If we were having chai, we would be outside, breathing in the summer air and thinking about the purposes of the season that we have not yet grasped. I would ask what you are working to in this warm weather, and how your work will change as the light disappears earlier in the evening.
Over chai, I would share my nervousness and excitement for the first woman for whom I am taking “special” call, meaning she will call me when she is in labor and I will be there for her. My practice structure does not allow much time for this, because I am in clinic four days of the week and only one day at the hospital. So I am hoping with all hopes that I can join her like we plan, that this time her birth will be beautiful and empowering, and that I can renew her faith in the process. She deserves an incredible birth experience, and I want to do everything to get her as close to that as possible, though I know I need to follow my own advice about flexibility. I am so anxious that something will falter, that I will not be the shining start she seeks, that the birth will again be traumatic despite all work, and that is a real possibility.
We would “cheers” over my first pregnancy support group for refugee women, held yesterday at the forma office. Three clients and two interpreters joined myself and the fantastic woman who started the organization, to discuss differences in pregnancy and birth in the United States. We laughed, told stories, made plans for the next group, and took in deep breaths knowing that the kinks of the new were already working themselves out.
If we were having chai together, I would list the things I know that I need to do better: call those closest to me, not lose friend’s birthday cards in stacks of stressful to-dos, and congratulate my partner on all achievements. Speaking of, we have recently been discussing this article, and have already worked toward making ourselves better for each other. A great list about how to be there as we all work our ways through our life and work.
Over chai, I would reflect on a recent day of thanks-giving. Once a week, on my walk to and from the midwife call room in the morning, there is a dry erase board that someone updates with quotes. I always stop to read the quote, never knowing who wrote them. It seems that on tough days, the quotes are always exactly what I need to get through work or to go home and let it all go. Last week, an office door was open near the dry erase board. I knocked, and asked if she was the person writing the quotes. She said she was, and I thanked her, telling her how much they meant to me and how much I appreciated her taking the time to write them. She had no idea anyone read them, that they were mostly for herself, and she was glad to hear they mattered to someone. It is so important to thank those who provide us with strength and clarity, especially if their work is often without thanks.
If we were drinking chai together, I would admit that recently I made my first medical error. Or perhaps I should say, the first error I know that I made. It was not an error that caused harm, put anyone in danger, or could not be reversed. However, many steps for both myself and the support staff were missed along the way, and ultimately I was the endpoint that did not catch the wrong. In seeking counsel from a colleague, she gave advice, and then took my hand and said, “Welcome to healthcare.” I have learned a great deal from that mistake, including how to inform the patient of the wrongdoing, and improvements on my own set of checks-and-balances. Despite all work, however, my colleague reminded me that we providers are human, and that sometimes mistakes happen, even in the best of healthcare.
The past month seemed to be all about preparing. Preparing plans for the upcoming summer. Preparing for the next fiscal year. Preparing for how this life all fits together. In preparing, some feel empowered and organized, like with writing a birth plan or detailing a workout schedule. For others, the time to prepare is just that, time. Which can be time for worry and anxiety to increase. I have felt that some women’s nervousness or anxiety increases the most as myself and the support staff prepare the visit: set out the pap exam tools, or the epidural supplies, or the IUD insertion kit. It is in that time that I have learned the importance of conversation: to ensure complete understanding of the process, of informed consent, and to engage the mind in tasks other than worry to allow the body to relax as much as possible. I am learning to recognize that preparation, while I often find it organizational and calming in its process, is not always that way for others. The human connection of conversation can alleviate the worry of time, and we can provide that for women we serve by recognizing its existence.
Over chai, I would ask if you’d be interested in hearing my favorite poem of late, Ugly by Warsan Shire.
Your daughter is ugly.
She knows loss intimately,
carries whole cities in her belly.
As a child, relatives wouldn’t hold her.
She was splintered wood and sea water.
They said she reminded them of the war.
On her fifteenth birthday you taught her
how to tie her hair like rope
and smoke it over burning frankincense.
You made her gargle rosewater
and while she coughed, said
macaanto girls like you shouldn’t smell
of lonely or empty.
You are her mother.
Why did you not warn her,
hold her like a rotting boat
and tell her that men will not love her
if she is covered in continents,
if her teeth are small colonies,
if her stomach is an island
if her thighs are borders?
What man wants to lay down
and watch the world burn
in his bedroom?
Your daughter’s face is a small riot,
her hands are a civil war,
a refugee camp behind each ear,
a body littered with ugly things
doesn’t she wear
the world well.
And then I’d ask about your past month. I’d ask about what I could do to make the next weeks better. I would ask what were your triumphs, what were your stumbles, and what have you learned about the overlaps between yourself and the people you serve. What are your moments of community-building? When are your moments of self-discovery? And tell me more about your moments of joy?! I’d love to hear what you would bring up over chai about the past month. Here’s hoping you all have a wonderful July.