I took care of someone today.
In processing my chronic evening exhaustion, craving of therapeutic glasses of wine, and inability to focus when out in the evenings, I realize the degree to which I took care of someone each day.
Today, I was just as excited for your pregnancy and upcoming birth as you were. I laughed wholeheartedly with you and your partner, joking about the baby playing basketball inside your tummy, and shared how fun I think your birth will be because of the energy you both bring. I gave you 100% of myself for 20 minutes, and loved every minute of it.
Today, I told you that you have breast cancer, again. I told you I had few answers, I don’t know the staging, I don’t know your treatment options, I don’t know your likelihood of beating it again. That will be for the specialist to decide, and your appointment with them is in two weeks. I gave you 80% of myself for 10 minutes, because if I had given 100% I would have broken down with you and would not have been able to stop, and I was scared for you and for me and for what was next, every minute of it.
Today, I gave you the most gentle pap smear I know how to give. I gave you time to process each and every step, I listened to how much it hurt last time so I could know what intricacies to change, I taught you the best way to check your own breasts. I answered each question twice, because I can only imagine how much information that can be to process for the first time. I gave you 100% of myself for 20 minutes, and was as patient and understanding as I know to be, every minute of it.
Today, I hid my frustration for what I interpreted as ambivalence to your personal reproductive choice options. I explained the reasoning behind contraception, control over family planning, and prevention of unwanted and unplanned pregnancies. I asked if you had any questions, and continued to explain when you seemed confused about options. I explained fertility and likelihood of pregnancy and infection risk. I tried to lay a foundation for your personal knowledge and empowerment, and watched as you seemingly shrugged it off. I gave you 100% of myself for 20 minutes, each of those minutes incredibly difficult for me as a person and a provider.
Today, I was with both you and my midwife student, as she supported you in the birth of your baby. You have had many before, but you were scared during this one, were looking for reassurance and safety and respect. My midwife student was looking for the same, for you and for herself, and I was there for you both, balancing additional factors of other providers and setting and protocol and your risks. I gave 100% of myself for 60 minutes, experiencing joy and fear and power and weakness with you and beside you.
To give 100% is like running a marathon in short amounts of time. Often I just walk from room to room, trying to wipe my slate clean, before I seek to meet the next person where they are and for their specific needs. Midwives seek to meet our clients where they are, but we can only do that if we ourselves are ready to do so. To be ready means we cannot carry the previous patient’s “where they are” to yours. There is a mandatory slate cleaning that happens between each room, so that I can be ready for your needs, and then yours, and then yours: 100% each time. When I consider how I am 100% here for you, that means that I am no longer there 100% for the previous person. It’s difficult to be there so strongly for someone, and then turn that off, so that we can best turn it on for the next person. For the toughest of visits, it’s liberating to turn it off: to take the most difficult interactions and be done with them, and I am thankful for that component of the job as well. Though, truthfully, I never fully leave any room, each story becomes part of a collective, a collective story and history and future for myself as a provider, which gives its collective love but also takes its collective toll.
When I give 100%, I am giving you all of my support and respect and knowledge and optimism and positivity and humor and realism and seriousness and love. In those minutes, as brief or as long as they are, I am giving physical, emotional, mental, social, logistical support. While it invigorates during the best times, and drains during the difficult times, more often than not those feelings even out, and love for the work prevails. However, if I started out the day on my own personal 100% life battery, after each room my percentage drops. By the time I get home, my battery is low more days than not. And then I struggle in finding an ability to give 100% of myself to my family, to my personal time, and to my own needs.
In having a student, I am finding my efforts divided, and feel confused about my focus. I want to give my student 100%, while allowing her to care for each patient herself, though still want to be there for the patient as much as I need to be. My focus and my energy feel divided, and I recognize that I have not yet balanced that management well. I take care of my patients, I take care of my student, and seek a middle ground in caring for their relationship separate from me.
Of course there are days when I am distracted, when one someone’s story dominates my thoughts, and then I feel guilty that I have given anything less to some, when they deserved everything I gave to those before them. And then I feel guilty that I have less for myself and family, even if I feel great about how much I gave professionally. I, and my family, are part of my collective someone, and I take care of them also.
I took care of someone today. I took care of many someones, and each day they become ‘the collective someone.’ Some days my collective someone drains me down to 0%. Some days my collective someone is full of beauty and joy and pure midwifery that I come home still at 100%. Each and every day, I believe in my work and will continue to strive for the 100%. Guilt is a distraction in this process, and I need to find ways to let that go.
Thank you, collective someone, for letting me care for you. Thank you for allowing me to give all I have, because it is what I want to do. Thank you for reminding me that as I care for you, I find new ways to care for myself. Thank you for reminding me how much my family needs my care, and to find new ways to care for them. Thank you for recharging me. Thank you for draining me, so that I can dig deeper. Thank you, collective someone, and I’ll see you tomorrow.