Rocking the Birth Dogma Boat

Beginning Again

October 8, 2011
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It’s Jewish new year today, and ever since my party marking my new beginning last week, I feel renewed.  Let me say that more clearly: I feel like a new person, but I am actually more and more myself.  I am myself and only myself, as the endless responsibility for other people’s lives, and for fighting the good fight alone on a mountain, too much responsibility for any one person floats off my shoulders.  Suddenly I am responsible for me, for being good to my friends and family, for the hurtful things I say, for my inattention and my tardiness and my harsh judgments and my love of gossip.  All these things are under my control, and for the first time I can accept responsibility for what I am charged with, because it is all mine.  For the first time, my responsibilities fit on my shoulders and I feel light and free.  All the promises I’ve made are ones I can keep, if I set my mind to it.  All the expectations people have for me are ones I can meet, if I work hard.

I think about who I want to be in the world, and it is realistic, with hard work and patience and compassion for my endless and human ability to become distracted and make mistakes.  I look around, taking stock, and I am standing by a river with all the people who have held my hand, all the people who could not, and with this whole city full of people who have left their houses this morning with good intentions and too little time.  I am no longer up on a hill dying for a cause, and I am no longer alone and anonymous.  Life is short but I am not disposable.  I am good without giving myself away, and I am good in the context of realistic expectations.  It feels so good to be standing by a river as a woman, human and small, brave, hardworking and free to make mistakes.

And the good fight that I spent so many years fighting rages on up on a hill somewhere, and I ask atonement for my arrogance, for thinking life should somehow be lived as a lone martyr, when I have always believed that turning your back on a gift is the only true sin.  It is good down here by the river.  It is good to be surrounded by friends and family, and to make time for them, to let them come first.  It is good to sleep through the night.  It is good to find a way to be a woman that values women in all the seasons of our lives, that knows that bringing forth babies is just one example of the ways women bring forth life.  It is good to know I exist for more than filling empty bellies, and it is good to stand in a kitchen full of women who love me.  It is good to turn my phone off and sit down with a man who is good to me, and to feel the sun on my face before it hits the water. I will try very hard not to turn my back.  I will try very hard to be worthy of these gifts.

I had my dream again, women following me through the dusty hallways of an ancient castle, telling me they need their VBACs, telling me they cannot be a woman without their VBACs, and everywhere I turn was another woman with begging eyes.  And this time, I had the start of an answer.  I’m not sure how to create it, but I tried to say that being valued as a woman was bigger than being valued at birth, and I will work for a world that values women.  I will work for the kind of world where we can stand by a river together and mark the seasons of our lives, where we count for more than the babies we bring forth and plates we refill.  I will do this work without turning my back.  I will stand by the river, and I will be a woman who is not disposable, and that is all I can promise.  I will try very hard to be worthy of these gifts, and I will forgive myself for not knowing quite how, and what to do next.  I will come down off the hill, and I will be a woman who counts for more than birth, and slowly, slowly, I will find a way to make this a world where we are more than the babies we bring forth, where we are valued at all the seasons of our lives.

I want this to be a year of coming into my own, of learning to write books, of using my strengths and of watching my faults, of speaking in a strong and gentle voice, of listening well, of becoming braver.  But mostly I want to make sure I never again get so caught up in a fight that I turn my back on the gifts surrounding me.

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This is for my girls…

October 3, 2011
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I am sitting on my couch drinking coffee, looking at the pile of party dishes and loving my friends.  I have really great friends.  My friends are amazing. I have the best friends ever, and I have the kind of hangover that makes cleaning up from your party difficult, and so I am imagining a different kind of world for women, one where we are all held and midwifed through our lives, like my friends held and midwifed me last night.  I became a midwife because I wanted a world that loved women, and for a little while last night, I lived in one, and this vision of what could be is as compelling as the hangover making my head pound.

Since I was in midwifery school, I’ve heard that midwifery a concept is worth running my heart into the ground for because it values women, it supports women, and, by supporting women well during their pregnancies, it creates a world where women matter.  This is our dogma, our justification for chewing up providers and spitting them out in service of creating a world where women matter, and in our dogma we replicate the very things we are fighting by valuing pregnancy and the pregnant woman.  Let’s be clear: it is good and worthwhile to support pregnant women, as it is good and worthwhile to support women all the time.  But I was never the kind of midwife who was in it for the baby, and the underlying “support the vessel” message of investing in pregnant women because they are pregnant strikes me as patriarchal, to say the least.  Historically, women were always valued for their reproductive capacity, and women were worth investing in because they brought forth babies.  Pregnancy was the height of womanhood because women were disposable production units, and the carrying a baby gave a woman worth, made women worthwhile because the baby had worth. Good women were women who carried others.  And I am slowly and painfully learning a new way of being a woman, learning to have worth beyond my reproduction, beyond my ability to carry others.  And last night, in the arms of my friends, I was the kind of woman who mattered inherently, as who I was, beyond what I do for other people…

Last night was my Off-Call Forever Party, and the invitation went like this:

I caught my last baby and I’m off to new adventures and new ways of being, so it’s time for a party to mark the occasion.
It’ll be like a going away party, only with a tropical island (because I can go on trips now!), ugly babies (because I can finally call them ugly!), pajamas (as I sleep through the night every night!), a phone smashing station (because I can turn my phone off!), boats (because I can go on boats!), souvenir day planners (because I can make reliable plans!), a personal life (now that I can have one!) and lotsa lotsa booze (because I can drink!)
Please join me  in celebration as I give the midwife part of my self a good send-off. It’s good, it’s sad, it’s scary, it’s ultimately for the best, and it’s very, very drunk. 
I am still a Jew, so there will be plenty of food.  Please bring your favorite alcoholic beverage, or some good ol’ tequila, because some things never change.

I went all out: there was a tropical island station with an inflatable palm tree and mojitos, a sleeping through the night station with pajamas and coffee-based mixed drinks, a personal life station in my bedroom, jello shots in specimen cups, a placenta smoothie drink with strawberries representing the placenta, an ugly baby collage contest that was too close to judge, a phone smashing area and the kinds of friends who turn your couch into a boat, complete with a fan to make the sails blow as we head for open ocean, steering with an old basket, simply because I said I love boats, and I can finally go on boats, now that I am not a midwife….now that I am not a midwife.  And that was the lesson, that I am no longer a midwife, but I am stilled loved, I am still worthwhile, and I am still me, surrounded by women and laughter. In the arms of my friends, I became someone valuable and worth holding, and leaving midwifery because it devalues me became not just a valid choice, but the only choice that would value me like my friends do.

I throw a good party, but really what happened was my women friends gathered to midwife me through this transition, to hold my hands and value me and celebrate me as I find a new way of being a woman, as I learn that I don’t need to give myself away to prove my worth.  Minus the alcohol, I saw my friends doing for me everything I’ve done for laboring women at births, holding me close, looking in my eyes, nodding at me from across the room as I find the courage to walk forward, having endless faith in me as I doubt myself, loving me, and believing.

My friends made cards, encouraging me, welcoming all of me, celebrating me.  I’m so proud of you.  You can do this.  You’re brave and strong and you made the right decision.  This is hard and right.  We need your kind of woman.  My parents brought champagne, and my friend Vivian uncorked it at 11, telling me we had a lot to celebrate.  My friend Jessica told me to keep writing, and Gina told me she was has always felt so good and welcome in my house.  Sarah and Stephanie made everyone laugh, and Lee kept me on topic, finishing the stories I had been needing to tell, and Andrea put it in perspective.  Jessica drew people pooping in peace after I told that story of not even being able to use the restroom without someone needing me, calling me back again before I even have the chance to wash my hands.  Johanna set up the ugly baby contest, and said wise things. Lee and Jessica’s boat kicked so much ass, and my friends gathered around me, held me, welcomed me. My friends carried me through, and told me that even though I am the only one who can do the work of becoming, I do not need to be alone as I do it.  They looked me in the eye, and told me to be proud of where I’d been and where I was going, but mostly to be proud of who I am, more than anything else, because I have all I need inside me.  They believed in me, and their arms were like a nest holding me safe, making me brave.

It was late when everyone left, piling into a cab because the T had stopped running. And I called my boyfriend, drunkenly asked him to marry me, and told him that my friends are amazing, and that the world I’d always wanted for women happened in my apartment just now.  And I meant it, both things, in a moment of stunning clarity that made my head hurt and that has not gone away since I’ve sobered up.

So imagine: imagine if all women were held  like I was last night.  Imagine if all women were celebrated through all their transitions, not just the ones that brought forth babies.  Imagine if all women were midwifed into being more themselves, and loved for it.  Imagine if midwifery was not reserved for childbearing, and if midwifery defined women’s worth as expanding past the childbearing year, as every day of a woman’s life. There is so much we do that is worth midwifing.  Imagine if we were always midwifed through…..

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