Classic Imperfect Happiness: Mining Meaning

Lately I’ve been thinking even more than usual about what it is I’m passionate about. I’ve been thinking about writing a blog post about this, but it turns out I already did, way back in December 2010.

I’ve changed a bit since then; for example, with the help of one particularly understanding friend, I’ve made great progress sloughing off judgmental thoughts about other people’s birth choices. She helped me discover that, although we made essentially opposite choices about birth, we made our choices from a very similar emotional place. I thank her for opening up that empathy in me.

I also think I’ve gotten a little better at crafting a non-wandering blog post, and I no longer obsess about blog stats. But aside from these changes, I think I could have written this post today and had it turn out pretty much the same. (Note: I couldn’t resist editing the original post slightly, just for style, though, not content.)

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 at the hospital 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 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. I remembered that I’d recently handed around coupons for my massage therapist to the parents at gymnastics class.

“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.

I think that I consider some things “passions” primarily 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 community educator training at the rape crisis center, the director of the program 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.

3 Replies to “Classic Imperfect Happiness: Mining Meaning”

  1. I think about these things all the time too. I am comfortable with being passionate and emotion-ridden about my passions. But I know that it doesn’t help me stay level headed or win arguments. I am afraid though that if I lose the emotion, then whatever propels me to work toward that “passion” will stop too. But maybe there is too much passion? Or too raw passion? I don’t know where is the line between what puts one in a smooth, productive and unstoppable motion and what makes one take off with too much speed and crash too soon.


    1. This reminds me of the discussions I used to get into with my writer and artist friends in college, friends with depression and bipolar disorder who were afraid that if they sought (or complied with) treatment, they would lose their artistic edge. And of course, you can find arguments for both sides of this, that success is all about embracing and nurturing your passion and conversely about slogging through the boring and difficult and producing even when you don’t feel like it. I tend towards the “slogging along” end of things, although I’m constantly jealous of my more passionate friends who burn the candle at both ends. They seem to have a lot more fun and accomplish more interesting things than I do. (That reminds me, have you read Savage Beauty, the bio of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford? Millay is a great example of a writer driven by passion.)


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