Have you ever thought about what protects our hearts?
Just a cage of rib bones and other various parts.
So it’s fairly simple to cut right through the mess,
And to stop the muscle that makes us confess.
– Ingrid Michaelson, Breakable
I became a midwife, and am a midwife, because I want to provide inclusive, affirming, empowering, patient, and evidence based care for people in my community, and my community is the world.To even write this sentence is a challenge, because I feel like I am taking each day as it comes in my work, rather than allowing the macro to create space for defining the micro. This original path is hard to find lately, recently lost to me even as I move forward, like Alice in the woods of Wonderland with the broom dog suddenly sweeping her path both in front and behind.
As I have detailed before, I currently work in the setting where I completed my midwifery training. When I finished school, I swore I would never come back to this location: the antagonism against midwifery was too high, the culture change too great, the foundational underpinning of medical, patriarchal, normalcy-fearing hierarchy too entrenched. And yet, I came back. With the best of intentions, I purposefully accepted a job in this setting to try to make change from within. I am passionate about providing midwifery care for those who may have no idea what a midwife is, who may have never had a provider listen to them, or ask if they understand their care, or encourage them to listen to their bodies, or witnessed a provider treat everyone on a care team as an equal. I bring feminism and humanistic beliefs to my work, as well as patience and understanding that change is slow and uphill. I truly believed that with these intentions, I could start to see pieces of the work improve.
My incredibly kind midwifery student gifted me a massage at the end of our work together, and just this past week I went and succumbed to the needs of my own self care. During the entire massage, as I practiced breathing and felt my muscles and body relax. In clearing my mind, the word release kept surfacing. When thoughts about work crept in with each muscle’s initial tension under her caring hands, I could almost feel my body requiring itself to release. I tried to not focus on my confusion, because truly I was lost in what I sought to release in those moments. Nothing specific has happened at work recently, that I could seem to focus on as a target for release from my conscious and my conscience. Yet, release kept up its presence through the entire sixty minutes.
It took me a few days to realize that which I had pushed to the back of my mind, that which I had not released but rather compartmentalized, and its role in a broader sequence of things. And even then, it was not anything specific that I needed to release, but something bigger and more difficult to let go.
Many of you responded kindly and supportively to my recent post on Hindsight. The exact details of the sentinel event I write about in that post are not important, but perhaps it bears saying that the event’s existence in my birth work and in the space of where I work caused me to turn a corner in my intentions. I felt blocked, and frustrated, and guilty, and like there was no longer a path forward for better change.
I shared these feelings at a local midwife meeting recently. A fellow midwife, who used to work in my setting, responded with ease: “That place is a brick wall a mile high and a mile thick.” And then she shook her head, shrugged her shoulders, and suddenly our conversation moved on to something else.
For the first year of my work, I would speak proudly that I chose my first job because I wanted to change from within. Bright eyed and energetic, I would detail ideas I had about how to do just that, and would come into work each morning with passion and intention. Then, into the second year, I stopped talking about it with such excitement and enthusiasm, though I still mentioned it with those close to me, albeit more humbly and with greater reservation. Now, completing almost two years into this work, I speak about it very differently, mostly with uncertainty, fatigue, and defeat. I feel like I am facing the harsh realization that I have changed very little. I believe I realized this after the sentinel event I wrote about above, and just pushed the quiet meaning into another part of my brain. To me, it felt like the two years were a failure, and that I needed to figure out what was next amid feelings of failure. Instead, I finally realized that it is time to both accept what has happened over my first two years of work, and release it as I continue to move forward.
What is it that I am trying to do in this work? Is it enough that I (possibly) change the lives some of the women I serve, individually, and moment-by-moment? Have I done enough to encourage fellow reproductive health providers, even when I can only count on one hand the times when I believe I have actually done so? What have I accomplished in the past two years, and what of that can I accept into my heart and good and worthwhile, and what can I let go as worthy work though unsuccessful (as far as I can tell)? What am I able to do in this time, and am I really doing all that I can? How do I reflect on what has happened so far, and move forward? How is it that I can have other midwives in my own community give me kind praise and begin to use words for my work such as “leader,” when each day at work means that my collaborators consider me “less than” in all instances of the phrase? What is failure, what is the true experience of naming that which feels like failure to grow from it, and what is letting that failure go? What is release when it comes to two years of work, filled of moments so foundation-shaking that the path both forward and behind seems to be fading?
Release. To set something free.
Release. To stop holding onto something.
Re-lease. To move from one’s normal position in order to assume another position or perform a second assignment.
Then it hit me. There is not one specific thing I need to let go: I need to release everything. All of it. Todo. I need to release the expectations I had of myself over the past two years. I need to release the guilt I hold for that which I have not achieved, and rather consider it that which I have not yet achieved. I need to release the guilt I hold for specific circumstances in which I feel like I did not do all that I could, that I could have done better, to allow energy to do just that. I need to release the feelings of failure to allow entry for new experiences of growth. I need to release the sadness I feel for time wasted arguing what now feels like small points, when I could have pushed for something bigger, so that the “something bigger” can still be accomplished. I need to release when I was wrong, and when I was right, to be able to try those exact things again and again and seek different outcomes. I need to release the negative comments and toxic culture, to make space for kindness and beauty. I need to release everything that I think went wrong, to embrace that sometimes it actually went right, to have more moments when the latter happens. I need to release all of it, in order to embrace all that there is to come.
Midwifery work is not one-dimensional. It is not one path. We do not become midwives with only one goal. And, assuredly, I did not become a midwife to be broken in a system in which women deserve midwifery care and, ultimately, deserve better.
I release it. All of it. I release it with the intention of moving forward, of embracing the possibilities of what is coming next. I release it with the knowledge that my heart may again be broken, that my heart again may grow three sizes, and that my heart may be stilled as it is humbled before this work. I release all of it the way one might release themselves into a full love affair, because this roller coaster of two years of midwifery has paralleled my deepest friendships and most intense loves. I release it so that I may move forward as a midwife with an open heart, with a belief that my work has meaning in each moment and each breath, and that my intentions are good and strong and powerful. I release it so that I may welcome what is next with everything that I have.
This is a process, but one I have now officially begun. Already, I feel changed just by recognizing what needs to happen. Even if I have not released everything yet, I feel renewed.
My midwifery body is empty of that which no longer serves it, full of opportunity for all that will, and ready for tomorrow’s adventures.