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