morales so eloquently writes, “…to be as whole as it is possible for us to be” and to “face the reality of what oppression really means in our lives.” For better or for worse, I am choosing to become a part of a system that has marginalized and oppressed generations of people–and continues to do so–in often insidious ways. No matter what I say or do, assumptions will be made about me because of the position I occupy in that system.

It is a daunting task–some days, indescribably, breathtakingly painful–to knowingly step into a role that will require bearing intimate witness to the pain of those who are both systemically and individually oppressed. But as a midwife called to “deep-rooted, radical change” I find great hope in our collective capacity to be present for each other. The most precious thing I gained from this weekend was the courage and wisdom of the stories shared–it is the stories that I carry closest to my heart as I continue my journey to become a midwife.

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3 thoughts on “A Safe Passage

  1. Oh Lena, this is profound. Yes. I witness your calling, I affirm the need you are seeing and filling, and I send you deep deep deep love for your own process and growth as you expand to hold and embody the space you wish to offer to those who find you in your practice. You have my prayers and enthusiastic support, and if there is ever anything more I can offer as you hold this vision, please let me know. I can See you holding this space and turning towards the enormity with grace. Thank you. Thank you.. Thanks you.

  2. Lena – I am so excited that I get to go to midwifery school with you! This is a beautiful reflection and it is so refreshing to hear you echoing the thoughts and emotions that roiled through me during nursing school and especially during my labor and delivery (barf to that word “delivery) rotation. I found it to be incredibly difficult but also an opportunity to know myself better and find ways to hold space for the woman and the family in front of me and address the needs they had in THAT moment. It was hard and there were times I had to step away because the wild beast in me was ready to seriously throw down and that energy was clearly inappropriate in the space. But I learned and the universe was gracious enough to allow me to witness and be part of some beautiful moments so I didn’t become completely discourage. I had to try so hard to stay open to the opportunities, those I knew I needed and the surprises too and I lived through all of it.

    Again, thank you for your eloquent and beautiful reflection. I am really looking forward to meeting you and going through this experience together!

  3. YES! It’s overly simplistic to say that I’ve been called to midwifery because of the mothers, instead of the babies, but it’s definitely true.

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