Yesterday morning as I prepared to leave the house, a spider was casting down her single thread. We shared space in the bathroom, and I only noticed her as I noticed my own reflection in the bathroom mirror. On almost an invisible tether she moved quickly downward, seemingly unaware of anything else in the room. When her speed was taken over by the physics of swing, she’d bump into the mirror, and either stop her course or quickly reverse her tracks. This juncture in her path was seemingly minimal, as it took little time for her to re-evaluate her path, and seek to continue her way, the only thing on her mind the distance between two points, and her next task.
I was overwhelmed with watching her work, her path, her intention, her purpose. Her intuitive yet seemingly spontaneous intention captivated me, and a few times I moved forward to watch her more intently. As I inched closer, I could feel the air between us changing, as a knowing was realized. She seemed to pause, looking back, in a similar way that she paused when she bumped into the mirror. Then she moved right on with her plan, having recognized my presence and factored its role into her overall goal.
Reflecting on her work, I realized that I had an overwhelming sense of jealousy. How fortunate to have but one focus, one purpose, in that moment and possibly in the next foreseeable future. I assumed such simplicity in her purpose, that to cast thread and build a web, just made sense. No one questions that path for a spider, no one questions such work leading to a singular solution. Rational work, reasonable goal, visible results.
I questioned what I would consider my purpose in that moment, as I prepared to leave the house for my day. As a midwife, what is my purpose? To what thread am I tethered, what web am I casting, what is my simple, singular solution? Rational work, reasonable goal, visible results?
Envying what I assumed to be her simple purpose, in actuality was likely incredibly complex. Who was I to presume I knew anything about the depth of her work, how much came before and how much was to come, the trials she may have already encountered to get to that ledge, and if there was anything to prove? I know very little about the mindfulness of a spider, and my projections on her work are both unfair and misdirected. But her presence in my space felt intentional, directed, purposeful.
Lately, my midwife life has felt incredibly intense and complex. Perhaps this is why I felt so clung to a simple moment with a spider, and something about it drastically changed how I was feeling. The weeks of negotiating bullying by a physician coworker, the shifts spent smiling and pushing through when I was grinding my teeth moments before walking onto the floor, the clinic days spent gearing up to see a patient whom I feel heavy about, emotionally. That morning, I saw something that felt purposeful, and realized that I have been moving forward, purposeless, grasping to individual moments and needs. I have felt such loss of the sight of my purpose that, upon questioning it, I felt on even shakier ground, questioning my midwife work as I would be leaving that morning, feeling uncertain its rationale, specifically or generally or confidently.
In these weeks, many midwifery days have been spent compiling lists of “thanks,” that some suggest to inspire positive thinking and appreciation for little things. I am thankful for my patients, for their curiosity and beauty and love and power. I am thankful for my coworkers, who share laughter and struggle and uncertainty. I am thankful for my self-reflection and evaluation, seeking to always improve. I am thankful for midwifery, and its innate nature to meet people where they are, even when that person is ourselves. The last thanks on this list seeks to help me redefine my purpose, which continues to feel challenging.
Midwifery travails toward many purposes. Supporting women and families. Believing in normal and knowing its variations. Aspiring toward patient-centered care at all times. Evaluating for evidence-informed practice. Advertising midwifery and bringing midwives to the forefront. Teaching the next cohorts of midwives the best we know how. Creating community among each other and within our practices. Collaborating and working on teams with fellow providers. Perhaps the best overarching purpose for this profession is “midwifing,” and the definition comes from the word itself. Similar to the spider, perhaps we assume a simple purpose of that lifestyle, when actually the complexity of the purpose is what makes it beautiful, and worthwhile.
The next day, there was no sign that she was ever there. I assumed that, left alone, I might come back the next morning and see her work, her purpose, her legacy, shining with intention and art. Rather, I felt challenged to realize that perhaps I was fortunate to see her brief moments, and be awed by her unknown purpose. She left no trace, and yet the space felt different. She was there, and I know it. She cast down on a tether, and swung, and climbed, and fell, and was purposeful. I went out on a tether all my own, came back, and prepared again the next morning, still considering both her purpose and my own. I hoped she’d leave a sign, to show others what she had done, to prove her work. There is ego in belief of a legacy, but also a prowess ingrained in purpose: that our work lasts, that our time is worthy, that our passion changes the energy course of those we serve.
Perhaps my midwifery purpose is to continue questioning. To bump into my own reflection a few times to slow an assumed and rapid path. To be observed and challenged by those around me, including those I least expect. To sometimes leave evidence of my work, and sometimes leave none. To do my work with such intention that the purpose seems intuitive, and rationale. To consider the simplicity and the artfulness, both. The leave a legacy all my own. To define my midwife purpose, and then to midwife purposefully.