In the past few weeks, I have encountered a number of situations where, without a sensation or naming of a Safe Space, the events that transpired could not have occurred.
I was first introduced to the concept of Safe Space in undergrad, with this symbol (although I think the colors were different there). I learned about it initially through creating LGBTQ-positive spaces: rooms and communities and people with whom any negative, homophobic commentary was not permitted. According to a well-referenced Wikipedia page, the term Safe Space has its roots in the women’s movement, where gay bars and consciousness raising groups were the original designations of safe spaces, where the naming of Safe Space “implies a certain license to speak and act freely, form collective strength, and generate strategies for resistance…a means rather than an end and not only a physical space but also a space created by the coming together of women searching for community.” Advocates for Youth has defined Safe Space as follows:
“A place where anyone can relax and be fully self-expressed, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or unsafe on account of biological sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, age, or physical or mental ability; a place where the rules guard each person’s self-respect and dignity and strongly encourage everyone to respect others.”
The symbol is often an upside triangle surrounded by a circle. The triangle has a long, terrible history in the world of Nazi discrimination, religious identification in groups, and prisoner segregation. The pink color is partially given in its reclamation toward positive gay rights, often inverted to symbolize the turn of its prior indications on its head. The green circle now denotes universal acceptance, and Safe Space is not necessarily used exclusively to refer specifically to any one group’s respect in a space, but all groups. And hopefully, in all spaces. I think it’s important to name a place as safe, but also create an environment of safeness for anyone and anyone entering: a room, a conversation, or your care.
In Centering, there are group guidelines that seek to create a safe space, encouraging any and all questions, a pro-female and pro-pregnancy space. I was overcome in yesterday’s group, when the facilitator suggested turning out the lights and playing a game. It made me ponder how space that felt to me, and hopefully to others in the room, and ponder my recent experiences of Safe Spaces in the clinics, and how we all seek to make our patients, friends, and family feel safe in any and all conversations with us.
I’ve recently felt a Safe Space…
…when we turned out the lights and played flashlight tag on pregnant bellies with kicking babies
… when at an annual gynecological exam, a mother started crying and shared how overwhelmed she feels with her special needs son growing older
… when a patient revealed that she only continues to get her Depo-provera birth control injection so that she won’t have to explain to her mother that she’s going off of it because she’s gay
… when fellow midwives share their love for their patients but their frustration with the system within which we work
… when strangers hear the name of my profession and immediately know that midwives are a safe space to share triumphs, frustrations, and love about their births, their bodies, and their lives
… when a friend emails with feedback about the blog, knowing that her words will always be taken with knowledge of their origin in kindness, love, and friendship
I hope that you all have Safe Spaces to share, to create for others, and access when needed. I want this to be a Safe Space for my own thoughts, but also any sharing or comments others have. Please share any experiences you’ve had of Safe Spaces this week, and revel in those privately and publicly. Those moments are incredible.
(1) Kenney, Moira Rachel (2001). Mapping Gay L.A.: The Intersection of Place and Politics. pp. 24. ISBN 1-56639-884-3.