Mining Meaning: Digging for Hidden Passion

My husband offering me support and connection as I birth our son.

Just last night, I sat on the sofa wondering what it is I’m passionate about. I don’t have cable, so while this isn’t an uncommon pastime for me, I usually distract myself with a novel before I get too involved in an ultimately frustrating thought process. Then this morning I read Tucker’s post, “Who Am I?” which, aside from the references to sailing, I think I could have written.

For me, there’s a sense of danger around searching for my passions. Before my first child was born, I was a doula. First I attended births as a volunteer. I would take an 8pm to 8am shift on the weekends while working full time during the week, and I would take the occasional paying client, although I never charged what I considered “full price,” which at that time in that location was about $350. Then we moved to California and I started attending births as part of a doula circle, a group of doulas who shared the on-call schedule and the clients. For a variety of reasons, the circle gradually became a triangle then a line and then a point (me). I then became pregnant myself. I attended one birth during my early pregnancy and that was the last of my doula work.

Being a doula necessitates having a passion for birth. I certainly had that, as anyone who conversed with me during this time period can attest. I also had a passion for empowering women, which was more difficult to realize than my passion for birth. Birth in a hospital is most often not empowering for the woman giving birth. She becomes an object ancillary to the process. More often than I care to admit, I found myself complicit in this objectification. I went into doula work with a desire to help women find their own voices. I’ve only recently recognized that what I really wanted was to get these women to adopt my voice. It’s uncomfortable to admit, but I wanted to show them where they were wrong, where they were being misled by their care providers. I subtly sought to undermine their faith in their physicians and in themselves and replace that with the truth as I saw it. I didn’t want them to find their own voice; I wanted them to find mine.

After my own harrowing birth experience in the hospital with my daughter, I became even more judgmental and polarized in my thinking about birth. Birth was still a passion for me, but it had begun to morph into an obsession. I felt a need to protect other women from the experience I had giving birth. Soon, I began to feel a need to protect women from myself and my negative view of birth.

When it comes to birth and mothering, I’m not very empathetic. I don’t make connections; I make judgments.

If you’ve known me while pregnant or as a mother, I’ve judged you. I’m not proud of it, and I’m working to change it. It’s not you, it’s me.

Yesterday I was helping my daughter get dressed after gymnastics, and I overheard the pregnant mother of another girl in the class telling another mom that she was scheduled for a cesarean that afternoon.

At the mention of the scheduled cesarean, I got very anxious. I felt jittery and tight, like a wire had been pulled taut inside my chest. My brain went into overdrive making all manner of assumptions about the woman. I breathed. I wondered how many weeks pregnant she was. I breathed. I wondered why it is her doctor said she couldn’t birth vaginally. I breathed. I decided to say nothing and just try to get out of there without judging this mother. I looked up and smiled at her. She spoke to me.

“Are you the person who gave me the coupon for the prenatal massage?” she asked.

“Yes,” I answered.

“Thank you so much! I’ve been going. She’s great! I’m scheduled to go next week after my c-section.”

“Oh?” I said, trying to sound merely curious. “How many weeks are you?”

“I’m 39 and a half,” she answered. I looked her in the eye. Can she tell I’m judging her? I’m trying so hard not to.

“I was just wondering when they schedule them now,” I said.

“Any time after 39 weeks is safe,” she said, almost cutting off the end of my comment. “I wanted a Friday because my husband would be off work for the other kids.”

“If you need to have a cesarean, that’s the nice thing about scheduling it. You can make it work with the other things you have going on.”

“I’d rather not have one, but since I need to, I’m making the most of it,” she said.

“I had a friend who was having her third cesarean. She really didn’t want one and talked with her doctor about it. He arranged to have the music she wanted playing during the surgery, and the anesthesiologist caressed her face with warm towels. She said it was very pleasant, like a spa treatment, almost.” The woman raised her eyebrows, interested.

“Oh? Wow. They did all that?” she asked.

“Well,” I conceded, “my friend was a doctor, too. I wonder if they get special treatment.”

We both smiled. My daughter pulled on my arm, anxious to leave.

“Well, congratulations, almost!” I said.

“Thanks!” And she was gone.

On the one hand, I’m grateful and proud that I was able to get a handle on my assumptions and judgments and talk with this woman in a gentle, mother-to-mother way. On the other hand, I wish I didn’t have those judgments to start with. I want to banish them from my mind and just…love.

Many of the things I think are passions of mine are because they’re hot issues for me, fraught with judgments as I try to craft a narrative that works for me around my own experiences. They’re the things I want or need to work through and so I fixate on them. It’s not fair to me or to the people I work with if I focus on these issues as part of a vocation or avocation.

When I finished my training at the rape crisis center to be a community educator, the director of the program met with me and said she wasn’t going to let me become an educator. She said I was too emotionally involved, and she had to think of the clients who come to the center for help. I was livid.

I talked with one of the support group facilitators there, and she told me how she’d ended up at the crisis center. Her mother had died of cancer. After going through that process with her mother, she felt driven to help cancer  patients and their families. She was really angry when the director of the program that had helped her told her she couldn’t participate as a volunteer because of her closeness to the issue. Once she got over her anger, though, she saw the wisdom of not staying in that particular sphere. At the rape crisis center, she was able to use the strength she’d acquired through her personal experiences to help people through issues that didn’t hold such personal significance for her. Her passion, it seems, wasn’t for the issue of cancer. It was for helping people through connection and giving them that same positive feeling she’d has as a participant in the program for families of cancer patients. Once she discovered this subtle but significant difference, she was able to apply her passion in a way that was healthy for her and more helpful for those she sought to help.

So, maybe birth and mothering aren’t my passions. Maybe it’s the connection underneath that’s my passion. Or maybe it’s something else I’ve not identified yet. It’s fairly clear to me that writing is one of my passions. And blogging, which is writing, but it’s kind of an instant-feedback sort of writing. There’s that connection piece again, buffered by a computer screen and the invisible network out there that has enveloped us all. Maybe this is why I’m so obsessed with my blog stats. This isn’t a journal. I have one of those (and I don’t share it with anyone). If my stats are high, I know I’ve connected with someone (or a lot of someones), at least to the point that what I’ve said has interested them enough to click on my blog. If they comment or share my posts: boy howdy.

10 comments

  1. Pingback: Classic Imperfect Happiness: Mining Meaning | Imperfect Happiness
  2. Lea · December 20, 2010

    In some ways it sounds a little like having some control issues mixed in with the passion? That sort of ‘I know what’s best for you’ type of problem us control freaks have. I know it was a huge relief when I finally admitted to myself that providing information was the best I could do, and any decision made was right for the other person (in their opinion, lol) and didn’t have to be right for me.

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  3. Victoria · December 18, 2010

    The birth topic is so challenging for me too. It’s so hard not to be judgmental. I bought Ina Mae Gaskin’s guide to childbirth to give to my new friend Chris the day I found out his wife was pregnant with their first child. I suppose that was crossing a line, but I just couldn’t let them not have such an important resource. I’ll see them both tomorrow and try to see how it went over, but now after the fact, I’m nervous.
    When another new non-parent friend told me that his mom was a midwife it was an enormous relief to have home birth as a baseline when talking about having children. I just get so tense about the topic and while I’ve never been a doula, good safe normal birth is certainly a passion for me too. It’s not the thing that makes my heart race in a good way though. It’s more like a nervous angry passion and I want to shout out to the world about all the things that go wrong when labor is messed with. I have plenty of things that I’m passionate about in a positive way so maybe I should stick to those topics.

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    • CJ · December 18, 2010

      During a time when I felt very much torn up watching another woman make what I saw as birth choices leading to one inevitable conclusion, a friend pointed out that what I was feeling was my stuff, not hers. I’d offered her information, but ultimately this is the path she needed to travel, for better or for worse. I saw myself in her and I wanted to save that past innocent self from the pain that I could see coming. But I couldn’t take over her experience for her. In the same way, I can look back at my hospital birth and see dozens and dozens of things that I could have done differently but in the final analysis, the past is still the past. All I can control is the narrative around the experience. I made the best choices possible at the time, and I need to trust that other women are also making the best choices possible for them at the time. Maybe that was the path that I had to travel to get to where I am today and where I will be going in the future, wherever that might be. I think the key is finding the balance between offering the wisdom that our experience has given us and allowing the women around us to come to their own wisdom, even if that means going through painful experiences to come to that wisdom. I don’t know where that balance is, though.

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  4. stacy · December 18, 2010

    This post really rang true for me.

    I too, have had to re-examine my passion for birth work in light of my latest birth, because it challenged everything I thought I believed about birth. Not that it was even traumatic per se, but it is causing me to do a lot of re-evaluating.

    Last May, after I attended my last birth, I thought I was content to take a long vacation from birth work. I had a son with extensive medical needs and found myself very unexpectedly pregnant. I thought “Oh, I’ll go back to it someday,” and “Well, I have so many other things going on that I’ll never miss it.” Then, purely by chance, I met a homebirth midwife at a Christmas party, and just chatting with her helped me to remember that I really do love birth work. It’s a part of me. And after talking with her, I realized it’s not something I’m ever really going to be able to get away from. Maybe that’s the definition of a passion- something you can’t imagine not being a part of.

    Anyway, enough ruminating from me. And good luck in your search.

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    • CJ · December 18, 2010

      That’s the other part that I’ve not quite figured out: that part of me that keeps coming back to birth. If one day I can find a way to get back into birth in a way that feels healthy and right for me, I’m sure I would do it. As you know, I almost did it before my last pregnancy. If I’d not looked into birth work at the time and in the place that I did, it’s possible I would never have made the connections that led me to you, and I may never have had you as my doula. And that’s hard to imagine since you’re such an integral and positive part of my memory of birthing now. I would love to talk with you sometime about your shift in perception around birth.

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  5. abigailvr · December 18, 2010

    I also struggle with emotional distance (or lack thereof) and judgement in myself. After reading some of your posts about mindfulness I’ve tried to just observe the judgement in myself, figuring that maybe that’s a first step to just observing, rather than judging, other people’s birth and breastfeeding choices (in particular).

    Thank you for the inspiration as well.

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  6. Lynn · December 18, 2010

    I think the appeal of blogging – and checking stats – for me at least, is the lack of positive feedback being a SAHM. As for the rest, I think I tend to hold people to high standards and then get disappointed easily. But, I also love your passion about these issues (birth, breastfeeding, mothering, etc.). I think you did the right thing in terms of the woman already having a c-section that day – not like you had any benefit to add there – but don’t try to be so non-judgmental that we lose the benefit of your wisdom either. Feel free to tell me what I’m doing “wrong.” 😉

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  7. Tucker Bradford · December 18, 2010

    Awesome post. I can totally relate on the not wanting to be judgmental. On the other hand there is nothing at all wrong with being confident in your convictions. It’s a really fine line between the two and I’m constantly wondering which side of it I was just on. In my opinion, being self-aware enough to challenge yourself on this topic is more than enough. If you get some traction, that’s just gravy.

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    • CJ · December 18, 2010

      Mmm…gravy…

      Thanks for the comment, Tucker, and the post that inspired this particular bent on this topic. Focusing on passion helped me pull together many disparate ideas I’d had the feeling connected but hadn’t quite gotten together yet. And it’s always reassuring to know I’m not the only one thinking about a particular subject.

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