Born of Dust and Silence

Several months of silence have elapsed since I last showed up to pour my thoughts into this space. Much has been unfolding that is more personal than I am able to explore in this format at this time, and I trust that as stories arise that want to be shared, words will accompany them. For now, know that much is shifting beneath the surface, and perhaps the surface itself is shifting, the landscape of my life changing shape a little, taking on new elements of beauty and fascination and curiosity to marvel at.

I have wondered on and off if it is time to retire from blogging for now. It seems I have less to say here than when I was a student, and it is at least as much personal as it is about midwifery. And then, at the ACNM Annual Convention last week, I spoke with no less than a dozen people (many current midwifery students, or new midwives) who told me that my blog was instrumental to them choosing this profession, or helped them through the rough waters of school, or reminded them that they were not alone. And I realized that I could still do that, even though I am in a very different place now than six years ago when I first sat down to write about my excitement about becoming a midwife and explore my journey towards this career, this calling of mine. Six-years-ago me could not have imagined that I would be sitting down during a lull on a call shift (I didn’t say the “q-word…” I learned never to say the “q-word!”) after a busy day in clinic to blog about being a midwife and becoming myself. Or, perhaps, could have imagined it, but not what it would be like from here.

But six-years-ago me isn’t the part of myself I’ve recently been most strongly connecting with. Ten years ago this summer, I was ill to the point of bordering on death. I look back at the photos of my emaciated body, hollow eyes staring at me through a decade of time, and I have so much I want to tell the person I was then. Last week, I went back to my childhood home (one of them) to visit my parents and my sister, and I spent some time connecting with myself. It felt like a deep healing sort of magic, to be able to send love back through time to myself when I desperately needed it.

Brene Brown put it this way:

A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.

A number of those things happened to me a decade ago. I was newly out as queer, and newly in love with the person who would become my wife. I was living in a place where I did not get to express my queerness with a sense of safety or acceptance of who I was, and I managed to internalize the unspoken message that I needed to be small and take up less space. Combined with some undiagnosed physical health issues that spiraled together with anxiety and systemic oppression and not feeling a sense of belonging or knowing where home was, I made myself small. I lost 70 pounds in a year, dropping from an average weight to one that I still cannot believe I could survive at. I broke. I fell apart. I got sick.

I didn’t know if I would get better, or if I could, or even if I wanted to. I could not conceive of a life where I got to be my whole self and was loved exactly as I was and where delight was a theme woven through my days alongside the complexities of sadness and beauty and loss and heartbreaking joy.

I remember a singular moment that felt like a tipping point, where I sat alone in my room, my stomach raging in pain and nausea, gnawingly empty. I watched the pulsations of my aorta through my gaunt belly as I sat staring at a banana and trying to decide if I could eat it. I sat with that banana for hours, feeling like choosing to eat it despite how ill I knew I would feel was an affirmation of my intent to stay alive in the world, and uncertain if I had it in me to say yes. I journaled about this inner chaos. On July 1, 2007, I wrote of how “frighteningly low” my weight was (below 100 pounds), and described all the medical interventions that were on the horizon if I couldn’t force myself to eat, and what my choices were there. And then three small words at the very bottom of the page: “I choose life.”

I ate the banana. I somehow pushed through walls of pain and mountains of fear and kept eating. I left home and built a little family and fell in love with my life again. I didn’t die. I dreamed big dreams and from the depths of myself found the courage to follow them. I moved again, by myself, went to school, got divorced, became a nurse, became a midwife. And here I am on my couch at 11 p.m., pager clipped to the waistband of my shorts, hundreds of babies later, blogging about it.

In my grand tradition of writing letters to my past selves, here’s one specifically to me in that moment when I was sitting there with that banana:

Dear Rob (yep, that’s your name now; hang on),

I see you. Where you are at right now SUCKS. You feel sick constantly. Your body is wracked with pain and your mind with terror. You can’t imagine ever feeling alive again. You are eating your own flesh to stave off death for a bit longer, uncertain how much more you have to give. You are possibly the loneliest you’ve ever been, there in the solitude of your descent into illness.

I know, trust me I know, how much you don’t want to do this. You know how sick you will feel if you eat. You know what it will cost you. But just for a minute, I want to plant the seed of the idea that you not eating will cost me everything I now have. I need you to survive. I need you to do whatever it takes to keep your body alive. I can go back and repair anything else, can return with new perspectives and skills and coping strategies and will happily clean up any messes left behind. I just need you to feed yourself.

If I could, I would give you a glimpse into what lies in store for you on the other side of not dying. In the way that time is not as linear as we think it is and magic is weird and knowing that I went back last week with the intention of reconnecting with you, I’ll give it a shot. If you eat that banana, and keep eating, and keep doing whatever you need to do to stay in the land of the living, I promise you on everything you know to be holy and good that you will come alive again. This is not where your story ends. Far from it. You will keep writing.

In a couple of months, you will move to California, and you will meet people who won’t bat an eye at your queerness. A year from now, you will be married. You will put on a dress (sorry, next time it can be pants) on International Women’s Day and say “for today, and for the days to come” to a woman you love, and you will mean every word of it. You will explore together to the end of your exploring, and your paths will diverge, and you will be sad, and you will feel broken, and you will crochet and write and cry and study your way to feeling whole again.

During this time you will have moved again, to Seattle, on to one of the biggest challenges you’ve ever given yourself. You will dream a seemingly impossible dream, and you will have no idea until you’ve actually done it whether you can. From where your emaciated body sits, banana in hand, you can’t fathom being able to take on the role of caring for anyone but yourself, but you will do it. You will kick ass at one of the most accelerated intensive nurse-midwifery programs in the country. You will rise to the challenge of the dream your grandmother offered you. You will sit in a session at a midwifery conference ten years from now and hear her whisper, from somewhere, that you are her wildest dream, and you’ll realize that she gave you yours as well.

You will get a job that will stretch you and teach you a lot about how to be and how not to be a midwife. You will stay there until you need to leave it, and then you will go to a new place. You will bring your whole self to your work. You will receive babies into your hands and stories into your heart. Your presence with your patients is being cultivated by the quality of the ways in which you are showing up for yourself right now. So keep showing up. Keep doing the hard work of staying alive in the world.

Know that you are not alone. I promise that I will come back for you. Ten years from now, I will return. I will sit in the bedroom you spent your adolescence in, and I will bring all of my accumulated love and wisdom and magic with me. I will sit in the living room eating an apple (because I can’t stand bananas anymore), and I will feel the weight of your frail body sitting there with me, and I will reach out a hand to you from across the decade and lend you all of the strength I have built in the 80 extra pounds of muscle and fat and blood and bone and life I hold in this body you now occupy, and through our collective tears I will call you home again. I must leave home to stay alive, and I promise I will come back for you and through some time-warp magic I will reach back through the past and whisper courage to your palpitating heart, the courage you need to stay alive so you can grow into me and I can go back for you.

Your (my? our?) pager will go off while you write this, and you will go catch a baby and not come back to finish blogging for another week. What will remind you is a sunset that is so astonishing in its simple brilliance that it will move you to tears. You will stand in a spot a block away from where you now live, the fading light of day dropping down over the Olympics before you, and the way the sky makes a perfect silhouette of a sprig of Queen Anne’s Lace will flood your cheeks with saltwater because you are alive to see it.

You will be listening to “Turning Wake” by Ayla Nereo right then, and you will stand still with the cool evening breeze caressing your face as she croons,

I’ll be dancing’ with the ones who remind me
we are born of dust and silence
we are made of ancient songs
and there are ones who’ll keep us sleeping
and there are ones who bring the dawn
put your back to the birch and your mind to the matter of a
listening kind of way
we are born of dust and silence
we are made of ancient songs…

I will stare into the lens of my camera in that moment as if I could look through ten years of history and catch your eye.

I will gaze unblinkingly at the memory of your dying body as tears pour down my cheeks, and I will smile because (spoiler alert!) I know you made it out alive. You can’t know that now, and that is terrifying. Your body will indeed die one day, love, and you will return to the dust and silence you were born of. But not yet. This is not where your story ends.

 

I will stare back across a decade and hold you with limitless compassion, borne out of all of the precious life I’ve lived in the 3644 days between these two photographs. I will grieve with the embodied memory of what happens when I try to take up as little space as possible. You have no idea what you are capable of, how you will proceed to gleefully and unapologetically refuse to fit into anyone’s boxes, how in claiming your authentic wholeness and all the space that is yours to occupy you will create for yourself a life that you can thrive in.

I imagine myself with you in my lap. I would kiss the top of your head and stroke your bony cheek and tell you stories of the life you will live if you eat that banana. I would whisper in your ear the names of every single baby your hands will catch. I would sing you songs you have yet to learn and recite to you some of the poems you will write. You have to stay alive, love, because the world’s best cat has yet to be born, and yours are going to be his favorite shoulders to sit on.

Oh, my love, the tales I have to tell you of who you are becoming! You have so much life left to live. I wish I could tuck you in at night with stories of how brave you are, how resilient, how you will create a home and a life and a chosen family for yourself. It will be a long, tough rode; I won’t lie and tell you otherwise. Dozens of healthcare providers, well over a hundred appointments, several surgeries, and countless medications and treatments of a variety of kinds will be required to keep your body alive. You will do so much inner work, filling journal after journal with your thoughts and reflections. You will come face to face with your own shadow and welcome it. The journey of a lifetime is to integrate all that you have seen and done and experienced and been in the world, and I promise you that you have within you a seemingly endless well of courage that you will draw from again and again to show up and do the work.

Your beautiful queer self belongs in this world, Rob. Despite what you grew up hearing and what you still hear: there is a place for you at this table. You will discover, as you do the work of staying alive, just how much the world is in love with you. Oh, I wish you could take just a tiny glimpse into my bank of memories from the past decade! You have no idea what a ridiculous life I’ve built for you to come home to. I need you not to give up on living just yet, because there are full moons to admire and queer humans to kiss and mountains to hike up and songs to dance to and heart-shaped rocks to discover in all of the places you go. There are books to read and baths to take and poems to take your breath away. There is love to give and receive and make and fall into and fall out of and do it all over again. There is so much delicious food to eat (I promise that nourishing yourself won’t always be as hard and painful and scary as it is now). There is this incredible body that you get to inhabit, and as you put in one of your poems, “to live in this skin and come alive here.”

And so you will, dear one. You were born of dust and silence, and one day you will return to the same. But not yet. I came back for you. I came to bring you home with me, to carry you to a life you’ve made for yourself to thrive in. I left a heart-shaped stone behind so that you can find your way back to me. I’ll take care of you; I’ve learned how.

Come home with me.

All my love and magic,

Rob (roughly 5,247,360 minutes later)

She Said Yes

I am leaving for Haiti in a week.

Holy moly, it’s happening. I’m going, along with my love, to a new place. We will be serving the cause of promoting maternal and child health in whatever ways they need us. We will undoubtedly come back different people.

I wish the Robin that I was five years ago could know that this would happen. That person, who had yet to begin midwifery school, had no idea what she was capable of. She was filled with fear, yet her courage was potent and fierce. She wanted to see if it was possible, this journey out of herself and into the world. She had, for such a long time, been containing her life inside the boundaries of what felt safe, because safety had been an elusive concept. She built firm walls around everything, and as long as each facet of her existence was controlled, the panic remained at bay.

But there was, deep inside of her, an undeniable voice that called her to bigger things. She began dreaming of catching babies, as her grandmother had done when she was alive. She had a huge road ahead of her to tackle both physical and mental roadblocks that easily could have kept her from pursuing the intensive program of study that her dream required to become a reality.

And she said yes.

She carved that “yes” onto her wrist in black ink and dove headfirst into the work of finding herself. She left the only home she knew. She took the risk of claiming her authentic selfhood, even though it cost her relationships with friends and family. She married her first love, and ultimately allowed space for her heart to be broken so they could both be more whole. One by one, she stared down her debilitating anxieties, reclaiming ownership over her life a single deep breath at a time. She left home again, moving to a city where she knew no one, to live alone and become what she dreamed of being.

She felt the sharp terror of utter groundlessness and made her way through it. She survived cold, lonely nights in a too-big bed. She learned how to be alone with herself, and little by little, she fell in love with her life. She realized that she was strong and she was capable of taking good care of herself as well as caring for the people she served.

She learned how to stay present when everything inside of her wanted to run away. She realized that she was capable of having challenging conversations and holding space for people who are in the most intense moments of their lives. She learned how to stare into the abyss and not back away.

She opened her heart and found herself falling in love with everything. Delight swept through her days, even in moments that were overshadowed by tragedy.

Her open heart one day found another person to love, and she continued in the work and the joy of sharing her life with a partner. She found herself living in a home full of animals and books and half-completed craft projects and gluten-free snacks. She remembered, little by little, that wholeness is always worth pursuing, even if the cost is high.

She and her partner talked about traveling. They both had wanted to volunteer as midwives in an international setting. Everything came together, in time, and they found themselves packing for a trip that would take them 3,419 miles from the home they were building together. Neither knew what to expect, exactly, and both were simultaneously excited and nervous. They felt the support of countless friends and loved ones, and they listened to the undeniable calling that brought them to the work that lay before them. They waded through the piles of supplies in their living room for weeks, packing and attempting to prepare for the unknown.

They are ready, and not ready. They are ready enough.

 

I haven’t written much for the past few months. I have been doing a lot more internal work and a lot less writing, and to be honest, I have been exhausted from the long hours I have been putting in at my clinic and on call. Internal shifts are happening, and I am excited and grateful to be back here in my virtual writing space.

 

To the Robin who always wanted to do what I am about to do but never thought it would be possible because there was so much she was afraid of, I say this:

You’re going to do it. All of it.

You’re going to find your way through the anxiety that currently paralyzes you. You will do things that sound impossible to you right now. One day, you will wake up and realize that you are no longer living in fear. The work you invest in healing yourself will come back to help you be healing to the wounds that exist in the world around you.

You will take on the risk of facing the things that most terrified you, because the thought of not doing what your life asks of you is scarier than your other fears coming true.

You will realize that being authentically yourself in a world that wants you to fit into a not-you-shaped-box is worth risking everything. You will risk everything, and you will lose some of it. But what you will gain is worth it. I promise.

Thank you for being willing to do that hard work that brought me here. Thank you for the hours you spent writing in your journal, processing your history, breathing through tough emotions, dealing with the intensity that held you captive. Thank you for doing that work so I can be here doing this work that I love so much.

I write a lot less now, but I live a lot more.

Your hands that once spent so many hours holding your pen and journal now spend their days welcoming new souls into the world. They put on gloves and insert IUDs and hold the hands of tiny babies and wipe the sweaty brows of people in labor. They help newborns latch on to breastfeed. They do what you always dreamed they would do.

You will feel sad about the limited time and energy you have for writing, but know this: You are still a writer. And you will write. You are currently collecting the stories that will fill the pages of your books in the future. Live the hell out of your life as it is in this moment. Be here now. Soak it all up. Write when you can.

Know that you are making a difference in the world. Know that your claiming your inherent wholeness gives permission for others to do the same. Dream your big dreams, and chase them down. Make them come true. Know that you are deeply, truly loved.

So go to Haiti. Go with an open heart and hands willing to work. Learn from everyone. Let this journey open you, break you if need be, and rekindle in you a passion to leave the world better than you found it.

Then take that passion and run with it. See where else your journey takes you.

All my love,

Robin

Another Day of Loving

“Wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving.”

–Kahlil Gibran

This blog has been an incredible outlet for me over the past three years. I have turned to this virtual space time and again to chronicle my personal and professional journey towards becoming more and more myself. I have written my way through a cross-country move, an intense immersion program for nursing and nurse-midwifery school, a broken/mending heart, a drawn-out job search, a local move, and the beginnings of a new career as a midwife.

As my life is changing, so to is the way in which I approach this space. I continue to be vigilant, as always, of protecting the privacy of the stories entrusted to me by my clients by compiling them into stories that are true to the spirit of what I have experienced while still maintaining my patients’ anonymity. My goal has been to document my life and reflect on the process of becoming a midwife in a mindful and compassionate way. I believe I have achieved this goal, and I am proud of the insights that have poured forth into these posts.

I have never been shy about documenting my adventures, and as I begin a new chapter in my personal life, I have the desire to explore that experience here as well. So, on that note, I am excited to share that the Mindful Midwife is in love. With another mindful midwife, no less!

The experience of mindfully falling in love has been unlike anything I’ve ever done before, and at the same time it is the natural progression of all of the work I have been doing over the past few years. It is simultaneously intense and gentle, and the depth of connection I feel with this amazing person in a relatively short period of time has caught me by surprise. We keep showing up for each other on a soul level and doing the hard and beautiful work of being our authentic selves in the presence of another.

I feel so overwhelmingly grateful and blessed to be here now. I love that I have a job that calls me out of bed at 3 in the morning to hear an owl’s haunting call from the top of a towering pine as I walk through the fog towards my car so that I can welcome a new life into the world. I love that I get to spend my days doing work that feeds my soul as well as my belly. I love that my work helps improve the lives and wellness of people in my community. I love knowing that my life is making a difference to others. I love my community. And now, I love having a person to share that love with.

My heart is full and brimming over. My life is magical, even on the long days after long nights of little sleep and many babies and pregnancy complications. Even after helping someone through urgent/emergent surgery for fill-in-the-blank reason (hemorrhage from placenta previa, non-reassuring fetal heart tones, fetal malpresentation in labor, arrest of dilation or descent in labor…). Even when the babies don’t do well after birth and my heart breaks open over and over again. Even when much-desired pregnancies end without a baby to hold onto and it is my job to hold the space around the lack of answers. Even when partners cheat and unsuspecting lovers contract sexually transmitted infections as a result and come to me with their grief as well as their need for treatment. Even when Pap smears or mammograms or blood tests are abnormal in potentially life-changing or life-ending ways. Much of my work is joyful, but even in the parts that can threaten to sink me in intensity for a while, I still end my days crawling under my covers flooded with gratitude that I get to be here, living this one wild and precious life. I love my work as a midwife, and learning to love it mindfully has been a tremendous journey.

Exploring mindful love in a romantic relationship has been similarly wonderful. We are both showing up as two whole people, vulnerable and honest and willing to be raw and authentic and unpretentious. We are here, doing the work, breathing into the emotions that arise, the intensity, the challenge of being real when much of what we see modeled are relationships that are founded on pretense and hiding our gorgeous true selves behind masks of propriety in order to make ourselves appear more acceptable. I feel seen and heard and understood and deeply cared for in my raw, imperfect wholeness.

I am aware that opening myself up to love also puts me at risk for loss, for disappointment, for sorrow. But I am willing to take the chance that my heart might be broken in order to experience a life lived as wide awake and full of joy as possible. Let my heart break open. Let my love bleed out all over this world in need of compassion and healing.

I’ve got more where that came from.

Out

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. …Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” –Brene Brown, “The Gifts of Imperfection”

In recognition of National Coming Out Day today, I spent the afternoon rereading the journal I kept during the year I first came out. Witnessing myself where I was exactly a decade ago, struggling to make a choice that would forever change my world, was a profoundly moving experience. I could never have imagined then where my courage would take me. I only knew that if I stayed in my closet any longer, I would suffocate to death. I had to open that door.

I had a literal closet where I stored my queerness. It was in my bedroom. I had a collection of books on LGBT studies that I hid in there, spines turned around so the titles were not visible. I bought a full-size rainbow flag on eBay and hung it up in my closet, hidden behind my clothes. (That flag now sits folded up on the top shelf of my current closet, unneeded; I wear my pride boldly now!)

Before I decided to come out, I was terrified. I spent my days fighting anxiety that threatened to swallow me whole. I slept many nights on the floor of that closet (I was *literally* in the closet), curled in a ball, willing the Ativan to kick in so I could sleep for a couple of hours before I had to get up and face the world again. I was so worried that people would find out who I was and reject me for it. I was living in Texas at the time, not exactly a bastion of progressive thinking, especially not around queer sexuality, and especially not 10 years ago. I was still living at home, and my parents didn’t know. Or I thought they didn’t.

I called my mom tonight to see what she remembered about my coming out. We had a long chat. My queerness has always been a sticky thing in my family, and some of that continues to this day. I understand where they are coming from–their worldview never had space for me in it. They have had their own coming-out journey, and we have walked a long way together. My mom and I, especially, have worked exceptionally hard to rebuild our relationship that struggled quite a bit after I opened that closet door.

In my journal, I wrote about the night I told her I was gay. I had made a list earlier that year of some things that I was, some attributes that described me. I used some of these from this list when I went into her room late at night, my heart racing, and crawled up onto her king-sized bed and started spouting off things that I was.

“I’m your daughter,” I said. “I’m a sister, an aunt, a granddaughter. I’m an animal lover. I’m smart, and kind, and funny, and brave. I’m an anthropologist, a linguist, a student, and a teacher. I’m talented. I’m creative. I’m strong.” I chose words that painted a whole picture of who I was. I listed nouns and adjectives that clearly described me. And then I added one more.

I took a deep breath and flung open the closet door.

“And I’m gay.”

I remember the silence that seemed to go on forever. In my journal entry from 2:25 am that morning (10/29/04), I wrote that her response was “Are you serious?” followed by bursting into tears. I said that the reason that I told her was because I wanted to have a good relationship with her, one that was based on authenticity and honesty and trust, and that I hadn’t told her for so long because I was afraid they were going to kick me out or disown me, because I have friends who’ve had that experience. She told me that she would never abandon me and could never not love me.

I told my dad next. He said he had suspected for years (my mom had not–she said she was “blindsided” by the revelation). He said that he did not agree with me but that his disagreement was not the same as a lack of love for me or acceptance of me as a person. I remember him saying that we may not agree, but that I was his daughter and he was not going to lose me over this.

So that was my starting place. Ripped the door off the closet. Actually, I had started coming out much earlier. I was a child when I first noticed that I was different than everyone else, but I had no queer role models, and I lacked the vocabulary for how to describe my otherness. The only context I had for gay and lesbian people was entirely negative. I grew up hearing about “the evils of homosexuality” blasted from the pulpit, on the radio stations that played in my house, and on cable TV specials. “Hate the sin, love the sinner” was the name of the game.

I knew I was primarily attracted to girls by the time in was in grade school. I didn’t realize that my experience was different from anyone else’s until a little later. In junior high, I fabricated crushes on boys (in retrospect, probably the gay ones!) in order to fit in. I remember attending a Christian rock music concert when I was 14 and having a huge crush on the lead (female) singer, when one of my friends elbowed me and commented on how “hot” the drummer was. That was one of the first times I realized that I saw the world through a different lens. But my options for exploring this were limited. I was home-schooled, and my friends were all either home-schoolers or from church or my missionary kids group. We all shared the same worldview. None of them was safe to confide in.

I was well into my teens before I ventured cautiously out of the closet at all, mentioning to a counselor that I thought I might be attracted to women. She responded in a disgusted tone that she had been to a lesbian bar and that lesbians were the ugliest women she had ever met. I quickly slipped back into the closet and shut the door firmly behind me, not to open it again for several more years.

During this time, I did everything to make myself straight. I tried to “pray the gay away.” My journals from these years are difficult to read; they are full of shame and fear and denial. I somatized a lot during this time. I hated my body. I attempted to convert myself to heterosexuality thorough an online conversion therapy program (which thankfully appears not to exist in that form any longer) that matched me with an “ex-gay” mentor who did little but ask me what I fantasized about (and clearly got off on that). Yuck. Super sketchy, and also, did nothing to make me straight. It just doubled my sense of shame and self-loathing.

I came out to a minister at a church I was attending at the time, and was told in no uncertain terms that there was “no place at the table for someone like you.” I was excluded from taking communion, which left me with a sense that their God was a father who was unwilling to feed his own children. It was an awful feeling, and I quickly left that church in favor of another whose open arms extended further (and whose music leader was himself a big ol’ queer!).

Years later, I would attend the ceremony recognizing the first lesbian bishop in the Episcopal church. I saw this woman standing at the altar, a loaf of bread in her hands. She said, “This is my body, broken for you,” and her words pierced me to my core. I no longer felt excluded from the larger body. It was my body, too. That was the first time I took the Eucharist since I was kicked out of the other church. (I had taken their beliefs about my inferiority and internalized some of them, excluding myself from participation even in places where I was explicitly welcome.) They even had gluten free communion wafers!

It wasn’t until I was in college that I met an out gay person who was happy and well-adjusted that I got the sense that maybe, just maybe, I might be able to gather the courage to come out, too. I was scared shitless. I thought my family might disown me (most didn’t, but some relatives won’t speak to me anymore), my friends might turn their backs (some did), and I would be an outcast living on the hated margins of society forever (haha, nope!). I thought the world might end (it didn’t, in case you hadn’t noticed).

The most notable thing that happened when I came out was that I fell in love with living my authentic life. I gained enormous amounts of courage. I realized that I could do anything.

It was during this year that I first wrote about dreams to become a doula and a lactation consultant. I no longer felt stifled by my own terror, and my desire to change the world took hold and began to cultivate in me a longing that would eventually develop into a goal of becoming a midwife, a goal I was able to achieve because I threw my whole queer self into it.

Some tidbits from my journal from that year:

“I am on what Julian of Norwich calls a ‘journey inward.’ The landscape is strangely unfamiliar yet surprisingly me.”

“If I could have any superpower in the world right now, more than anything else I would want to be invisible. More than anything.”

“I got rid of the bed in my closet, leaving only a pillow to lean against if I need a temporary retreat, but there will be no more sleeping in here. I am not running from something that would not be able to find me if I slept in a closet. These walls keep no one out; they have only served to shut me in.”

“I am really hurting here. I don’t deny it. It’s hard to describe, but I feel like I’m in the birth process, unsure whether I’m giving birth or being reborn. How else can I explain this ache in my heart, what Amelia Earhart calls the “livid loneliness of fear” settled somewhere deep in my breast?”

In one entry, I described attending my first PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) meeting and getting to know a father named Roger Smith who had treated his daughter miserably when she came out as a lesbian. Their relationship was estranged, even now after he had come to a place of remorse for his homophobic comments to her and his cruelty. He pulled me aside and we had a great conversation and a hug that I will never forget. It felt as if I was his daughter forgiving him, and he was my parents coming around and loving me unconditionally–not in spite of my sexuality, but fully embracing all parts of my identity. It was a powerful moment of reconciliation that gave me hope that I might be able to rebuild things with my parents in the future.

“In some ways, I feel a sense of not belonging everywhere.”

“If I have anything to offer this world, I will give everything toward making a difference.”

“I want to live undivided, whole, integrated, not hiding like I used to but living out loud. I still have many demons to face… But I’m going to make it.”

I think it is time for a letter to myself.

Dearest Robin,

You cannot fathom now what your life will be like in ten years. From where you sit, in your closet of shame and despair, everything looks bleak. You can’t see a way out of the closet except through the door, which seems far too terrifying to open. You’ve considered remaining there until your oxygen runs out. It’s already getting hard to breathe.

Place your hand on the doorknob, Robin. Trust me. I am standing on the other side. If you listen closely, you might hear me whisper to you, “Come out!” There is so much life waiting for you out here in the open.

You have trouble seeing the future from where you are. You are terrified to lose your world as you know it. What you cannot see is that however someone reacts when you tell them you are gay, that has absolutely nothing to do with who you are. Remember your list? You are all this and more. Once you fully grasp the depth of your value, no one’s intolerance will be able to take that sense of wholeness away from you.

It may seem impossible now, but you will get to the place where you can have a conversation about your identity, even with someone who vehemently opposes what you stand for, and not feel like your entire sense of self depends on you changing their mind. You will be able to let them have their say without reacting or arguing or attempting to convert them. You can just smile to yourself, because you know who you are. You will carve, “I am,” onto your wrist so that you will always remember.

You will take your first steps out in the wide world, still cautious but with a growing sense of pride. Your courage will take you on some amazing journeys. It may be impossible to believe now, but four years (minus four days) from the night you tell your parents that you are gay, you will be marrying your first love for the second time. (That marriage will have an expiration date, but your friendship will go on.)

The world is a grand place, love. Just because one minister refuses you an invitation to the table does not mean you are unworthy; pull up a seat with “the cool kids” and soak up the knowledge that there is room for you here, for all of you. This is your body, your journey home. This is it. You are here now.

Say yes to your life. So many awesome things are waiting on the other side of that door. Come out, come out, wherever you are!

All my love,

Robin (circa 2014)

 

 

Robin Time

I went on an incredible retreat this weekend [note: it has taken me a week to write this, so two weekends ago now!] with eight pretty phenomenal LGBTQ women in the middle of the North Cascades. We slept under the stars (and the rain!), dreaming to the sounds of the rushing river and waking to birds chirping. We shared delicious, healthy meals (half of the other folks were either gluten free or vegetarian/vegan, so there was a lot I could eat!), spent time hiking some challenging trails with breathtaking views, and relaxed around the campfire at the end of the day, singing and laughing and telling stories. I bathed in only slightly-melted glacier water in the river (you seriously feel a whole lot warmer the second you get out; I convinced five other people to follow suit and everyone was in agreement that this was true!). I went without modern plumbing. I got used to feeling perpetually wet and slightly cold and miserable and had the time of my life doing it. When I took a hot shower upon my return home, I smelled the unmistakable scent of campfire smoke in my hair.

I shook up a lot this weekend, wiggled things loose in my body that have been sitting stagnant for a while. I pushed myself pretty hard, physically and interpersonally and spiritually and mentally. I broke a bunch of “rules” that made me feel safe and practiced sitting with feeling outside of my comfort zone (sometimes waaaay outside it, such as when I had to traipse into the woods in the middle of the first night with my head lamp the only thing illuminating my path as I went in search of the pit toilet and hoped a bear wasn’t hanging out nearby!).

The first night, we went around and wrote down things on index cards that might keep us from being fully present over the weekend. I scrawled down, among other things, “fear of breaking open,” uncertain precisely where that sentiment was coming from. We took our cards and placed them into the campfire, allowing flames licking at heart-shaped logs to turn these roadblocks into ash. We then came up with ideas of what might help us to be fully present, and I stated, “The willingness to see myself as whole, and to let myself get lost in hopes of finding something.”

Get lost, I did.

Not in the woods, per se. Rather, I went down deep into the hurting places in my body and felt the intensity that was buried there. I still have a lot of energy that I am holding onto around remembering how sick I got several years ago, how close this very body was to not being able to stay alive anymore. In some ways, ever since I lived in a very fragile shell that felt like the smallest stressor could break it, I have been guarded. I am cautious not to push myself too hard physically. I don’t go to the gym. I walk places, but I don’t usually run. The closest I get to extreme physical challenges involves staying up all night and burning through all my glycogen stores rushing from a birth to a c-section assist and back to another birth with a dozen triages thrown in.

 

Somewhere in my psyche, I am afraid that if I push myself too hard, I will break open, even though I weigh a good sixty pounds more now than I did at my most emaciated and am overall quite healthy. This anxiety came up for me on the trip most notably during the hikes. I enjoyed them for the first little while, until I started running out of steam and began getting cranky. Out of breath, I stopped being able to carry on conversations and had to focus on putting one foot in front of the other and ensuring that I placed it on solid ground. Especially on the second hike, which was at a higher elevation on a much colder day, my asthma began to flare up, and I had to take a couple of albuterol breaks. By the time our group stopped for lunch, my chest was killing me and I wasn’t able to catch my breath enough to keep going up the mountain any further.

Wheezy selfie in the woods

I sat there with my friends, on a huge rock overlooking a waterfall, and I sank down deep into frustration with my body’s limitations. All I could see was the fact that I would have to separate from my group and go back down because “my body was broken.” I had a private pity party for a little while until something caught my eye and drew me out of my mental stuck-ness and into the present moment. I looked around and saw the amazing sights before me: an enormous glacier, a waterfall, millions of trees, and the clouds that began to envelop us. The question in my head shifted from, “Why won’t my body let me go any further?” to “Look how far my body has brought me!” Instead of being stuck on the things I could not do, I was able to truly see how far I had come, not just that day on that hike but on the larger journey of my life.

I saw my path spread out before me: the missionary childhood, the sexual violence that shattered it, the traumatic loss of my first home when we had to evacuate the country due to security issues, the health issues that took years to properly diagnose, the multiple surgeries and countless doctor’s appointments, gaining and losing an entire person’s worth of weight in the span of a couple of years, the realization that I was gay in an environment that was not too enthusiastic about me being my whole self, the sexual assault in college, my coming out process, the social justice trip that changed my life, meeting my (now ex-)wife, getting extremely sick and nearly dying, putting my bodymindspirit back together on a diet of brown rice and vegetables from the farmer’s market, dreaming over and over of my midwife grandmother extending her hand to me, deciding to follow her path but being completely unsure if it would be possible for me, working as a doula and lactation consultant, diving in and dealing with my trauma history that was in my way of being able to become a midwife, moving up to Seattle all by myself to start graduate school, living alone for the first time in my life, getting divorced while working my ass off in nursing school, catching babies for the first time, achieving this dream of mine, finding a job, and doing the work I have been called to do. My whole life in all its complexity was with me there on that trail, and I was offered a choice: fix my gaze on my limitations, or focus instead on all of the myriad ways that my life is amazing. I could get stuck on the parts of the mountain I would never see, or I could open my eyes and take in the beauty that was all around me.

I chose to go back down the mountain slowly and let this enormous lesson sink in. I alternated crying, laughing, humming happy tunes to myself, snapping pictures, and being present with the sensation of my body in motion. It was a hard-won prize, and I will never forget that moment on that rock when my life reminded me to see where I am, right here and now.

I came home and had a fantastic coaching session with one of the organizers of the retreat, who asked me a question which I cannot remember but the answer that came to me very clearly was that I want from myself the same quality of attention that I give my patients. At the end of the day, I have been tired from constantly giving away my attention, and I haven’t been focusing on self-care to the extent that I need. She helped me to see that this is something I desperately want from myself, and that it is vital to my well-being (as well as to the longevity of my practice as a midwife and to the care that I am able to give to my clients) to meet this need.

I sat down with some art paper and markers after the phone call and came up with a poster that I hung up on my wall detailing dozens of different activities that could constitute “Robin Time.” My plan is to make a concerted effort to take time for myself every day, whether that is through journaling, stretching, reading a book, baking something delicious, cuddling with my kitties, taking a bath, engaging in social justice work that feeds my spirit, going for a walk, or any number of other activities. Hopefully, this will help me to reconnect with myself and my sense of purpose in the work that I do.

Tiny Sapling, Mighty Roots

I’ve been MIA from blogging for a bit, not because I lack things to say but rather because I’m not sure where to even begin.

It is different being a provider than being a student. Different in some really nice ways (you get paid for work you do, rather than paying for the privilege of learning, for one). Different in some hard ways (you’re on your own, with appropriate back-up, and judgment calls you make are your responsibility, rather than always having to report what you do to a preceptor who will approve it or not). It is amazing work and I am grateful beyond words to be here doing it, but it is still sometimes harder than I would like it to be.

And that’s okay.

Hiking is harder than I want it to be, but I’m signed up for a lesbian camping/hiking trip this weekend that I fully expect to kick my butt. I went on a hike with the group on Sunday and by 2/3rds of the way up, I was very grumpy. I felt like I imagine women in labor feel when they hit their wall. If it had just been me hiking, or even with folks I knew well, I would have asked to slow down the pace, to take more rest breaks. I would have stopped to enjoy the scenery and taken more pictures. My asthma would likely have bugged me a little less. I might have even given up and turned back around before getting to the top. But I huffed and puffed my way up the mountain, giving up on trying to converse with the group and focusing solely on what I was doing. Each step became intentional. My legs ached and my muscles begged me to stop moving them. I was desperately thirsty despite chugging lemon water. I kept wondering how much longer until it was over and how I would possibly make it. I started thinking about backing out of the weekend hikes to come. I was very, very cranky. I wanted out, but I pushed through.

And then the sunlight broke through the trees, and the view became clear. I saw the lake in all its glory. We had reached our destination. The group stopped for lunch and we had the chance to regroup. I caught my breath and found my second wind. I went for a walk all the way around the gorgeous Heather Lake, and then was the first one down the mountain. Downhill felt easy. I knew I could do it. I felt happy, and made conversation with others. Endorphins coursed through my bloodstream. My feet were killing me, but I didn’t really care. I logged more than 24,000 steps that day (more than 3-4 average days for me!).

What a trip, and what a perfect metaphor.

I’m always comparing my life to the stages of labor, which only makes sense given my line of work. Climbing up that hill felt like the first stage of labor, easy at first and getting progressively harder, until I hit my wall and didn’t want to do it anymore. Seeing the lake felt like reaching second stage, and I knew I could do the rest. Downhill/pushing was hard work still, but it felt different and good. And the feeling at the end was simply delightful.

I also had a moment in the forest that brought me to tears. There were numerous large-growth stumps left over from the giant trees that were cut down, and from these remains, new trees were sprouting. Someone referred to the whole area as a nursery for new growth. I saw one particular giant stump with trees growing from its base, reaching heavenward, and it instantly made me think of my grandmother and her legacy as a midwife. She gave me such a rich gift, and though her life ended before I really had a chance to know her well, I feel solidly rooted. I feel her smiling at me in the birthing rooms at the hospital. I sit there, sometimes for hours, holding the hand of a woman in labor, breathing with her, helping her focus, and I swear that Grandma is there. This sense was so vivid last week that I opened my eyes and looked around, and like a lightning bolt I realized that she wasn’t outside of me but inside. I bring her with me into those rooms. I carry in my DNA all of her wisdom. She may be gone from the physical world, but she is alive and well in my memory. I am proud to be the baby tree sprouting from her magnificent stump.

In the grand scheme of things, I am a tiny sapling. If life allows me the time, I aspire to add many dozens more rings to my trunk. It takes much patience to become part of the old-growth forest. It takes putting down roots and reaching up branches and following the whims of one’s DNA and just growing. Thankfully, I’ve got some powerful examples to follow.

I decided not to give up on the weekend of camping (complete with even more butt-kicking hikes!), so keep your eyes peeled for more pictures and stories after my retreat. I look forward to returning to the world, renewed and ready for more.

Moving

I haven’t been writing much lately, for a multitude of reasons. My days have been filled with preparing to leave one home and establish another, as well as with work as a lactation consultant and with a two-week online training to become a sexual assault nurse examiner. I have been taking a lot in, and have had little energy at the end of the day to reflect on the content of my life as it is at the moment and put those thoughts into words.

The SANE training (taken from this program) both put a lot of information into my head and took a fair bit out of me emotionally. For the most part, I found myself very well able to cope with the content. There was only one really hard day in which we spent 8 hours looking at graphic images of anogenital injuries in adults, adolescents, and children (all the way down to infants). This is the worst of the worst of the worst (seriously, what level of awfulness has a person experienced in their own past that would cause them to rape a baby?!?), including some postmortem images. It was heart-wrenching, not because it re-triggered my own trauma history (surprisingly, it didn’t too much) but because I know how much work it takes to come back from something like that. It isn’t just that that is one of the worst days of a person’s life; violence fundamentally changes the way that you see the world and people in it. It alienates you from your own body. It leaves you with broken pieces of your life that need time and space and support and healing to reassemble.

Going into this new line of work, I don’t have any illusions of saving my patients from the horrors they are experiencing. I cannot rescue them. But I can go to the places they are and provide them with dignity, care, compassion, safety, and hope. I am flooded with awe and gratitude that my journey has turned me into the person I needed to have there with me when I was assaulted. I have become, in many ways, my own sexual assault nurse examiner. I know how much of a difference your care providers can make (for better or for much worse) during this awful time. To have someone believe you, listen to as much of your story as you care to tell, treat your medical and emotional concerns as well as collect evidence that could help if the case goes to trial, and empower you to make decisions all along the way about what you do or do not want done to your body: this is important.

One of the things I learned in this training that most resonated with me was the concept of “disastrous response.” The idea (and research supports this) is that the way the first people who you interact with after an assault respond to you can have huge long-term impacts on how your trauma unfolds, for positive and for negative. The severity of the assault is not as strong a predictor for long-term problems afterwards as the quality of the response you get when you tell. Having people blame you, judge you, treat you in an undignified manner, threaten or frighten you, and/or not take you seriously can cause huge problems later on.

I want to be one of the people who believes my patients, who gives them control back, who reconnects people with the land of the living. I cannot save them from what they are going through, but I can sit there with them in it for the time we are together and I can offer them hope in the midst of it all that it will not always feel like this. It is unspeakably awful, but not forever.

There are some things I wish I could tell myself 10 years ago about the aftermath, the early healing period:

  • You need support people. Collect as many as you can find. Talk to them. Get your story out of you. You’ll be surprised who will listen.
  • Get out of bed. Every day. Put on clothes. Go through the motions. Do what needs to be done, even if you don’t feel like it right now, even if that is the last thing you want to do. Inertia only makes it worse. Push through it.
  • Reconnect with yourself and your dreams. Set a big goal, and take baby steps towards it, even if it seems impossible now. You will amaze yourself with your own courage.
  • Get a dog. Or a cat. Or several of each. Let the creatures heal you.
  • Drink tea. Take hot baths. Walk around in nature. Breathe.
  • Create something every day, no matter what it is. Color with crayons. Make crafts. Paint. Write. Design your life and make it beautiful.
  • Let yourself fall in love again, with a person or a song or a beautiful sunset. Life has broken you open, and this raw state can be one where deep beauty knocks your socks off.
  • It won’t hurt like this forever. Seriously. There will come days where you don’t think about it at all, as impossible as that sounds right now.
  • Don’t ever ever ever ever give up. There are people you can call and ask for help. Don’t be too proud to ask. Let them help you through it. Then you, in turn, can help others.

Mary Lambert, one of my new favorite artists, has a beautiful song called “I Know Girls” about loving your body. The concept of sexual violence and subsequent self-harm is part of the song. Some excerpts:

I know I am because I said, “I am.”
My body is home…

Lay your hands flat and feel the surface of scarred skin
I once touched a tree with charred limbs
The stump was still breathing
But the tops were just ashy remains
I wonder what it’s like to come back from that because
Because sometimes I feel forest fires erupting from my wrists
And the smoke signals sent out are the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen…

Your sexiness is defined by concentric circles within your wood
It is wisdom
You are a goddamn tree stump with leaves sprouting out
Reborn

To help me process the intensity of my training (and to avoid eating every cookie in the world to stuff my feelings down), I have been spending time in nature. On my lunch break at work last week, despite prohibitively chilly temperatures, I walked around outside barefoot and delighted in the sensation of the cold mossy earth beneath my feet. They were screaming with the cold and the sharp rocks and pine needles, but I felt so very alive. I wandered through the trees, breathing them and being breathed. I greeted the robin birds and felt so gloriously present. I took a picture of my bare feet and my tattoos (note the purple scrubs!), claiming my existence in this place, in this moment.

There is something about moving that triggers my deep thoughts. So much has happened while I lived in this little studio. The Robin that moved in here is not the same person I am today. I have grown up a lot, faced some of my biggest fears head-on with compassion and courage, and found strength I wasn’t sure I possessed. I was married when I first turned the key to this apartment door; I will walk away independently. I was neither a nurse nor a midwife; now I am both. I wrote my thesis in this place, following my grandmother’s story back through time and bringing her legacy alive. I had so many wonderful study sessions with my friends in my little living room, practicing skills on each other (everything from IV starts to clinical pelvimetry) and on my wide variety of low-tech simulation equipment. As happy as I will be to have twice as much space and my own laundry and a designated place to park my car so I don’t have to park four blocks away when I get home from catching a baby at 2:00 a.m., it will be bittersweet to walk away for the last time.

I walked home from work through the Seattle University campus this afternoon. I said goodbye to one of my favorite trees in the world, knowing I can return whenever I want. I took one of its pine cones home with me and will bring it to my next place as a reminder of the shelter my tree-friend gave me during my time here. I noticed in several places where branches had recently been trimmed that the tree was bleeding red, and I touched the wounds gently. I sat under this tree and finished up a journal I had started writing shortly after catching my first baby last year.

I hugged one of the low-lying branches and felt how solid the tree was, how firmly planted in the ground. I asked the tree if everything was going to be okay, and I got a simple, one-word reply: “Grow.” This is what trees almost always tell me when I ask them a question. They answer not audibly (obviously), but with their entire being. Growing is what trees do. Beginning with their tiny seed-selves, trees have in their DNA to sprout and plant down roots and reach eager buds towards the sky. Buds sprout leaves and stretch outward, becoming branches and stalks. Bark forms a protective coat around tender insides, shielding the channels that bring nutrients from the soil to every part of the plant. Photosynthesis happens (science!), and trees create food for themselves. Eventually, as the tree matures, it puts forth more seeds and sends them out into the world to make more trees, wrapped safely in fruit or pine cones or some other clever mechanism.

The tree grows according to its own inner code. My favorite redwoods could never turn into apple trees, and similarly, apple trees were never intended to live for millennia, towering over all the other creatures on earth.

When I stood under this mighty creature and rested against its branches, a beautiful pine cone in my hand, I felt the life energy coursing through it, and this, in turn, connected me with my own vital force. I have imprinted on my DNA what I am to grow into, as well. I am a Robin, and a damn good one. I am not any other person who has ever existed, nor should I be. I have a big calling, and big work to do. When I spend time in nature, I am reminded that I don’t need to try to make myself into anything. I just need to allow myself to grow into who I already am and be as wholly myself as I can in any moment.

As I walked away, I heard the refrain of a song playing in my head:

Oooh, follow my tracks
See all the times I should have turned back
Oooh, I wept alone
I know what it means to be on my own
Oooh, the things I have known
Looks like I’m taking the hard way home
Oooh, the seeds I’ve sown
Taking the hard way home
–Brandi Carlile, “Hard Way Home”

I’m not sure if there is an easy way home, to be honest. My journey has been circuitous, not linear. Every stop along the way has opened new doors and closed old ones. This will be true for the next few months, as well. I will begin working as a sexual assault nurse examiner and a midwife, from a new home base in a new city (not too far from where I currently live, but it will be an adjustment nevertheless). I am glad to have friends, furry and otherwise, to keep me company throughout the transition. (This particular friend is more than happy to help me fill my moving boxes!)

So there. I did it. I got some thoughts out. Now it is time to close my eyes for a while and let dreams teach me new things. Much love to all. I couldn’t do this work without you.

Making My Way

Today’s my birthday, and all that I want
Is to dig through this big box of pictures
In my kitchen ’til the daylight’s gone
 
But if life stayed the way it was
And lovers never fell out of love
If memories didn’t last so long
If nobody did nobody wrong
If we knew what we had before it was gone
If every road led back home
This would be the very last country song
–Sugarland, “The Very Last Country Song”

I’ve had this song running through my head all day, quite possibly because today really is my birthday, and I spent a good chunk of it sifting through a decade of digital pictures I’ve taken (I have well over 100,000 photos on my hard drive, so this is not a small task!). I saw my twenties as I experienced them in real time. I smiled and cried and laughed out loud and sighed and smiled again. It was quite a full decade: I came out as gay, graduated from college, went on a crazy road trip for LGBT rights, got really sick, nearly died, got mostly better, got married, worked as a doula, taught Quaker Sudnay school for little kiddos, took boards and became a lactation consultant, got divorced, took boards and became a nurse, wrote my thesis, finished my master’s degree, took boards and became a midwife, attended over 150 births (including those of my niece and nephews), helped at least a thousand families with breastfeeding, and applied to 100 different midwifery jobs and finally got one. During this time, I called eight different addresses home in four years. I traveled to over half the states in the country as well as a few international places. It was a challenging but overall pretty damn excellent decade.

I had a lovely birthday. I made myself some gluten free vegan quinoa raisin cookies, looked at pictures, and then spent a few hours wandering around Green Lake with one of my favorite nurses in the world who brought me a gluten free vegan maple cupcake from The Flying Apron (pretty much the only birthday cake I could eat)! You can see photos of the gorgeous afternoon here. It was a special time of sharing and reflecting and soaking up my friend’s wisdom about what I have to look forward to over the coming decade.

I am excited about my thirties. I feel more or less like a grownup, what with a graduate degree and a full-time midwife job and a real apartment with a view of Mount Rainier from the living room window (as of the end of April). I feel more solid than I did at twenty, more grounded. I love my life more fiercely than ever. I am happy, deeply happy, and grateful to be here now.

Another Sugarland song (“Hello”) that I’m sure I’ve quoted before has a line that grabs me every time I hear it: “And the moment that one thing ends/Is the same time that one begins/And we turn as we must/We are ashes to dust, amen.” I love that things are constantly both ending and beginning. I love that the split second I ceased being in my twenties, my thirties picked up and took over. Somehow, I find the interrelationship of beginnings and endings exceedingly comforting. There is always something, even if it might not be what I would prefer. I am always something, someone, somewhere, somehow. The trees and other plants coming alive with blossoms at the park today are an excellent example of this. They “turn as they must” from flowers in the springtime to fruit in the summer, to dropping their leaves in autumn, to a much-needed rest in the winter chill, to breaking into blossom again when the weather is right.

I, too, am coming out of winter. I have been hibernating somewhat, conserving my energy for the busyness that will come back soon enough. To everything there is a season, the psalmist wrote. My season for beginning to work in my calling as a midwife is soon to begin. I am excited and nervous, both. I am ready and not-ready. I need to review everything I ever learned, yet I know what I need to know. All of these opposites are simultaneously true inside of me. I just need to remember to breathe.

I have felt a little aimless over the past few months. I completed my biggest life goal back in September, and aside from getting a job, I hadn’t set new goals. I’m working on that now. But I am really feeling like I don’t have to force my life to happen. There is a path before me, and I am making my way.

I am going to a High-Risk OB conference tomorrow, so I should get some sleep before then. I would love to end with a shameless appeal for donations to Midwives for Haiti for my birthday. I chose this organization because they do amazing work both training midwives and providing care to women and their families in earthquake-ravaged Haiti. Any amount helps to support their mission. My gratitude in advance for helping safeguard babies’ entrance into the world and care for the new families!

What a Year!

I am spending the last few hours of 2013 in Southern California, cuddled on a cot in the home of some of my best friends, awaiting the birth of their third baby. When she had baby #2, I was her doula, and now I am a midwife and am eager to help her greet her new little one.

A lot has changed since I last lived in this town, more in me than in Santa Barbara. When I last lived here, I had big dreams and no idea if it was possible for me to achieve them. I also had a marriage that would eventually become complete in ways that surprised me and challenged me to grow into a person I wasn’t sure I could become. I had an anxiety disorder that, had I not devoted most of my time here to exploring and stretching and healing it, would have kept me from pursuing my calling. I had big dreams and big fears, and it makes me cry even now to think of how I have met both with as much dignity and courage and grace as I could muster in any given moment.

I first fell in love with my life when I lived here, and it isn’t hard to remember why. The weather is lovely, even in December. I have friends and former colleagues and birthworkers who live here and give me a permanent place to which to return. It is delightful to come back and visit for a while, especially now that I have achieved the objective that I had when I left.

I have long dreamed of becoming a midwife, and in 2013, I realized that goal. I caught 47 babies and attended the births of a couple dozen more. I supported hundreds of families with breastfeeding in the early days and weeks, doing a small part to ease their transition to parenthood. I wrote a thesis that both connects me to my roots and propels me forward into the future. I walked across a stage with a bunch of my closest friends, graduating from an intensive master’s program with honors. I celebrated progress for LGBT rights in a number of important ways. I took a great holistic peer counseling class that has taken me on a journey deeper into myself and has helped to expand my capacity for empathy and loving attention. I got tattoos to mark milestones in my life. I traveled to Texas and Tennessee and Oregon and California to visit family and friends and to attend a national midwifery conference. And now, I am having enormous fun awaiting a baby from within a family. I am feeling the stretches and the kicks, hearing about the aches and pains on and off throughout the day instead of at a 15-minute office visit. I am seeing the siblings integrate the upcoming changes in their family structure by playing out birth scenes (this morning, Amy was zipped up in a lion costume with a doll stuffed down her top, and I was her midwife helping her to push the baby out!), and I am enjoying being a part of day-to-day family life in a busy household for a while instead of living on my own in a studio apartment.

One hour left in 2013. I’m not sure I’ll make it to ring in the new year; I feel like a midwife on call who is aware that any opportunity for sleep should be taken! But I will end the year by writing myself a letter, as I often do at turning points.

Dearest Robin,

What a year 2013 has been! I am so proud of you and all of the dreams you have chased down and lived your way into. It has not been an easy road, but you keep walking it one step at a time.

You do not know what 2014 will have in store for you. Ideally, soon you will get a job as a midwife. You may stay in Seattle or a move (across the state or across the country) may be in store. So much is unknown, uncertain, yet to be discovered.

Your hands will welcome new babies this year. They will “touch people inside people and call them out” (to quote a poem by your friend and midwife Simon Ellis). Your heart will expand further than you knew was possible. It may break open, a little or a lot. Your body will experience both pain and pleasure, difficulty and delight. You will breathe in and out, again and again, and your heart will go on beating, a drum inside your chest that faithfully keeps time to the rhythm of your soul. The music will continue until your final day on earth.

You were handed a calling, a mission that includes midwifery but is much bigger. Go into it. Listen deeply. Feel your life tugging at you, and follow where it leads. Way will open, the Quakers say. Let your life speak to you, tell you stories about what you want to become. Then go and turn yourself into what you are called to be during the brief and fleeting days you have left to walk around in a human-suit on this planet.

You spent the evening a few nights ago just staring up at the night sky, peppered with hundreds of stars. You felt very small and in awe of having a teeny tiny place in the family of things. You may be small, but you are not insignificant. You have much to offer the world. Jump in with both feet. Live on purpose. Choose to inhabit your days. Love wholeheartedly. Find delight everywhere. Release the past, and relinquish illusory control over the future. Stay right here. Keep breathing.

You will turn 30 in a few months, leaving behind a decade that taught you many things and took you many places. Ultimately, though, you can only ever always be where you are now. So be here. Love this. Smile. Make this new year a delicious one.

Much love,

You

The Best and Worst of Days

This post is about today, in all its brilliant, awful, excruciating glory.

I awoke to the news that DOMA, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, was struck down by the Supreme Court, and that the case defending Proposition 8 (which banned same-sex marriage in California in 2008, ten days after I got married there) was remanded because they decided it lacked standing, meaning that Prop 8 was overturned and marriage in California is for everyone again! I was elated as I drove into clinic and began a day seeing patients. I smiled to myself between preparing wet mounts and palpating gravid abdomens. DOMA would never again force me to have to prepare my taxes six different ways in order to file separately between state (joint) and federal (“single” because the government did not recognize me as married)!

Midway through the day, we had someone call in labor, and I found myself preparing to catch a baby. I checked my phone just before I went into the room and saw a text message from one of my best friends that our mutual friend (who had worked tirelessly on LGBT advocacy to make this morning’s rulings possible) had lost her father to a sudden massive heart attack. What was the one of the best days of her life twisted in a moment and became one of the worst. With a heavy heart, I pulled myself together and entered a space where the veil is as thin as amniotic membranes.

I looked through the window out at the sky, clearing out an earlier storm, and as the sun broke through the clouds I sent prayers heavenward for a safe journey through time and space for this new little one. I felt the presence of my friend’s father in the room, smiling, palpable.

We had a rapid labor, and a short second stage, and suddenly there was a baby emerging into my hands. There is a series of clinical details I won’t get into here for privacy reasons, but suffice it to say that when I thought things were getting complicated, I said out loud, “Come on now,” more to my friend’s father than to the baby who decided that her hand should be by her ear when she emerged from her cozy caul. I asked for a safe and easy birth! I thought to myself several times as the birth twisted and turned. Time and again, I was convinced I could perceive a chuckle coming from the corner of the room. Every time I thought something was complicated in some way, it turned out not to be. We had quite a number of risk factors for a serious laceration but she ended up intact, and the birth actually went very smoothly!

It wasn’t until I went to give the baby the blessing I give every baby (“It’s a big world out here!” which were my grandpa’s last words), and whispered to myself another blessing for this new little one (“May you live long enough to know why you were born”) that two things struck me: 1) My friend’s dad absolutely lived that long, which both delighted and infuriated me (why couldn’t it have taken him another forty years to learn that?!?), and 2) this was the hundredth birth I’ve attended in my lifetime, and my twenty-ninth “catch.” It was quite a memorable number 100.

I felt in that moment of blessing the baby the agonizing brilliance of how long and short our lifetimes really are. I saw the gore and the glory mixed up together, and my heart expanded to make room for it all.

I spoke with my friend this evening, and she mentioned how everything in the world is reminding her of her dad in a way that explodes with fresh pain but also soothes her grief with memories of his wonderful life. In this way that I make everything in life about birth somehow, I related this experience to one I had at this birth today.

One could imagine that pushing an 8-pound baby through one’s vagina without anesthesia could be one of the more uncomfortable experiences of one’s life. I’ve never felt it personally, but I’ve heard that the ring of fire isn’t exactly a nice sensation. At this point, I was applying hot compresses to the woman’s perineum to protect it (which worked!). When I put the warm cloth on her skin, she said emphatically, “Oh my god, that is the best feeling in the world!” I had to laugh at the discrepancy between what I was seeing (i.e., most of her baby’s head stretching her vulva open) and the words coming out of her mouth. I told her to take small pleasures where she could get them!

I thought of this story tonight as I was talking with my friend, and I told it to her. She said it was exactly that, having a moment of indescribable joy in the midst of heartache that threatened to rip her wide open. This is life in a nutshell, glorious and unimaginable and raw and powerful and brutal and fierce and slathered with just enough grace that we can live to the end of the day and begin again once the sun rises.

I believe in sunrises. I have seen enough dark nights to know that they always end, interminable as they may seem. To my friend, I say this: You held onto the promise of sunrise for me during my own endless nights, and I will do the same for you. The sun will rise for you again. I, along with countless others, will believe this for you until you can see the rays of dawn climbing over the horizon. You are not alone.

I came home and settled in after this conversation and this birth and this amazing, heartbreaking, delightful day. I checked my Facebook feed, which had “exploded with gayness” like this cartoon that George Takei posted on his page:

I read the articles and smiled to see Edith Windsor (the 84-year-old widow whose case it was that wound up in the Supreme Court to get DOMA overturned). I imagined her joy and grief mixed together, joy that she won and grief that her wife and partner of 44 years, Thea Spyer, wasn’t here to see it happen.

I then came across a video of my own ex-wife being interviewed at the National Cathedral about DOMA and Prop 8, and I was filled with a surprising amount of pride. I remembered the morning we awoke together to the news that Prop 8 had passed and Obama had been elected, and the agony and joy mixed together that I felt. Now, not five years later, marriage is legal again in California for everyone, my marriage is over, and so much has changed in my own life. I realized that seeing a woman I once shared my life with (and whom I now consider a great friend) holding the hand of another woman made me smile, and I looked for a place in my heart that was painful and couldn’t find one… that’s when I realized that my “dark night” had truly ended and the bright rays of morning were warming my face. Our work is far from over, but today, I saw the long moral arc of the universe bend towards justice a little bit more. There is no turning back this tide.

I ended my day with a song, perfect for today, and for the days to come.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis: Same Love