Being Vulnerable

I have never felt as lonely as I felt this past week.

It’s nobody’s fault, and I have lots of people who would have LOVED to have helped if they were able to do anything to help! But at the end of the day (and at the end of the week), I felt very alone and realized that it’s an aspect to midwifery that I could never have prepared for.

Each birth is unique, and every single birth I have experienced over the years has brought its own set of challenges, its own unique triumphs, its own lessons learned and I always come away changed. For the better or worse, I’ve been inspired and I’ve been scared, I’ve felt blessed and I’ve been exhausted by the level of emotional involvement this job requires. If you have ever read my blog for more than 5 minutes then you know – this job isn’t a job. It’s a life. It’s not what I do….in many ways, it’s who I am. At times I think that even my own clients don’t truly “get” that….that I really truly deeply do LOVE my clients, sacrifice myself for them, not just my time but my prayers and my emotions and I don’t just pretend to care – I do care. More than I think any of you could possibly understand….I care down to my core. When we have to transfer care because of a concern, I cry for you. When we triumph over a challenge and I see you holding your baby…I cry again as I share in your joy.

That isn’t lonely – in fact, one of the amazing things about this job is the shared experience. As I laugh with a family about that funny thing that happened during her labor, or I high-5 with the doula that mom was able to overcome that challenge. All in that room experienced this journey together and it’s comforting to be a part of this social dynamic that is involved in birth. You didn’t go through this alone anymore than the mother did….we all bore witness, we travelled the path together.

Except…

This week has, professionally speaking, been one of the most challenging weeks of my life.

Sigh. That’s not entirely accurate – since this isn’t just a job for me. I will be more honest – this week has been one of the most challenging weeks of my life. Yes, the baby lived. Yes, the mother lived. Yes, we believe both have come through without any long term consequences. I’ve seen babies who didn’t make it….but this birth rocked me to my core.

What happened is not something I feel comfortable getting into beyond saying there were challenges that were met and overcome, then new challenges that were very scary for a while, and now those challenges are being overcome in an entirely triumphant way. Vague? Yes…but it’s enough.

Why did it affect me so much? I think in part BECAUSE I felt so alone in a way that I didn’t expect. This is the first instance in my career in which I truly had to ask myself, “Was this preventable? Could I have done something different that could have helped?” I went over the notes from this birth…over and over…over again…and over and over. I can see nothing I could have or should have done differently. But still….I’m the midwife….did I miss something? The neonatologist tells me that they see this in the hospital all the time without being able to prevent, and that helps. Over and over I review my assessments, my actions, my judgments, my reactions….

My assessments, my actions, my judgments, my reactions….
This is on me. As a student I had a midwife behind me…it’s ALWAYS an “us” situation. WE assess…WE agree on a course of action…WE made judgments…

I wished I could talk things through with someone. Anyone. But who?

My student that was there? They have never experienced the full weight of responsibility on their shoulders – by virtue of being a student, none of them have ever really experienced that feeling. Other midwives? It requires a level of intimacy that requires allowing them to peer into my inner most soul – and honestly I am not close enough to any other midwife. Professional respect? You bet, and I know that most of the midwives in my area would be WILLING to listen and be there – but it’s not about them, it’s about me. There are lots of men that would be willing to have sex with me, but it’s me that’s not comfortable enough to get undressed and open up for them. Friends? There was one friend that I did open up to – she had experienced how it felt to make medical decisions for her husband who was dying of cancer. Second guessing herself, being the one responsible…talking to her did help some, but while she understand the feeling of responsibility, she couldn’t really understand the medical decisions I was faced with nor their long term implications.

So I curled up on my couch, ignored my phone, and shut down. Scared the hell out of my husband as we have been together for 20 years and he’s never seen me that way. I prayed for the family as hard as I could. It is the first time I have ever in my life EVER literally thrown up from the stress. I didn’t sleep for 3 days…stress, fears, prayers…my brain wouldn’t shut off long enough to really sleep.

I understand that someone could read this and think, “Wow, I don’t want that lady as my midwife! Sheesh….I want someone strong!” I have never felt more weak than I did this past week. I have never felt more vulnerable.

I have never questioned my chosen profession. Never. Until this week. I had to ask myself, “Am I strong enough to do this? Can I be willing to have my heart open enough to possibly experience this in the future again? But would it be fair to my clients to NOT be open enough?”

I wish I could turn this into just a job. I wish I could not give a shit. I wish it didn’t matter to me if we have complications, or transport, or c-section. I wish I didn’t have a vested interest in having it be the best outcome with the best experience possible. But I do care – deeply. I make judgment calls that I think are in my clients best interest, and then I carry that in my heart. Sometimes forever.

The ironic thing is that as alone as I felt (painfully lonely), I found that in a really strange way – I had reached out to myself. I didn’t mean to, it just worked out that way. I wrote a blog post about miscarriages – Choosing to be Vulnerable. Vulnerable – wow. That’s what I am when it comes to my midwifery…I have chosen to be vulnerable. I can choose to continue to be vulnerable and deal with bad things if they happen and yet be open to the incredible joy that usually accompanies birth! Or I could prepare constantly for bad things, guard myself, and never allow myself the joy of “perfect” and “healthy” and “triumphant” births. I listened to my own words I re-read that blog post – and had to ask myself how much I still believe my own words.

I have to believe them. I have to allow myself to feel the sad in order to accept the joy. I have to accept that bad things happen, but not focus on that to the exclusion of the good. To live in the moment of what IS, rather than getting caught up in the what-ifs.

I have to choose to be vulnerable. It is a choice I make daily. I pray for the strength to continue to be vulnerable.

18 Comments

  1. Amy Vowles wrote:

    I am sorry you are having such a hard time. The fact that you live and breathe what you do is the most tremendous gift and blessing to your clients. (((HUGS)))

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink
  2. Crys wrote:

    you are a triumph. daily. and that is due in large part, to your vulnerability and your genuine love. This community is so lucky to have you.

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink
  3. Melissa wrote:

    I don’t have any idea how it feels to walk in your shoes as far as being that responsible at a birth, but you should know how grateful I, and so many others of your clients, are that you are willing to put yourself out there and support us when we are in that time of need. There is NO ONE I would rather be making those calls when they need to be made, than you, Stephanie. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you do and all that you give. I have never connected with a care provider as much as I have with you, and that is because you allow yourself to be that vulnerable.

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink
  4. Sending you lots of love. What an amazing midwife you are, I’d hire you in a heartbeat. I don’t have any words of advice or wisdom to share but wanted to send some love.

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink
  5. Shannon D wrote:

    That was beautiful, Stephanie. Thanks for opening your heart.

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Permalink
  6. Tangie wrote:

    You never fail to amaze me Stephanie. You are someone I look up to so much and it’s blogs like this that change me. You have one of the most beautiful hearts. Love you my friend.

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink
  7. Tiffany wrote:

    Yes, I get it. Even worse when you find something that may or may not have made a difference. I definitely get it. It’s hard for others to understand what it means to be a midwife. But the emotions and love we carry for our women, is part of what makes it so much more special for everyone involved. I get it. But this pain will ease with time, and you will continue onward because there is nothing else you can do….quitting or giving up are not options. I cry as I write this. I get it.

    Don’t think that just because I have stuff going on with my husband, that I can’t be there to listen.

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Permalink
  8. Quincy Bates wrote:

    Steph,

    You can call me ANYTIME. I think our journey is so very similar. We were doula’s at the same time in the mid to late 1990’s. We have since become LM’s and your journey’s are my journey’s. I love reading your blogs because you “put it out there”. I keep it in. We are not perfect but we invest so, so much for women to experience the best birth possible. I just had my very first transport just 2 days ago. I have been terrified of how it would go, the reception I would get, am I doing the right thing….you know. It went much better then expected but only because of 1 wonderful OB I trust and willing to help “us”. I just want to give you a (((HUG))) because I know how you feel.
    Much LOVE to you sister!
    Quincy

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink
  9. Trena wrote:

    You have a heart of gold Stephanie. Sending all my love and strength to you, that you continue your journey, and continue to change the course of other’s lives, a thousand times over

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink
  10. Jenny B wrote:

    You are amazing in every way. Your mamas and babies are all lucky to have you. We are all lucky to know you. Hold your head high and know, deep in your soul, you are loved and needed. Keep doing what you do. *HUGS*

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink
  11. Jamie Vacaliuc wrote:

    You are an amazing soul. THANK YOU for sharing with us. You are respected, loved, and cherished. Never, ever, forget that.

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink
  12. Allen wrote:

    You are my hero. As I look forward to my future career and who I want to be, it’s you. I don’t have any intentions of going into obstetrics because I could never give women the kind of care they deserve from a midwife but whatever field I go into, I want to be the Stephanie Soderblom of what I do. I can’t count the number of ways Clayton’s birth could have been the start of the worst experience of Britt’s life, if we didn’t have you to help make it one of the very best for both of us. Thank you!

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Permalink
  13. bsoder wrote:

    This was a really rough week, no question. As bad as it was for you to go through it, it was also really awful to watch you deal with it. I wish there was more that I could do… I know full well though that I lack the life experience to really understand the emotions you were dealing with. My job, as I see it, is simply to listen, and be here.

    As I’ve said, midwifery is not a job, it’s a lifestyle, and we live it with you.

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Permalink
  14. Katie wrote:

    {{{{{HUGS}}}}}

    You are so special to all of us who have been blessed to have you in our lives. Thank you for sharing such a personal experience and for caring so deeply about us.

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Permalink
  15. elfanie wrote:

    thank you everyone for your encouraging and gentle comments. (and to my husband who commented above….who did, indeed, listen and was there for me – and who I am grateful every day that he lives this lifestyle with me)
    thank you…

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Permalink
  16. Melissa wrote:

    In my eyes, this is what makes you such an amazing midwife. Thank you for caring as much as you do. You’ve touched my life in a way no one else can, and there will forever be a big chunk of my heart with your name on it. I’m so sorry you’ve been having a rough time. I love you to pieces. ((Big Hugs!))

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Permalink
  17. Rebecca wrote:

    Stephanie, you are such an amazing person. We are blessed to know you and for you to have witnessed our children come into the world. There is no one I would trust more. I’m so sorry that you have had a tough week, but you will come out of this a stronger, more amazing woman! We truly love you!

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Permalink
  18. Joanna wrote:

    Thank you for risking. Your heart and soul. You will not become jaded you will become strong and tender if you keep making these choices.

    Thursday, February 9, 2012 at 12:43 am | Permalink

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