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. Read More

Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying

Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying
Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying by Maggie Callanan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Back when I was a doula, I had this thought that working with women through the birthing process must be similar to working in hospice with people who were dying. I didn’t share this thought with many people. In general, I would try not to mention death to pregnant women, and I worried that anyone not involved in doula work might think I was just weird. But to me—next to being born, which for most of us is stored only in our implicit memory and therefore inaccessible with our conscious methods of “remembering”—giving birth was the closest one could get to the process of dying without actually dying. I kept this notion largely to myself and quietly kept my eyes out for people who’d worked with both laboring women and dying people to either confirm or disprove this idea, all the while wondering if I dared try doula-ing to the dying and finding out for myself.

And then I started this book and read in the third chapter:

“As nurses who care for the dying, we see ourselves as the counterparts of birthing coaches or midwives, who assist in bringing life from the womb into the world. At the other end of life, we help to ease the transition from life through death to whatever exists beyond.”

The authors go on to draw parallels between the medicalization of birth and the medicalization of death, in which both natural processes were moved out of the sphere of home and family and into the closed-off corridors of medical facilities. Birth and death became events cloaked in secrecy and silence rather than transitions to be experienced surrounded by those who love us. Thankfully, this trend seems to be shifting.

Mostly the book is made up of brief accounts of the last moments of dozens of individuals. I read these with the emotion and enthusiasm with which I used to read birth stories in the days before I’d ever attended a birth or given birth myself. I read them hungrily, with the sense that there is a hidden truth in them and that I need only see these stories from the proper angle for this truth to be revealed.

The authors point out the similarities between different stories, and encourage the reader to find significance in these similarities. They give suggestions for maintaining the awareness and open-mindedness necessary to receive the often cryptic or confusing messages that dying people sometimes try to convey. They encourage the reader to remember that the dying person is still a person—an individual going through a momentous transition and experiencing a wide range of emotions and sensations that we can only guess at. The authors encourage compassion and connection, and they talk with reverence about the honor of being a part of these families’ lives, if only for a short time.

This is all so very similar to how I feel about being with a woman in labor. Probably in part because it was so familiar, the insights from these stories helped ease some of my fears about my own inevitable death. They helped me to see the beauty in the transition and the many gifts that the dying have to offer us, and it reminded me that emotional pain isn’t always bad, isn’t always something to avoid. The message I got from this book is that there is tremendous power and grace in opening ourselves to the emotional pain that accompanies death. It is a beautiful, powerful book, and I would recommend it to everyone. (My only caveat: I would caution against reading it sitting in the back of the library story room while your children are in Story Time. People seem to feel a little uncomfortable when a woman is choking back sobs while children sing “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”.)

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My Son’s Birth Story, Part 3: The Awesome Calm

My son’s second birthday is today. I’ve been thinking a lot about his birth, reflecting on how much he’s changed in the past two years, how much he’s still the same little guy he was in utero, and how much his birth and his existence have changed me.

I’m posting here my “for the public” birth story, split into three parts. If you were friends with me on Facebook last year, this is very similar to the birth story I posted for my son’s first birthday.

This was my second pregnancy and second birth (and most likely my last pregnancy and birth). After a fairly traumatic birth experience with my daughter, I did lots and lots to prepare for this birth. One thing I did was practice my Hypnobabies hypnosis multiple times a day from about eleven weeks gestation on. When I refer to hypnosis tracks in this birth story, they’re Hypnobabies tracks.

Oh, and in real life, we all referred to one another by our first names. I’ve taken out all names but mine for the “public” version of the story.

*********

The baby’s back is covered in thick vernix, and I rub it in. The baby begins to cry.

“You’re safe and sound, baby. You’re safe and sound, baby,” I repeat, my voice hoarse and sultry from all of the yelling. “You’re safe and sound, baby–” I lift the little leg and take a peek, “–boy. You’re safe and sound, baby boy.”

This is my son. This is my boy. I’m tired and happy. I look up at my husband and we kiss. I help my son maneuver on my chest to help him nurse. He latches on a little, then pauses to look around. Latches on, then looks around again.

“Charity, I want you to give a little push,” my midwife instructs.

I push, thinking that birthing the placenta will be a cinch after pushing out this baby. It’s easier, but certainly bigger and less comfortable than I expected.

It is 3:13am.

The placenta is floating next to me in a pink basin. My midwife clamps the cord and helps my husband cut it. We rest for a while while my midwife inspects the placenta. It looks great, apparently, and is quite large.

My doula brings me a glass of Recharge, and I suck it down through the straw.

My midwife explains that the baby had his right hand up by his face, and this pushed his elbow against my back and his head caught that anterior lip of cervix as it came down. She checks his arm, and it’s fine.

“I was a little worried about his shoulders, but he fit fine,” she says. “If you can birth a baby this size with a nuchal arm, you could birth an 11-pound baby in a favorable presentation, no problem.” I smile and feel a sense of pride at this proclamation. My midwife quickly apologizes, but I love her comment. My body can do all this and even more.

My husband considers the baby and says, “He doesn’t look like a Franklin,” which is our top choice for a boy. My husband suggests another name, not really on our list at all.

“Well,” I say, not ready to commit to a name just yet, “Let’s try it out. See if it fits.”

Someone takes my son, and my doula and midwife help me up and out of the pool, draping my bathrobe over my shoulders as quickly as possible. I notice that they’ve put some kind of paper runner all the way from the tub to my bed. We’ve already double-made the bed with plastic in between the two sets of sheets, so I can just walk straight there. I’m shaking incredibly, though, and pause in the doorway.

“Just keep moving, Charity,” my midwife urges.

I make my way to the bed supported by my midwife and doula. They help me in and stack blanket after blanket on top of me as my teeth chatter and my body shakes. My son is placed on my chest, naked, and covered with the blankets, too. Gradually, the shaking subsides. I help my son nurse. He suckles for a while, then falls asleep.

I feel bliss. I feel powerful. I feel part of something huge, something epic.

I eat some melon, drink some juice, cuddle my son.

After a while, my midwife takes the baby to the other side of the bed for his newborn assessments. I watch as she explains to my daughter each thing she does. She weighs him (9.0 pounds) and measures him (21.5 inches long), takes his footprints, checks his reflexes (the cool “walking on the bed” thing midwives do). My husband diapers him and swaddles him, helps my daughter hold him while my midwife checks me. I’ve got a 1st-degree tear, and she gives me two stitches. Then, I’ve got my baby back on my chest again.

My husband takes my daughter back to bed. We call the grandparents and give them the news. The doula and midwife leave. My sister heads upstairs to bed.

My husband curls up beside the baby and me.

It’s about 6am.

We sleep.

***********

You can find Part 1 and Part 2 of the birth story here:

Part 1

Part 2

My Son’s Birth Story, Part 2: Show Time

My son’s second birthday is today. I’ve been thinking a lot about his birth, reflecting on how much he’s changed in the past two years, how much he’s still the same little guy he was in utero, and how much his birth and his existence have changed me.

I’m posting here my “for the public” birth story, split into three parts. 

This was my second pregnancy and second birth (and most likely my last pregnancy and birth). After a fairly traumatic birth experience with my daughter, I did lots and lots to prepare for this birth. One thing I did was practice my Hypnobabies hypnosis multiple times a day from about eleven weeks gestation on. When I refer to hypnosis tracks in this birth story, they’re Hypnobabies tracks.

Oh, and in real life, we all referred to one another by our first names. I’ve taken out all names but mine for the “public” version of the story.

*********

In the birth tub.

I decide to take a shower to speed things along, and my husband joins me to offer support—literally—during contractions. I direct the hot water at the underside of my belly, and around to my back. It helps between contractions, but during contractions, I need to hang onto something and I can’t do that holding the shower head. I want to get down on my hands and knees, but the new bath mat is really rough. It hurts the soles of my feet and leaves chevron-shaped ripples on them, so I know it won’t feel any good on my knees. My husband turns off the water and helps me out of the bath. He helps me dry off and put my clothes back on between contractions.

We move into the bedroom, and I lean my forearms on the bed with my knees on the floor while my husband tries the counterpressure and hip squeezes that felt so good when I wasn’t in labor. I’m disappointed to find that these moves do not feel good at all during labor.

I want to get lower. My midwife and my husband help me onto all fours on the floor, my arms leaning on a stack of pillows. I rock my hips and moan loudly during contractions.

I hear my doula’s voice and feel her hand on my shoulder.

“I made record time!” she exclaims in a quiet voice between contractions. “You called around 11, and it’s 11:45 now.” Her hair is darker than it was the last time we met.

“You changed your hair,” I say.

“Even in labor you notice something like that,” my midwife says.

“No, I saw that it was different in an album on Facebook,” I explain, as I feel the wave of another contraction moving over me. When it’s through I burp several times.

“I feel kind of ill,” I say.

“Pukey or just burpy?” asks my midwife.

I think for a few moments then answer, “I don’t know.” An empty trash can appears in front of me, and I lean on that during contractions.

I don’t know who makes the suggestion, but the decision is made to move to the birth tub again. My midwife and my doula help me go to the bathroom first. As I rise from the toilet, I have another contraction. I’m out of my rhythm and don’t know what to do with myself. I lean forward with my hands on the edge of the tub, then I move to hands and knees on the floor, then to my forearms.

“I want to get…under the floor,” I say. I can tell that my midwife is amused by this, and through the roar of sensation I feel a muted sense of pride.

Out in the dining room, I strip down again, as fast as I can between contractions, and everyone helps me step over the high edge of the tub. I sink down into the water and let my arms float as I did earlier in the evening. When the next contraction comes, I lean over the edge of the tub. I call out loudly.

“Low tones, Charity. Keep it low,” my doula reminds me, and I lower my voice. “Good, good.”

The sensation. There’s a big sensation in my back and a pinch in the underside of my belly, but the overriding sensation is like a very loud noise in my midsection. It’s a roar in my belly that comes out through my mouth, builds and builds and then finally recedes.

I’m loud. I know that I’m loud, but I can’t seem to keep the noise inside my body.

I start to wonder if I’m doing it wrong. I’m fixated on the idea that I’m still at 3 cm, and I’m embarrassed at how much noise I’m making so early in the game. I’ve been practicing my Hypnobabies hypnosis for months, and I’ve had a vision of riding the pressure waves with my eyes shut, maybe making some small moans at the peak, but mostly just breathing deeply. This doesn’t look like what I’d envisioned. It’s also much more intense than I’d imagined.

During contractions, I lean on the side of the tub and call out. My doula reminds me to keep my tones low. She puts her hand on my shoulders and says, “Relax,” and I do my best to let go.

“I can’t do this,” I say.

“You are doing this,” she assures me.

As a former doula, I recognize this response, and I’m a little surprised how comforting it is to hear even though I know it’s standard doula-speak.

Between contractions, she gives me sips of water or I rest on the little step we’ve made under the floor of the tub. I lie on my side with my head resting on my arm on that step, and I doze off. I worry vaguely about drowning in the tub, but that’s not a thought that takes hold. I see the flash of my doula’s camera. Once I wonder, “Why is she taking a picture of this?” But mostly the flash exists in another realm. It’s something that doesn’t concern me.

At some point, someone takes my glasses off.

I start to feel my body pushing. My midwife is sitting in the child-sized armchair against the opposite wall.

“I’m pushing,” I say. “Are you sure it’s OK to push?”

“Has the pinchy feeling gone away?” she asks, still sitting in the little chair.

“No,” I answer. And I’m carried away by another contraction. I bear down and feel the bag of waters break. I have a mental image of how it must look, shooting out behind me at high pressure.

“My water broke,” I say. I don’t hear anyone answer, although someone might have.

During contractions, I’ve been holding husband’s hand with my left hand and my doula’s with my right. I notice that my husband is gone. “He’ll be back before the next contraction,” I think, and try to relax.

The next contraction begins to build.

I ask for my husband.

“He’s in the bathroom. He’ll be back soon.” I’m disappointed and for a moment wonder how to get through a contraction without holding his hand, but I turn my mind around. This is the reality. I’ve got my doula, and of course I can do this contraction. My husband will be back soon.

I come out of a contraction and notice that my daughter’s next to the tub. She says something to me. Maybe, “Hi, Mommy.”

“Hi, Honey,” I say. I intend to kiss her and give her reassurance that I’m doing well, but I can’t quite do it. I hear my husband reassure her that Mommy’s doing fine.

Now that I’ve started pushing, the contractions are carrying me away in a different way than before. I try to go with my body, try to just ride the push.

“Let it be strong,” my doula tells me, and I try to relax and let the power move through me.

“No, no, no!” I shout.

“Yes,” my doula says, calmly but firmly. “Yes.”

“Yes!” I try to yell it with feeling, but I remain unconvinced. I think, “I am so glad I’m not in the hospital, because I would ask for an epidural, and I don’t want one.”

“Charity, you might want to try to go to the bathroom,” my midwife suggests.

“I already peed in the tub,” I admit weakly.

“Good girl.” I don’t exactly hear laughter, but I hear that amusement again. I like the amusement. It helps me feel like everything is normal. Everything is fine.

Another contraction. At the top of this one I start repeating, “Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God.” As the contraction recedes, that changes to, “Oh, my crap.”

Another contraction.

“I just want a nap,” I’m pleading to no one in particular. “Just a little nap,” I bargain, “and then I’ll go right back to it. Just a little rest.”

Another contraction comes and goes.

“The pinchy feeling is still there,” I say in the brief calm between contractions.

“How about let’s try reclining,” my midwife suggests. “Maybe I could check you and see what’s going on?”

“OK,” I agree. Somehow I turn over. My midwife checks me.

“The head is very low,” she says. “You’re complete, but you have just a little anterior lip. That’s the pinchy feeling. On the next contraction, I can try to push it over the baby’s head.”

“OK.”

“If it hurts a lot, tell me and I’ll stop.” The next contraction builds, and I don’t feel anything more intense than usual.

“It’s not budging,” my midwife says. “You’ll need to push through it.”

I feel a sense of unfairness. When pushing starts, the other contraction sensations are supposed to recede. This is supposed to be my break, my triumphant time of great energy and joy. Damn that pinchy feeling.

But once again, I resolve myself to reality. This is it. Just more of the same. I’ve been doing this forever already. I can do it a little longer. I’m still somewhat unconvinced that I can possibly be this far along. It’s a strange place, labor-land. It exists outside of time. I’ve been doing this forever and ever, and yet for a very short time, too.

Somehow, my husband has joined me in the tub. He’s sitting on the little step behind me, holding me.

“If you reach down, you can feel the baby’s head,” my midwife says. I reach down, and there it is. Squishy, wrinkly.

I’m holding to two of my doula’s fingers with my left hand and touching the baby’s head with my right. That little growing patch of head has become the focus of my entire world.

With each contraction, I push and push. I start to feel lightheaded, like I’m falling.

“Oh, God! I think I’m going to pass out!” I shout. I’m squirming, trying to get away from the dizziness. “Oh, dear God, would someone please help me!” (A few days later, my daughter asks me about this. “Mommy, why did you say, “Oh, dear God, would someone please help me’?” The following day, my sister tells me that my daughter would retreat with her aunt to the kitchen every time I yelled, then return to the tub when I was quiet. My daughter tells me she was keeping her aunt company.)

“Breathe into my hand,” my doula says, and puts her hand loosely over my mouth and nose. I breathe as slowly and as deeply as I can. I realize that I’m breathing out as I push, but I’m forgetting to inhale again. My doula removes her hand, and I put my left hand over my face.

Breathing in, breathing out. Waiting for the next contraction, keeping my right hand on that little head. Feeling the next contraction build.

“Let it build up, nice and strong, then push when you can’t not push anymore.”

I let it build. I wait as long as I can and then I push. I feel a burning. The burning grows and grows. I fear it, but I also welcome it. I know I need to push into it. I know the only way is through the fire. I go slowly. I try not to push with all my might. I push until the feeling grows too intense and then I let off a little. Breathe into my hand.

“Tiny little pushes, like this,” and my midwife makes tiny little grunting noises. I try to imitate them. I end up doing something kind of like laughing. My back aches. That pinch is intense in the front of my belly. My nethers burn. I cradle that little head in my hand and feel it grow and grow until finally–relief. The baby’s head is out. I rest between contractions.

“OK, Charity,” my midwife says. “On the next contraction I want you to let it build and then push as hard as you can.”

I feel the next contraction build. I wait. It builds. I wait some more. Finally I can’t wait any longer. I put everything into this push. I’m holding my breath and my vision goes black. I can hear, but things seem far away. Suddenly I hear my midwife saying, “Pick up your baby! Pick up your baby!”

I feel my baby with my hands, I see my baby as I lift it to my chest. The baby is calm, not crying, but making little mewling noises. It looks at me, and I know this child. With my daughter, I felt a huge surge of emotion when I first held her. I cried and loved her with a bigger love than I’d ever felt before. This baby, I simply know. I recognize this child as mine.

It is 2:59am.

**************

You can read Part 3 of the birth story here.

And if you landed here directly and missed Part 1, it’s here.

My Son’s Birth Story, Part 1: Ramping Up

My son’s second birthday is tomorrow. Naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot about his birth today, reflecting on how much he’s changed in the past two years, how much he’s still the same little guy he was in utero, and how much his birth and his existence have changed me.

I’m posting here my “for the public” birth story, split into three parts. If you were friends with me on Facebook last year, this is very similar to the birth story I posted for my son’s first birthday.

This was my second pregnancy and second birth (and most likely my last pregnancy and birth). After a fairly traumatic birth experience with my daughter, I did lots and lots to prepare for this birth. One thing I did was practice my Hypnobabies hypnosis multiple times a day from about eleven weeks gestation on. When I refer to hypnosis tracks in this birth story, they’re Hypnobabies tracks.

Oh, and in real life, we all referred to one another by our first names. I’ve taken out all names but mine for the “public” version of the story.

*********

The day before my son’s birthday.

I open my eyes in the dark, suddenly awake.

I think I feel a trickle of fluid.

I put on my glasses and look at the clock. 12:00.

I hoist my belly and swing my legs to the floor, using the momentum to lever my top half upright. I pause, letting the blood find its way back to my head. Finally, I press my hands against the mattress and push my body off of the bed. I waddle to the bathroom and shut the door so the light won’t wake my husband. I pee, and when I wipe see just the faintest tinge of pink on the paper. The trickle seems to have stopped, but the rhythmic hardening of my belly and the pink show tell me that something is kicking into gear. I go back to bed, put on my headphones, and fall asleep listening to my Deepening Hypnosis track.

It’s light out when I wake up and see my husband, dressed, standing over me.

He tells me that he, my sister, and our daughter are headed for the Farmers Market.

“Do you need anything before we go?”

My sister has been in town from Ohio since August 1st. It’s now the 8th, 5 days after my due date, and I’m hoping the baby will be born before her return flight on the 11th.

“No, I’m just going to sleep,” I answer.

“I’ve got my cell phone. I’ll see you when we get back.” He leans down to kiss me and the moment his lips touch mine I feel another, larger trickle of fluid.

“Ummm,” I say, “wait just a few minutes before you go.”

On the toilet, the trickle is tiny. The paper comes back with a few hairlike streaks of blood on it. I call my midwife from the toilet. It’s just after 8:00am.

I tell my midwife about the trickle at midnight and this newest trickle. I tell her about the contractions, mild waves coming fairly infrequently.

“The others were just leaving for the Farmers Market. Should I let them go?” I ask.

“What do you think?” She gives the decision back to me.

“I think things aren’t really happening all that fast,” I say. “It’s probably OK for them to go. I’m going to get some breakfast and go back to bed, either way.”

“How about you have your husband time your contractions for an hour and see how they’re going, then make  a decision from there. If things ramp up during that hour, you might not want him too far away.”

I hang up and we commence timing my contractions while I eat some breakfast. After an hour of small, erratic contractions, I send the others on their way, call my midwife to update her, call my doula to give her a heads up, then I head back to bed. I listen to my Easy First Stage track and fall asleep.

The day proceeds. We stick close to home, and I alternate periods of activity, eating, and rest. I take my temperature and a dose of echinacea every four hours, as my midwife has instructed and give her updates by phone periodically. Each time I talk to my midwife or doula they ask, “Do you want me to come over yet?” Each time I answer, “No, not yet.”

I feel calm and relaxed. I feel confident. And I feel like being with my family and no one else.

The contractions have been intensifying by degrees all day, but I’m still greeting them with a smile. I look at the birth tub set up in the dining room but not yet filled. I talk to my baby.

“Mama’s here, baby. You’re safe and sound, baby. Come whenever you’re ready, baby. Mommy and Daddy and your big sister and your aunt are all here ready to love you. And we’ve got the birth tub set up. When you’re born, you’ll be born into nice, warm water.”

I touch my belly, savoring these last hours before my baby is his or her own person.

In the afternoon, I take a walk with my sister around the block. We dodge sprinklers that are watering the sidewalk instead of the grass, talk quietly, and I try to keep walking and look casual when a contraction comes on. After dinner and another nap, I walk the same route with my husband. I love these walks. I love spending this quiet time with my sister and my husband. And I love that by the end of the second walk, I need to stop and breathe at the top of the contractions.

It’s early evening when we call our midwife and ask her to come over and help us gauge things. She arrives around 9:30. I’m vocalizing, moaning quietly and leaning on my husband during contractions. They’re still comfortable, but I find I can’t stay seated during them. My husband and my sister have started filling the tub. My daughter went to bed around 7:30. My midwife, my husband, and I consult and I decide to have the midwife check my cervix.

“You’re about a 3, and very thin,” she reports. “The bag is intact at baby’s head, and I can feel lots of fluid inside.”

“So, what do we do now?” I ask.

“Well, that depends,” she says. “We can try to stir things up, get you up and walking some stairs. Or we can get you in the birth tub, try and get you all relaxed and try to slow things down a bit so you can take a nap and be rested up for when things pick up.”

I chew on this information. At first I’m disappointed that I’m not further along. But after some calm breathing and quiet reflection, I accept the situation, and decide this is an excellent chance to take a rest. This is just what I wanted, a labor that ramps up slowly and gives me a chance to adjust to each increase in intensity.

I strip down to my skin and step into the birth tub. When I sit down, the water comes up to my chest, and I float my arms on the surface. The buoyancy and release from some of my body’s weight is wonderful. I don’t know how long I stay in. The water has taken the edge off of the contractions, but they’re still coming at about the same frequency. I decide to get out, dry off, and try to get some sleep.

My midwife stretches out on the couch and my sister lies on the loveseat. My husband and I curl up together in our bedroom off of the dining room. I put on my headphones and listen to my Deepening track again while lying on my left side. I’m very relaxed in between contractions but during them, I get squirmy. I cannot keep still, and I’m starting to moan again. I make myself lie there through five contractions before I decide sleep isn’t forthcoming.

I get up and walk out to the living room. My midwife sits up.

“Looks like this is it,” she says.

*********

You can read Part 2 of the birth story here.

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.