Discerning the Sacred

“We each must discern what is sacred to us: what we most value, what we can devote our energies to with passion and joy, what we are willing to risk ourselves for and take a stand for. When we devote our best energies to what we most cherish, when we refuse to let our energies be diverted to further destruction or to serve other people’s ends, we tap into the power that creates the everyday miracles of birth, growth, and change, touch the fires that have not cooled since the beginning of the world, shift the very plates we stand on so that new continents can form. What is sacred to you may be different from what is sacred to me, but I must trust your passion as you must trust mine. When we do, we can remake the world.”

–Starhawk, Dreaming the Dark

What is sacred to you? Where are you devoting your best energies? How are you remaking your world?

I saw the above quote today on Facebook and thought it quite timely for the transition my family is currently going through. The following questions can’t be answered without a bit of back story.

After many years of knowing midwifery is my chosen career, I’ve decided to enroll in college and pursue the Certified Nurse Midwife path. Five years ago, if someone had told me this is the way I’d go, I would have laughed them out of the room. Coming from a staunch home birth midwifery background, I had always imagined I would be a Certified Professional Midwife and work solely with parents choosing home births. Three years ago, I wasn’t so certain but still felt pulled in that direction. I also began building a doula agency at that time, with the intent to have a team of doulas serving the area while I pursued midwifery. I knew it was important to myself and my sense of community service to not leave a hole for families desiring doula care. It’s been a long three years. In many ways, I’ve succeeded in the goal of building an agency. I have, at one time or another, had four other doulas under the SBS umbrella. I also have managed to work with a Certified Lactation Counselor and Prenatal Yoga instructor. The birth classes have been happening on a regular basis, something which I didn’t intend to do at the beginning but have found a delight in.

During these years, I also created (with a lot of help) a non-profit women’s community center. This was way more work than I thought it would be! In many ways, I suppose it is a success too, since it still exists and is available to the community. It has not been easy, and to say I’ve enjoyed every minute would be a lie. I put my family back into debt for this dream, sacrificed a lot of my life energy, and even lost a few friendships over it. It continues to be one of the hardest, most life-changing things I’ve done so far in life.

This past year, I’ve struggled with the weight of these dual responsibilities, costly (if not monetary, then emotionally) mistakes, hard lessons, and of course all the other day-to-day things that go along with being an adult, a wife, a mother, a homeschooler. A few months ago, I came to the realization that if I didn’t change something, I was going to fade away. I was feeling crazy, so crazy in fact that I wondered if I truly was. Mental illness runs in my family, leaving a tiny part of my self always asking, “Is this real, or am I descending into madness?” So many little things, too many to list and too painful to elaborate, piled up until a crescendo hit and I decided that it was time for me to take a step in the future. My future. The future of my family. Not the one I think my community needs (while my brain/heart fights with…Who do you think you are? How the hell do you know what your community actually needs? And who are you to fix it? AND How dare you? Do you not see what you started? You must commit yourself to this, fully and forever. You don’t consider any other way.) Almost daily, I continue this war in my self between my wants/needs/desires and what I think my community needs. Changes have come, ones that allow me the freedom to not be tied here if I don’t want to be, and I don’t know how I feel about that fact. It is both exhilarating and terrifying.

My heart hurts. My soul is tired. I am not fulfilled. What I felt was sacred work has been mocked, talked badly about, dismissed. I feel exposed. Raw. I grieve for the past, even while knowing it can’t be changed, nor would I want it to.

When I saw the above quote, along with accompanying questions, I felt like crying. My sacred work is changing, it has been for a while, and I keep trying to make it go back but it won’t. I don’t feel the same as I did last year at this time, or the year before that, and so on.

Today, I can only answer for today.

What is sacred to you? Sacred is the love I have for my birthing families, one of the few consistent loves of my life. Sacred is the desire to have my family fulfilled where my children are happy to see me and I’m happy to see them. Where I love my husband just as fiercely today as I did on the first day I realized I loved him. Sacred is knowing when to let go, and having the courage to do so. Sacred is hearing my soul speak instead of telling it what I think it should say. Sacred is being scared, and doing it anyway.

Where are you devoting your best energies? Enjoying homework with my children. Cleaning my home. Preparing for another week of transition for all of us.

How are you remaking your world? Looking at each responsibility, each commitment, through the lens of self care. Recognizing that I can not do everything, and that sometimes something has to go. Acknowledging that I am not perfect, which is OKAY. Honoring my mistakes instead of dwelling on them.

It feels good to get this out, instead of swimming in my head. I don’t know if I’ll post this, or take it down at some point, or re-read it a million times in the years ahead as I walk slowly along this windy midwifery path.

 

 

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Money Hungry (or, Where I Was a Year Ago and How I Feel About It Now)

A little over a year ago, I discovered a Facebook group for doulas entitled “The Business of Being a Doula”. I don’t remember now how I came to the find the group, but I joined and was immediately HORRIFIED! These people! They are obsessed with making money and furthering themselves. How dare they suggest that doula-ing is a business and we should treat it as such! But something niggled at me…something that said..”what if?” And so, I stuck around.

A few months later, my family was dealt an unexpected blow and it was like a light bulb finally came on. I wrote this post shortly after that happened. Then, I did exactly what I described in that post. I worked my ass off. I opened WomanSpace, I set up an office for my business, I started identifying myself as a doula…the list goes on and on. In such a short time, I’ve been able to build things I never thought possible and I’ve been able to give back to the community in ways I couldn’t have done before.

Today, in another Facebook group (thank you internet), a fellow doula questioned the “soul” of those of us who look at doula-ing as a profession and a business. Usually, I take these types of posts with a grain of salt. I’ve been there, so who am I to come back with a snarky retort? Today, though, my heart is stinging from a very unexpected pregnancy that immediately became a pregnancy loss. I wanted to come through the screen, find that person and scream in her face…”Do you know what I did yesterday? The past three days? My personal life has been in a complete tailspin and yet I served my clients with professionalism, compassion and loving attention! HOW DARE YOU!” 

Instead, this is what I responded with:

Treating my business like a business has allowed me to give back to my community in a way I never could before. When I chose to view it as a business entity that needed to make money to survive, I found that I could set healthy boundaries for my clients and myself, build positive bridges with the medical professionals (which I see DIRECTLY impacts not just my clients but all the birthing people in the community), and more. In just a year, I’ve been able to grow to the point that I can bring in a training and have MORE DOULAS in my community, host a large event showcasing area resources to families (free for the families), offer more classes and groups (some free), and donate things like baby carriers to a lending library some local moms started.
I remember feeling like the Business of Being a Doula group was full of power-hungry, money-obsessed people (I am SO SORRY you all!!). I stayed in the group and watched, read, learned anyway. Then, we had a financial disaster and I was going to have to get a “real” job to support our family. I realized that because I had refused to charge a reasonable wage for my services and look at doula-ing as a business, I was going to have to stop altogether…to get some job I didn’t love, for less money hourly than if I just worked hard and charged what I needed to for the services I’ve been trained to (and am damn good at). That was when it all changed for me.
And to be clear, yesterday I served three women…one was looking for VBAC resources and I went to her home to help her sort it out, another was a first prenatal for a client who had a scary ultrasound result, and the last was a mother getting ready to prepare for a D&C on Friday….all while miscarrying my own babystart. So please, PLEASE, be careful when you accuse those of us who are trying to earn a living and build futures for ourselves and the birth community of being money-obsessed or money-hungry.

Now, to be fair, it wasn’t this person’s fault that I took her post to heart. I obviously reacted from a vulnerability I didn’t even realize was present in myself. It got me thinking, though, about the past year and what has been accomplished because of the change in my thinking. I’ve avoided really adding up what I’ve done because it’s important to me to be humble. Today I’m setting aside that humilty to go through what I’ve been able to do *because* I chose to see my passion, my love, my “soul” work as a business. Because I chose to value what I do, and charge accordingly.

It feels good to help support my household doing something I love with all my heart. It feels good to sit in my triumphs and think about the future…the ideas I have for creating jobs, building an agency that offers a TON of services to the community, finishing a non-profit project. All of this that I couldn’t do if I hadn’t decided my doula work was indeed a business, because I would have had to get a “real” job.

If you are where I was a year ago, I encourage you to sit with this. Think about what you could do if you were able to make a living wage at this work you love so much. Is your current way sustainable in the long term? What kind of impact could you have on your community if you valued your work, and then charged accordingly?

Love from Grandma

**Possible trigger warning: I am going to include details about my Grandma’s death that some readers may find disconcerting.**

My Grandma first became ill in 2008, a few months before I gave birth to my third child. She eventually recovered from that particular health issue, only to face breast cancer. While she was alive during this time, I did not see her much. I found her to be different from the woman I had known my whole life and somehow managed to convince myself that either she was already dead or would someday miraculously return to her vibrant, no-nonsense self. I don’t recommend either of these coping techniques, though they did keep me somewhat sane for a long time. I was able to see her on occasion without thinking about what was really happening or what I might be missing out on. To be fair to myself, I had a lot going on in my own life over those years, including having a miscarriage, another kid, a year dealing with the mental fallout after having said kid, and all the ins/outs of having a busy life….though I also admit this is a paltry excuse.

 

At my wedding in 2010

At my wedding in 2010

A few months ago, I was forced to deal with the reality that she was indeed alive and dying. There were a host of emotions that came along with that, guilt for not being more involved over the past several years, missing the woman she was, fear of losing my aunt as well, and guilt. Did I mention guilt? A LOT of guilt.

I did my best to do what I could with what seemed like the little time we had left. I helped where I could, which was precious little compared to her primary caregivers: my aunt, her husband, my cousin. The most I could do was take on the role I take best, doula, and support them in their endeavors. Truly, this proved much harder because I was also facing my own emotions at the same time. I tried to set them aside to be supportive of those doing the hard work. Was I successful? Who knows.

In my loftier, enlightened moments, it felt sacred to bear witness to this event. My internal struggle with guilt sometimes left me drained, but when I let go of that and was able to just be, it felt more like the honor it was. At other times, it felt horrid and cruel to watch this amazingly strong woman wither away. I felt privileged to have some lucid moments with her, moments where we could talk like we used to and she maintained the same eloquence I’d always loved about her. Throughout my life, I always felt like Grandma understood me, even when she probably didn’t. This was a remarkable quality about her, one I have yet to master.

me: “Grandma, how did you do it? How did you manage to not lose your mind when your kids were younger?”

Grandma: “You just do it. You do what you can, with the information you have at the time.”

As the end seemed nearer, it got harder to pretend like I wasn’t feeling sad. I chastised myself for feeling sad, as it seemed selfish when she was so obviously suffering! It also felt selfish because I wasted precious time with my false reality and my aunt was suffering right alongside her with both her own feelings as well as exhaustion/illness from the role of primary caregiver.

One of the last times I visited, there were tears a plenty. I simply walked in and saw my aunt laying with Grandma, then lost it. We spent a lot of time that day just holding hands, something so seemingly small or trivial and yet so deeply intimate.

visit

 

These last visits, I started to be able to see beyond my own sadness to the privilege of what was happening. We were being granted time to say things that needed to be said, hear things that needed to be heard and to walk with her as she approached death.

A few hours before she died, I went to her house. I couldn’t sleep, so I texted my aunt to ask if it was okay for me to come. I told my husband how silly I felt going because there didn’t seem to really be a reason, I just wanted to be there. I couldn’t explain it. My aunt prepared me for what I might see and the plan was for me to sit with Grandma so she could get some sleep. Instead, we gathered around Grandma and held her while she died. In some ways, it was incredibly enigmatic, an experience I will never forget. It was also slightly horrifying because it’s not something we see very often. The parallels to birth are overwhelming (someday I want to write about that). Often, my aunt and I remarked how easy it was to see the similarity in dying/death to laboring/birth. We cried, we laughed, we checked to make sure she was actually dead multiple times, we regarded with horror the fluids her body expelled, we wondered what to do next. When the fluids had finally exited her body, we decided to clean her up and dress her. We acknowledged that she, her soul, her essence, her whatever-you-want-to-call-it, was gone and that this was simply her body. Logic may have told us that, but it still felt important to honor this body. We wiped her down with warm cloths, then followed up with scented oil. After that, we picked out the outfit she looked beautiful in, that she liked, and laid her as if she were sleeping. To me, it was a final act of love, of treating her body with the same dignity and reverence as she had always treated us.

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In the afternoon, I posted this to my Facebook page:

At 2:40 this morning, my Grandma and Donna’s mother, died. This woman embodied honest and unconditional support. We are lucky to have grown up with such love….love that didn’t need to be expressed by words because it was, and is, so deeply felt. I have yet to meet a person who thought she was anything less than amazing. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that this magnificent woman & the gifts she gave us live on through us. I would not be who I am without her influence, which was mighty and flows in me. Her single dip ice cream cones were the stuff of legend.

She died at home, being held by her daughter & best friend Sis, Henry, devoted & loving grandson Jesse and myself. Just as there is beauty found in opening to the sweet surrender of birth, so too is beauty found in opening to the sweet surrender of death. It was an honor and a privilege Grandma, one that I will treasure always. Thank you. For all that you were and so very much more.

Over the course of the next few weeks, it became my task to write up something to say at the Celebration of Life my aunt was planning. Here is what I wrote:

I’ve been trying to write something about Grandma since before she died. I wanted to write some poignant, eloquent piece about the gifts she imparted, who she was to me and how very thankful I am to have known her. Here and there, a beautiful little blip would float through, but nothing like what I wanted~nothing that was capturing the thoughts, expressing the emotions. Over and over, the dominating thought has been love. I have to write about love.

I hadn’t given much thought to love and Grandma together until Sis and I were talking once in Grandma’s room. I think it was a week or two before she died, but I can’t remember exactly. Sis mentioned that, to her memory, Grandma had never said “I love you”. This became a profound moment for me, for my understanding of Grandma and our relationship, and then, for my understanding of my own self. I thought about this revelation. Was it right? Had I heard those words from Grandma’s mouth? Surely I had! The more I thought about it, the more certain I became that Sis was indeed right (as usual). And yet, I have always felt so deeply and truly loved by her. How was this possible?

What I came to realize was that everything she did, everything she said and everything she was conveyed love. It conveyed acceptance, support and understanding, often with minimal words. Now, this not to say that she *approved* of everything I did all the time. In fact, she was one of the few people who put me in my place as a teenager. Somehow, though, she managed to convey that she thought I was being stupid, yet respected that it was my right as a human to do stupid things, and she would love me in spite of said stupidity ~ such as running into her gate as an act of rebellion against my mother or stealing a tube of lipstick from her friend’s store.

She was fierce and brave and wise. She was honest. She made amazing ice cream cones. She was my Grandma and she will be missed.

celebration of life

 

WomanSpace ~ Making the Vision a Reality

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For several years, there has been a shared vision of a space for women to come together. Over the years, it has evolved and at one point it was thisclose to becoming a reality.  At that time, my friend-colleague-fellow visionary, Molly of TalkBirth, wrote this about WomanSpace (click here to read her full piece):

I visualize a center. A place where women can come together to learn, to talk, to develop, to grow. A safe place. A nurturing place. A supportive place. Hostess to LLL meetings, book clubs, birth circle, birth info nights, prenatal yoga classes, birth classes, birth art workshops, pregnancy retreats, journaling workshops, craft classes, crafty mamas meetings, a miscarriage support group, postpartum mamas support group, birth counseling/consultation sessions, dancing for birth, prenatal bellydance, drop-in support chats, blessingways, red tent events, meet the doulas night, Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal groups, women’s spirituality circles, playgroups, baby massage classes, baby/tot yoga, girls’ coming of age classes, an ICAN chapter, Friends of Missouri Midwives meetings. A gathering place. A woman’s place.

It will have a large, open meeting room, access to a bathroom and another, smaller room that could be an office, consult room, or playroom. We will have counter space to plug in some minimal cooking implements (like a microwave). There will be comfy couches, chairs, toys, a lending library of books and films as well as perhaps toys/games/puzzles. There will be big pillows on the floor and beautiful art all over the walls. Other women wishing to have groups/classes for women, could also use the space for their groups/events.

For me, the time has come. I feel strongly that this is my community (not “my” as in ownership, but as in responsible to), one in which I am most intimately involved. I love my community and I want it to grow, to thrive and to be all the things I know it can be…one facet of which is a women’s center.  In addition to all those items listed in the above vision, I also see a need for women-owned and women-supportive businesses to have a physical space to showcase their wares.

Here’s what I see in my vision:

I walk in the door and see beautifully painted walls adorned with art from local women artists. A room off to the side holds information and products from the many women who are trying to earn some income for their families with fun products, like Jamberry Nails, Passion Parties, Lilla Rose, Scentsy, Mary Kay and so on. Down the hall on Tuesdays, baby sounds can be heard from the postpartum group. Wednesdays would be a different group of women and Thursdays would be yet another group of women. In the kitchen, delightful goodies from a woman-owned catering business are on display. There’s a freezer stocked with frozen meals to deliver when a woman has a time of need. Outside, a lovely garden is maintained by some women who love to grow things. On another side of the yard, a woman is giving an art class to a mixture of young and old. I turn around to see this beautiful space and take a deep breath. There is something for every woman here. It changes, as the community changes, filling the needs where possible…maybe a doula foundation someday to provide doulas to ALL mamas, maybe a women’s clinic with women care providers providing woman-centered care. The possibilities are truly endless. The specifics may change, but the vision of shared community, sacred WomanSpace will endure.

 

Yesterday, I attended the Rainbow Group‘s “Day of Hope” Prayer Flag Project. It is a very moving celebration/remembrance event for families who have experienced pregnancy/infant loss. The coordinator of the event had written some thoughtful words on prayer flags for us to decorate, if we so chose, and I decided that “courage” needed to be my flag. I brought along the flag I made for my own baby-start last year, so I chose to have this flag represent what is happening in my life journey *right now*.

"Courage" prayer flag

“Courage” prayer flag

My “artistic” rendering (toddler scribbling?) of the fire represents the burning to bring forth this vision and the house represents the literal house I see. If you click on the image to make it bigger, you’ll see the house is composed of many bricks. This was a genius suggestion made by my daughter when I was laughing about how awful my drawing skills are. “Just put bricks in it”, she said. I sort of grumbled and then realized the beautiful poetry of bricks. Yes! Bricks indeed! The women of this community are the bricks that will hold the house together. We may not build the actual house with our hands, but we will lay the foundation for WomanSpace with our blood, sweat, tears and continue pouring ourselves into it. This will be our space.  WomanSpace

 

Why My Service-Oriented Business is Failing (and what I’m going to do about it)

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Last week, my family was dealt a serious financial blow. In the wake of that blow, it seemed like the only/best option for us was to have me re-enter the workforce of “normal” jobs full-time. After talking to a dear friend, I had the realization that this is a load of crap! WHY should I have to put aside the work I do, which I am really good at, to go do something else to support my family? WHY NOT just remember that I am a business too and that if I EVER want to succeed, I must be able to make a living doing this work.

castle-birth

I think part of the problem is that I’ve allowed myself to get hung up on the service aspect. I very much consider myself a service person. I serve mothers and families. I serve my community. In my mind, that equals little or no pay. I feel guilty charging what I charge, even though it rarely covers my costs and even more rarely makes any money I can bring to my family.  For me, this is multi-faceted. If I’m serving my community, how can I charge a fair wage? Doesn’t that negate the very idea of serving? Furthermore (again, *for me*), I feel strongly that my services should be as affordable as possible, because I desire to serve all families, regardless of income. I know, intimately, what it is like to have very little or no money. I know that lower-income families tend to need the kind of care I have to offer more than those in the higher income brackets because they don’t have as many resources to pull from. BUT, how does keeping myself in that space actually allow me to serve those families, especially if I can no longer do this work at all because I’m forced to do a different job? Who am I serving in that instance?? NO ONE!

Here is my plan:

1. Re-train my thoughts about my service-oriented business. First and foremost, I must recognize that my work is indeed a business. As such, I must remember and think to myself..would I walk into Wal-Mart and negotiate for a better price? Would I expect the employees to do my shopping for me, for free? Does the coffee shop feel bad that they’re charging xx for their cup of coffee? NO! They recognize that they must charge a particular price to not only pay for their materials and time, but to also make enough of a profit to stay in business!

2. Re-organize my business to reflect this change in thinking. I have to admit, I’m not quite sure what this will look like yet.

3. Set up and advertise the various other services I am also capable of doing. I have done a fairly poor job of advertising anything beyond my basic doula service. I have so much more to offer and it’s time to shout it from the roof tops!

4. Know my own value. While I have said multiple times (to myself and others) that I DO know I’m valuable, I think perhaps I’m not quite there yet. I can say the words, but do I really feel it? I work really hard for my families and I do a LOT for them. It’s okay to say that I’m good at what I do, because I am. This is hard for me. A wise mentor once told me “value what you do and charge accordingly.” (starting to see a theme here)

5. Set goals. I actually did this for the first time at the start of the year and have been pleasantly surprised how well it worked. And that goal was more like a verbal intention of what I thought sounded good. What could I do with concrete goals written down and looked at on a regular basis??!

6. Invest in my business. This may mean investing money or time or energy or ??, but I’m going to do it. I’m going to make growing my business a priority, which will serve the dual purpose of getting me closer to my ultimate goal.

Watch out world, this lady’s about to take off! 🙂