Live Everything

The crisp fall air bit my face as I made my way to my car this morning at the end of a very full call shift. As I drove down the hill from the hospital towards home, the morning sunlight danced with red and gold leaves and I burst into grateful tears. I got to meet five tiny (or not so tiny!) new humans in the past 24 hours. I had the honor of standing with people at the edge of a series of moments that would change their lives forever, and of safely guarding their baby’s passage into the world. The way the light mingled with the leaves took my breath away, and with the full harvest moon sitting on the horizon as a round, silent witness, I felt myself fall in love with my life again.

This year has been one of major transitions for me, and words have been hard to come by. I keep reflecting on what this blog means to me now, nearly six and a half years after I started writing it. I am no longer the eager young prospective midwife who moved alone to a big city on a grand adventure.

I live here now, both in the city I call home, as well as in the career I have chosen and the calling that has chosen me. I am an experienced midwife. I’ve caught hundreds of babies, spent untold thousands of hours in clinic and at the bedside in labor, screened countless cervixes for cancer, helped thousands of families with breastfeeding, and supported lot (LOTS!) of people in whatever their sexual and reproductive health needs might be. I teach students now, take baby midwives by the hand and guide them as they catch their first babies and insert their first IUDs.

For most of my twenties, I had this burning goal at the forefront of my mind: become a midwife. All of my effort moved me in that direction. It worked. I did it. Then I got my first job, and then my second. I’ve settled into my role. I feel comfortable and confident in my work more often than not, which takes much of the first few years of being in practice to cultivate. (Hang in there, new grads. You will not always look over your shoulder wondering where your preceptor is!)

Now I’m finding myself in a liminal place where I don’t exactly know what’s next. My work is internal: cultivate a life (and a home, and a body, and a community) I am in love with, a world I can stay alive in. It means finding my voice in new ways, and claiming my wholeness when much exists that tries to deny me that. It means taking my word for the year, belonging, and following it wherever it has taken me.

I will admit, it is disorienting not having a major life goal to move towards. Being in-between is a rich, fertile space, not unlike how it feels to sit in my garden at night and feel the plants growing by the light of the moon. Sometimes I find myself longing for certainty and an ease in being defined and definable. But who I am called to be in the world is bigger than any boxes could readily contain. Often I distract myself to avoid the discomfort of not having answers. But then sometimes, like this morning, slivers of magic will break through the noise and offer me a split second of utter certainty that I belong precisely here, doing precisely this, precisely now.

I feel this way when I’m out in nature. I camped and hiked a lot this summer, and something about standing at the top of something so much bigger than me made me feel exceptionally small and insignificant and also deeply needed as part of the bigger whole. The summer sun shining on my face welcomes me to inhabit each day as fully as I can.

But the seasons are turning now; the chill in the air and the darkness coming earlier is inviting me inward. There are inner landscapes to explore, and dreams to dream, and new projects to undertake and goals to set, eventually. As we move towards the darkest part of the year, the shadows in me are asking once again for my attention. I don’t know where these explorations will lead me, but I’ve learned to trust that when my inner voice is calling, something vital will offer itself to me when I show up and do the work of being alive in the world as my whole self.

I don’t know what that means for this blog. For now, it will continue to be a space I return to, a touchpoint. It allows me to look back over the miles I’ve already covered. My work, now as always, is to show up and, in the words of Mary Oliver, “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”

I wanted to write a letter to myself, but I am finding that in this moment, suspended between two call shifts at the end of a very busy week, and running on insufficient sleep, I don’t have the bandwidth to drop that deeply into connection with myself. So I will borrow from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letter to a Young Poet:

I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

The contrast of the two photos of myself I posted bring up a lot of feelings. There is a lot I would say to the eager student kneeling beside their nursing school’s sign.

I would tell them to go for it, knowing how hard it would be.

I would tell them the sleepless nights are tough and worth it.

I would tell them they would make it. And they would make it. And they would make it again.

I would tell them that their heart breaking wouldn’t break them.

I would tell them that a brand-new baby screaming will always be one of the best sounds in the world.

I would tell them that the weight of stillborn babies in their hands would be far more than they could imagine. Then again, maybe I would hold that detail back. Maybe the heaviness of death mixed into this work is something they have to discover on their own.

I would tell them that bad news doesn’t get easier to tell, but they’ll get better at delivering it.

I would tell them that so much love is waiting for them. So, so much.

I would tell them that they will be lost and found and unlost and unfound over and over again.

I would tell them that they are better at surviving than they realize. Which is saying something, because they already realize that quite a bit.

I would tell them that home and family and belonging and wholeness are things they will get to experience in this lifetime.

I would tell them, again, that it’s worth it. Darkness and light, pain and joy, grief and celebration, laughter and tears, and all of the supposed binaries mixed up together.

I would tell them to live everything. Answers may come. But for now, love the questions.

Leave a Reply