A Blessing for the Coming Fruit

I’m going back through old blog posts, and as I reread one from the day before I started midwifery school, I was struck by a dream that I had:

“I had another dream, as I was waking from a brief but deep nap, that I was sitting in the middle of a circle, surrounded by all of the dozens and hundreds of people who have supported me and loved me and helped me to get to this place of beginning this journey. Everyone was wishing me well and sending me their love and prayers and blessings for a safe and wonderful traveling experience. It shifted from being in the center of a circle to being alone, in a garden. I held a single seed in the palm of my cupped hands and placed it into a hole in the rich soil. As I planted the seed, I suddenly turned into the seed myself, and was planting myself in the ground. I felt the anticipation of being inside my seed covering but also longing to sprout, to push down roots and send up stalks and leaves, to soak in the rain and sun and energy of life, and to grow into what I was intended to become.”

My eyes flooded with tears remembering who I was as I set out to become even more myself, and how I could still today say that the combination of feeling myself held and loved in community, plus the importance of being alone and doing the work of planting myself in a place I can put down roots, of tending to my own needs, is what sustains me as a person and allows me to continue the intense work of being a midwife. So much love to each of you who has stood in my circle, and richest blessings to the seed, and the soil, and the sun, and the rain, and the coming fruit.

Here’s to all that will begin anew and all that will come to an end this year. Here’s to moving beyond beginnings and endings and to finding what lies underneath. Here’s to belonging to the whole, and to remembering the vitality I find in being alone with myself. Here’s to the wild courage of planting ourselves in the fertile soil of the present moment.

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)

The Antidote to Despair

I don’t know about you, but the last week and a half (the entirety of this current presidency thus far), and even the past couple of months since the election, have brought me closer and closer to feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion that previously I had been better able to keep at bay. Seeing my newsfeed filling up with story after story of injustice and trauma and an all-out assault on my values and the communities I care about seems to drain all of the fight out of me and push me right into my trauma response of choice, which is to freeze and find a way to numb the overwhelm of it all.

Self-care is and has long been vital to my survival, and recently it has become ever more so. I find that doing multiple things every day to care for my whole self (physically, emotionally, mentally, relationally, spiritually) is so important, and takes so much time and energy, and it is a privilege that I have those things (not always, but usually) to put towards the activities I need to do to keep myself as well as I can be under the circumstances.

When things are out of balance, I feel it everywhere. When my sleep is interrupted by nightmares of hiding in closets from Nazis out to get me (the second part of that dream was not untrue, but I no longer hide in the closet), when food is not interesting to me, when I spend days without reaching out to people I love and deeply connecting, when I hide inside instead of moving my body to metabolize the accumulating trauma… I hurt. I hurt in mind and body and psyche and soul. Sometimes I can’t seem to shift out of the hurting place, especially when I have to care for others. It is hard to be in deep trauma and still show up authentically and hold space for someone in labor or in my clinic room or in the operating room. It is hard and I do it, because it is part of my work and my magic in the world to show up as my whole self in spaces and give myself room to feel everything, not necessarily in that moment, but to create daily space to feel.

One of my self-care practices is to get out in nature. Because of the weather, I hadn’t gone for a hike since Christmas, but a few days ago, despite a drizzling rain, I took myself out to one of my favorite Seattle parks and wandered around, not entirely aimlessly but definitely without my usual drive to explore and move my body. I felt like I was right at the edge of despair and could tell that it would take very little to push me right into the thick of it. I searched in my awareness for some answer, some of my unique magic, that could provide a shift to bring some greater ease into this situation, and as my mind went into a state of inquiry, the question asked itself of me, “What is the antidote to despair?”

At the time I was asking myself this, I was unfamiliar with Joan Baez’s quote that would answer that question with a single word: action. She believed that moving forward and doing something would provide the shift I was looking for. And she may well be right, except that I was so overwhelmed with inertia and pain that finding actions to do felt almost impossible.

Sitting in the question, and holding it gently to my chest, I ended up on a rocky beach and found myself looking for heart-shaped stones. To my dismay, I wasn’t finding a single one. I searched and searched, and these stones that always find me easily were staying invisible on the beach. Tears began dripping down my cheeks along with the drizzle of the rain, and I squatted down by the water and let myself feel everything. “What is the antidote to despair?” I asked myself. And I instantly found my answer in the word I chose for this year: belonging.

Belonging is my antidote to despair. I brought to mind the humans that I love, by name, one by one, and as each name appeared in my mind, I noticed that my magic was returning to my body. I thought or whispered a name and a heart-shaped stone appeared on the beach. I called to mind folks I consider my chosen queer family: Dylan. Carey. Emily. Maggie. Nico. Simon. Meg. Susan. Katie. Brooke. Tasha. Maddie. So many others. I thought of my family of origin and my complex love for them. I pictured my community of midwives and nurses and physicians. I thought of all of the folks I’ve shared dances with over the past year since I started dancing. And yes, I thought of my cats.

And I whispered my own name to the stones. I meditated on what belonging deeply to myself might mean to me. I thought of how complex it is to belong in my skin, to feel at home in my body. I thought of all of the love and labor that I have put into belonging to myself, and I sent gratitude back in time to all of the iterations of me who have worked for my survival and to help me have the chance to thrive. I also sent thanks to all future selves I will become, and to the love I know they are sending back through time to me, as I do now, as part of my work in the world. I thought of all the bodies I’ve lived in already in this lifetime (young, fat, gaunt, sick, athletic, scarred, tattooed, frozen, dancing, and oh-so-queer), and how many more I might get to experience. I fell in love with my life again.

I thought of what it means to me to explore the concept of belonging while living on stolen Duwamish land, a land rightfully belonging to people who are not my ancestors. I thought of the lands my ancestors belonged to, scattered throughout northern Europe. I thought of all the heart stones I might find on the beaches and in the fields they called home, before they left to become settler colonists (some of them coming over on the Mayflower). I reflected on the violence of their actions towards Native peoples, towards people of color, especially Black people who were brought over to serve as slaves whose labor was foundational to capitalism’s beginnings. I felt into what it means to belong as a queer and gender non-confirming white person to a community of activists working to create a world where there is room for everyone to belong.

I wove for myself the fabric, the web of belonging that holds me fast in the world. By the time I left that beach (forty-four heart stones later!), my pockets were heavier than my heart was when I arrived.

As I made my way back to my car, damp and grateful, I thought how important it was that belonging is my word for 2017. This is a year that already promises a lot of intensity, with no sign of letting up. Reminding myself over and over that I belong here, in this world, at this time, is going to be vital to my well-being and indeed, to my survival.

There are other things that act as antidotes to despair for me, and I will name them in case any of them speak to you. Just the sheer act of existing as my whole self in this world that attempts to deny me that is an example of fierce defiance and resilience. My existence is resistance. Here are some of the things that help me keep existing:

Sleep: easier said than done when my nights are plagued with nightmares, but I find that if I do not sleep well, I do not function well. When I am able to allot sufficient time for resting my body and mind (quality of sleep aside), I have much more reserves to cope.

Community: Staying in contact with the people who give meaning and purpose to my life fills me with love and oxytocin. Checking in with my loved ones whom I know are also struggling with various heavy burdens is important to me. Making some effort, daily, to reach out and love someone, whether in person or over the phone or via social media, helps keep me going.

Food: this is an edgy one for me, as my body has a complicated relationship with food (due to both allergies and chronic stomach problems from a birth defect). Choosing to eat foods that nourish me and give me energy, as well as intentionally making food and feeding others, gives me stamina. Choosing not to use food to mindlessly help numb my feelings can be hard, but it feels important to make an effort to tease those two things apart and let my feelings have space to be expressed and not conflate them with food. Letting myself be fed–in all the ways that can be interpreted–is one of my goals for this year.

Organizing: as much as I have reserves to do it, showing up in activist spaces and working with existing movements for social change and resistance helps me remember that there is work that needs me and that my voice and my efforts can create good in the world. There is a balance between exhausting myself in all the doing and letting the action feed me, but here is where I do agree with Joan Baez, that action is indeed one of the antidotes to despair. Especially getting behind efforts led by people of color, and queer and trans folks, who have been doing this work for longer than I’ve been in it, is vital.

Movement, and especially dancing: when I move my body, either on my own or in connection with another body, I get out of my head and the swirl of trauma I’ve accumulated and emotions I haven’t gotten to process and I land fully in my own skin. I feel into my strength and flexibility and resilience, qualities that fuel my ability to keep doing the work of this moment. Physical activity helps me to metabolize all of the build-up and keep it from drowning me, giving space for big feelings to come up and move their way out of my body. I deeply appreciate collapsing in a sweaty heap after a good night of dancing with folks I love.

Poetry and stories: words are my lifeline home to myself. My walls are plastered with poems that remind me where home is, what healing looks like, that I am whole, that loving is worth it, that living is worth it. “We need to share our wars,” Nayyirah Waheed said, in one of the quotes I taped above my bed. Writing and reading others’ writings keeps me going. Stories link me to the experiences of others and simultaneously help me come home again. Language is a bridge across solitudes.

Therapy: I need to have a place I can go to download and process things so I don’t only rely on my friends and loved ones to do this emotional labor for me. If I let them build up, they sink me. Having someone in my life whose job is to hold me, and who does not require any holding in return, is so necessary to my well-being. Mental illness is so highly stigmatized in the dominant US American discourse, and speaking openly about it is part of my activism.

Pleasure: living is full of pain. We know that far too well. Taking joy in the delights that also make their way into my life reminds me that living is not ALL pain. A lot of experiencing pleasure is about mindfulness; pain and pleasure often coexist, and noticing both when they arrive and when they go is one of my practices. The heat of my evening shower on my skin as I step into the water and rinse off my day is pleasure. A bite of kumquat dipped in honey and topped with a Szechuan peppercorn is pleasure. Watching the colors of the sky as the sun dips below the horizon is pleasure. Feeling a lover’s lips on my own and being aware of nothing else in the world is pleasure. Hearing a newborn’s first fierce cry, announcing their arrival onto this planet, is pleasure. Snuggling into my bed at last after a long night of being awake welcoming new people onto the planet is pleasure. Pain is mingled in each of these in different ways (the bite of the peppercorn feels different than the ache of up-all-night-babycatching exhaustion), but all of them also hold delight.

Nature: I have to go outside to stay well. I need to bury my toes in cool grass and jump into chilly lakes and feel the smoothness of stones in my palms. I need to kiss trees and tuck bits of lichen in my hair and smell the sea and let myself get lost in the wildness outside me as well as within. I need to inhale fresh oxygen and remember that I am a part of this, that I belong to the world. I need to let the crashing waves remind me where home is. I need the animals to teach me how to be. I need to wear out my body climbing trails in the middle of nowhere so I can find myself again.

Unplugging: this one is hard for me, because I feel so drawn to staying connected with what is happening in the world around me. But I have found when I am outside of cell reception range or wifi access for a day or five, I return feeling recharged. When I mindlessly scroll through a newsfeed of despair, I lean closer to that edge myself. This one is most definitely a work in progress, and I don’t often do it well, but I am committing to finding a balance between informing myself and overwhelming myself with information.

Breathing: staying in my breath helps me stay in my body. Whether through singing at the top of my lungs in the shower, or consciously slowing down my rate of breathing to quell anxiety, or moving my body hard to get my lungs going and my heart beating faster, mindfully being present in my breath brings me back to what is happening right now and diverts my attention from catastrophic thinking. Meditation also fits into this category.

There are so many other self-care strategies, so many other antidotes to despair that are possible. I am so grateful to be finding mine, and I want to be authentic in this writing and make it clear that I don’t have this all figured out, not by any means. These are things that help me survive and sometimes even thrive in the world, and they are not easy to do. Some days I want to hide in my room and eat chips and ignore my work and not talk to anyone, and that is okay. Some days, survival is my work, and I do that as best I can. Every time I choose to do something to preserve my aliveness in the world, I am part of the resistance. As Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Belonging is political warfare. Belonging is raw power. Belonging is my antidote to despair.

I would love to hear about your equivalent to heart stones. What speaks to you of belonging? What keeps you going when despair looms in close? What fuels your resistance? What reminds you that you have a home in this world?


All the Robins

I woke up in the middle of the Hoh Rainforest at 5:00 this morning, realizing I had completed what I set out five days ago to do. With that sure knowledge settled deeply into my bones, I packed up my campsite and was on my way ultimately back home. It seems I am always on my way home.

The past week has been one marvelous adventure after another, starting with staying up terribly late after ecstatic dance to go with a dear friend to see the Perseids meteor shower at its peak. We lay out in the middle of an open field, giddy with excitement every time we saw a meteor arcing its way through the night sky. In between gasps of delight, we shared deeply with one another and continued to build on a connection that has been so nourishing to me.

The next morning, bright and early, after a counseling appointment to set me off on the right foot, and running on only 3 1/2 hours of sleep (from staying up so late watching pyrotechnics displays in the sky), I packed up way more than I needed and headed out into the woods in search of something. I had not made any firm plans about where I would go or whether I was car camping or backpacking or what precisely I would do when I got there. Being a planner by nature, this was a stretch for me, and it put me in precisely the frame of mind I needed to be in to do the work I went to do, namely, to get lost in search of myself.

Which is exactly what I did. I let myself get lost, alone and far away from home and from the people I love, away from the creatures that keep me warm at night and the food I’m used to eating and the bed I sleep in and the routines that make me feel safe. Dropping the facade of safety was key to the work I had planned, which was to dig deep into the stories I carry in my body and in my psyche that want out, that want to be written in a form beyond the limits of my journal or this blog.

I allowed myself to deeply face my fears. I sat with myself, my selves, all of the Robins I have been throughout my life, and I greeted each of them–regardless of how difficult I find it to love them–and welcomed them back to me. Over and over again, I allowed memories of all that I have been and done and experienced to wash over me, and gently, with courage and grace and dignity, called them home.

As I have done repeatedly over the years, sometimes what I need to say can best be expressed only by directly addressing myself in a letter.

Dearest Robins,

I usually write to one particular memory of you, one time or place in the past where I think of you and recall you needing to know that you are loved and that you are going to make it. Usually, I take this one at a time, and focus in as with a zoom lens on my camera onto one particular area, but today I want to take a step back and look with a curious eye over the entire landscape of my days.

I love you, each and every one of you. I love the scared child about to undergo surgery not understanding why. I love the creative, curious kid who loved climbing trees and swimming in the lake. I love the terrified little one who learned about violence way too soon, and I love every last creative thing you did to survive and live through it so you could become me. I love the sick teenager whose body grew and shrank at almost unbelievable rates, disappearing nearly before our eyes until birth defects were discovered and lifesaving surgery was carried out and more trauma and healing could happen, and did. I love the person who grew so focused on coming alive and living well. I love that, despite further trauma from multiple complex sources, that person found ways to make it through. I love the person who lived in the sick body that again nearly died, and again, fought to remain in the land of the living. I love the queer one who declared their autonomy from all of the oppressive messages that said they weren’t worthy. I love the lover, who has in their heart an enormous capacity to love, and the ability to continue to love again even when it doesn’t work out sometimes. I love the midwife who helps others create their families, even as family is a tricky thing to define for oneself. I love the one who has lived through fractures in mind and body and has nevertheless pursued wholeness. I love the one who creates their way out of the darkness with any means available: words, poems, art, music, crafts, connections with humans and animals, dance, photography, time in nature, cooking, and physical activity.

To sit with every last thing about my life I could remember and accept myself fully in every aspect of my wholeness took me to some of the hardest places I’ve ever been. I chose to go there alone, to be physically and emotionally and psychically and spiritually in solitude, with the natural world as my anchor, always calling me back home to myself.

To the Robin who is so sick she is terrified to leave her house, I say this: You will travel out into the wilderness with courage in a body that is as strong as it has ever been.

To the Robin who is so terrified she cannot believe she will ever feel better, I say this: You will learn skills to help you hold all of the enormity of your feelings, and you will learn to reset your brain so it can be calm, and you will not always be afraid.

To the Robin who needs constant reassurance that you will be okay, I say this: You ARE okay. You belong to the Everything. You are a part of the world, and you belong to the trees and the mountains and the waterfalls and the wind and the rising moon.

To the Robins who have done things they are not proud of, I say this: You are worthy of love and acceptance and belonging. There is forgiveness for you. You have hurt yourself, and you have hurt other people, and there is yet healing and reconciliation for both.

To the Robin who doesn’t know what the next step is, I say this: Stand still. Let the forest breathe you. Listen to the winds beckoning you forward. The way will open. Let yourself be guided gently forward. Your passion will continually call you home to yourself and to your work in the world.

To the Robins who feel permanently broken, I say this: Brokenness and wholeness are not opposites. They exist in dynamic tension with each other. I would not be able to be this whole if I had not been this broken.

To the Robins who feel lost, who long again and again to go home, I say this: Home is inside you. It is as close as your breath. Home is the presence you bring with you to any given moment, the attention you give to the elements that make up your life. You will find your way home again. And again. And ever always again.

To the Robins who strive for safety through some very creative means, I say this: I see you wanting to structure your world in such a way that you make it predictable, and controllable, and solid. But hear me when I say this: You will wake up one night in your car in the middle of the Olympic National Forest with a black bear trying to get inside, and you will know deep down what safety is. None of the mental structures you create can give you the sense of security in the world that you can get from standing firm in your truest wholeness, and in the knowledge of how inordinately fragile a thing life is, and how out of reach it is to control.

To the Robin who is afraid of germs (and I mean, seriously afraid of them), I say this: You’re going to wake up one day not having properly washed your hands in a while. You will be filthy. You will swim in bodies of water that may contain giardia, and you will poop in holes you dig in the woods, and you will laugh at the reality that a germaphobe grew up to be a healthcare provider with a job in a hospital, and you will delight in the irony that is your life.

To the Robin who is afraid to be whole because claiming their authentic self in the world has some degree of unpredictable loss inherent in that process of selfhood, I say this: Be wholly you anyway. Yes, you will lose people you love who cannot create space for you to be you. You will lose dear friends and family members and casual social relationships, and your vulnerable authenticity will make people uncomfortable. Be you anyway. Be the most Robin-ful Robin you can be. Nobody else can do that for you, kiddo. Nobody else can go on this journey to the places that scare you (both inside of yourself and out into the world) and come back with 2200+ photos and 200+ heart-shaped stones and dozens of stories of encounters with nature that took your breath away. You are it, love. You have it in you to go on this journey and to do this big thing, and I believe in you.

You are coming home to yourself love, loves. Every last one of you is a part of me, and I am so beyond grateful that each of you existed, and engaged with whatever your challenge or struggle in all the ways you did, and that you did everything you could to survive and to become the Robin I am now. You each had a part in helping me create this life that I can honestly say that I love living. And I give you my word that I will do my best to honor the work you have done by bearing witness to the stories you have lived.

So that’s where I end, and where I also begin: In the storytelling. I went out into the wilderness in search of myself, in search of the inspiration I needed to start writing again, and I found it in measures that astounded me.

I found it in the moonrise over the Hoh River:


I found it in Lake Crescent:


I found it at Sol Duc Falls:


I found it in the Hall of Mosses at the Hoh Rainforest:




I found it at Kalaloch:





I found it at Rialto Beach:


I found it at Ruby Beach:



I found it in the presence of the world’s largest western red cedar, near which I had unwittingly camped the night before:


And I found it in the pages of my journal, and in the pages of my history:


The Soft Animal of Your Body

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

–Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”

I drove to work this morning lost in the drizzle and fog that has settled over Seattle as fall creeps on towards winter, and lost in my thoughts, and in the transitions my life has offered me recently. The overcast sky broke open just for a moment to reveal pink-tinged clouds and a huge V of birds heading south towards warmer weather. I thought of the quote I had read the night before:

When your world moves too fast

and you lose yourself in the chaos,

introduce yourself

to each color of the sunset.

Reacquaint yourself with the earth

beneath your feet.

Thank the air that surrounds you

with every breath you take.

Find yourself in the appreciation of life.

–Christy Ann Martine

As the tears slipped down my cheeks, and the rain fell on my windshield, I saw the sky open further to reveal thousands upon thousands of birds in formation. Mary Oliver’s words then crept into my mind. “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination,” she reminded me. “The wild geese…are heading home again.”

“Let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

That is precisely what I have not been doing. I have been denying myself permission to listen to my body and respond to its requests. I have been minimizing the importance of self-care. Vegan marshmallows can only stuff down feelings for so long…

My relationship with my partner recently ended. I have had a lot of changes at work in the past few months. I’m still integrating my experience in Haiti. And I’m having continual health challenges. I am realizing that I am re-entering a period of transition in my life, which I seem to have the opportunity to experience with some degree of regularity. My resistance to where my life wants to take me (and thus, my lack of writing about it) has been more intense this time around. But then the sky and the geese and the rain broke me open, and now I’m here.

I’m here, not being good. Not crawling through the desert repenting. Just settling into the softness of my animal body, melting into my breath, reacquainting myself with the colors that the sun paints across the sky. Watching the wild geese head home. Realizing that I am finding my way home, too. As they made their way south and our paths crossed this morning, I remember standing still, captivated by their cries in unison. “Announcing your place in the family of things,” Mary Oliver asserts.

I, as much as anyone, as much as any of those birds in the sky or the cats in my bed or the patients on my clinic schedule, have a place here. I may not feel exactly what it is just now with any certainty, but there is a home for me.

Today was a good day. I got to see a handful of pregnant people in clinic in the morning before attending a miscarriage management workshop (complete with demonstrating manual vacuum aspiration on papayas!) in the afternoon and going to a Halloween party dressed as the notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the evening. Just another day in my life!

I’m grateful for all of it, the whole beautiful challenging mess of my life. It is gorgeous, and exhausting, and fierce, and sad, and hard, and intense, and mine. All mine.

That Long Journey

“And you?

When will you begin

That long journey

Into yourself?”


I am aware of the silence that has permeated my blog lately. I have been very mindfully (sometimes) sitting with the intensity of the words I can’t find to describe where exactly I am.

I know my posts in Haiti ended abruptly. So did our trip there. I got sick (likely with dengue fever), and we had to come home a few days early. That is the short story, the one I can put words on.

What I have been having trouble describing is the day and night I spent as a patient in a Haitian hospital while I waited for transportation back to the States. I was pretty sick, and feeling pretty darn awful, and pretty good and dehydrated. I had no idea whether to expect to get better or suddenly worse (dengue can go either way), and I knew that if I got worse, I was in a place where there was no medical care that could help stabilize me to the level that I might require. To say I was nervous is an understatement.

I watched two people die in front of me in the hospital ward I was in that night, and listened to the agonal breathing of a third all night long. I watched no one rushing to save them. I watched a soon-to-be-widow swat flies away from her dying husband and bring the sheet further and further up towards his face, ready to cover him once he gave his last gasping breath. I heard the keening of a family member at the bedside of another patient who died during the night. I sat up from my restless attempts at sleep dozens of times when there were gaps in the gasping sounds, wondering if this poor man’s suffering was finally over. I watched exhausted family members hold buckets for their sick loved ones to vomit or poop or pee into, right in the middle of everyone, without any privacy.

I laid there on my bed which was covered by a sheet someone scrounged up, without a pillow (as I hadn’t known I was supposed to bring my own pillow and linens), sweating in the heat even at midnight, swatting away flies and those damned mosquitoes that got me into this predicament in the first place. The front door to the hospital (and the “intensive care unit” I was in, as it was the only inpatient unit at the hospital) was kept open all night due to the immense heat, and at one point I saw the rain pouring down, which provided a small amount of relief from the heat.

There was a bucket under my bed, but I refused to use it. I was so dehydrated, I barely had to pee after the liter of fluid they gave me before my poorly-placed IV fell out, and I chose instead to use the filthy bathroom where family members dumped out the contents of the buckets.

That night that I was alone in that bed, trying to advocate for my well-being in French and Creole–that night changed me. Watching people die while I was trying very hard to stay alive changed me. Seeing how hard it is to be a patient in a foreign healthcare system that you do not understand changed me.

I had a moment there, when I was alone in a sea of other sick people, when I remember having a choice. I wanted desperately to allow myself to go into full-blown panic mode, but I felt like I had to hold it all together. So I stayed with my breaths, one at a time, purposely slowing down my inhalations, as the phrase, “I want to go home,” settled in my mind.

I want to go home.

I didn’t just want to be in my own bed, in proximity to my own healthcare system, not surrounded by dying people, and speaking a language I could better understand, though all of those things were certainly true.

I wanted to come home to myself. I wanted to feel like I belonged in my body again.

I made a choice on that hospital bed to feel everything. I decided that I had the courage to climb into my own skin and find myself at home there. “If I can feel at home here,” I remember thinking as I looked around the crowded ward, “I can be at home anywhere.”

And, for fleeting moments in between waves of panic, I felt myself fully alive in the present moment, in my body, in the space I was inhabiting. I felt the raging headache and the brutal bone and muscle aches and the gripping pain in my belly. I felt the flies settling on my sweaty skin. I felt the shifting sheet barely covering the plastic-covered gurney beneath me. I heard the sounds of caregivers soothing sick family members in Creole. I watched people leave their bodies forever, and I realized how desperately I want to be alive in mine for the time I have left in it.

That night moved me more than the rest of the trip combined, though I have other stories of midwifery care to tell at some point, and I will tell them as I wade through the layers of what that trip meant to me. Being a patient changed me more than being a healthcare provider.

Last December, I chose the word “home” to meditate on for 2015. I thought I had a pretty good idea in mind of what home would mean to me and where that process would take me. I am discovering that I might not have left enough room for my life to surprise me, as it is wont to do.

A good friend reminded me last night that my whole experience with my fistula earlier this year asked of me, “Let this open you.” And indeed it did. And, once opened, and shaken, and with eyes wide open to how harsh and fragile and gorgeous life can be, I am finding myself with a renewed sense of urgency to really live the hell out of my days, to strive for more balance in my life, to take better care of myself (noting that the majority of my energy goes towards taking care of others), and to really explore what my soul is calling me to do.

I feel like that has the potential to disrupt my status quo, which is unnerving to me. But transition is rarely easy.

Home is calling me. That long journey into myself continues.

And you…when will you begin?

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,


Enough (A Year in Review)

It is hard for me to believe, but I have finished (survived!) my first year of practice as a nurse-midwife. In school, everyone told me that the first year is intense, and I expected that, but I had no idea just how much I would learn and grow and more fully become the midwife that I am.

I have caught 80+ babies born vaginally in the past 12 months, and assisted on 40+ c-sections (some scheduled, some urgent, some emergent), and managed dozens of other labors, and seen goodness-knows-how many patients in triage (for everything from UTI and pyelonephritis, to appendicitis/abdominal pain/gallstones/nausea/vomiting/dehydration, to pre-eclampsia, to threatened preterm labor and actual preterm labor, to vaginal bleeding in pregnancy [from abruption or previa or having had sex the night before], to possible ruptured membranes, to vaginal discharge [pick your favorite reason for it, and I’ve seen it in triage!]).

I’ve had 1500+ individual patient encounters in the past year. Each time, that involves me reading through a patient’s chart, coming up with an idea what’s going on, making a plan in my head of what I might do, knocking on the door to the clinic room the patient is in, introducing myself (if we don’t already know each other) and my role as a midwife, asking about their health and any concerns they have, going through their medical history, allergies, current problems, medications, smoking status, sexual history, screening for warning signs, performing a physical exam, prescribing medications, discussing the plan with the patient, washing my hands, and going back to my desk to chart on everything I just did. Often I do all of this in 15-30 minutes or less, 15-25+ times per day. Holy moly, is that exhausting!

I have all of these incredible stories that I have collected inside my head over the past year. An aggregate of the specific issues I managed or helped to manage does not begin to delve into the full intensity of connecting with each individual and their loved ones during each of these events, but sometimes it is the best I can do here on my blog when I am so done after telling a patient’s story in their chart that I don’t have the creative energy left over to extract its essence in a form in which I can share it publicly without compromising my patient’s privacy.

Also, it’s been quite a year for me personally. I moved to a new city for a job, not terribly far away from my friends in Seattle but far enough that commuting back after work just never happened. I started that job, and fell in love with my work. I met an amazing person who became my partner, and we just recently moved in together, in an epic process of combining all of our stuff and our excessive quantity of animals into a single living space. Which necessitated another move, back to Seattle. Less than a month in our new home, and we had a break-in, in which a lot was stolen and my sense of safety was shaken. I developed a fistula and had surgery for it, and I was in the most pain I’ve ever felt in my life (which is saying something!). I am working on healing from that, still, and am reconnecting with myself and my body in very profound and important ways.

As a midwife, in the past year, I have gotten a rich variety of exposure to almost every condition I could imagine. (I say that now, and just watch–next week, something entirely new will show up on my schedule!) I have had the immense privilege of being present with people during incredible transition periods in their lives, as well as caring for them during the normal times.

I have sat with dozens of women as they labored to bring their babies into the world. I’ve held their hands, wiped their brows, held their puke bags, supported their perineums, welcomed their babies, delivered their placentas, sutured their lacerations, congratulated their families, and went to bed a tired and happy midwife.

I have slow-danced through contractions with tired mamas eager to meet their little ones, their babies in utero kicking me as we swayed.

I have caught babies coming at me from all sort of pushing positions: squatting, supine, side-lying, and hands and knees.

I’ve supported the use of hydrotherapy, birth balls, peanut balls, and birth stools in a hospital system, not to mention skin-to-skin, intermittent fetal monitoring, and early initiation of breastfeeding.

I have assisted surgeons in dozens of cesarean births and a few other surgical cases. I feel it is my job to make the OR feel a little less cold, more comforting. These hands of mine have touched skin, subcutaneous tissue, fascia, muscle, peritoneum, and organs. I have suctioned blood to keep the surgical field clear. My strength, from the outside, has pushed these babies out of their mothers’ bodies. I have gripped their now-empty uteruses, massaging them firm to minimize blood loss, then holding them in their outside-the-body position so they can be sutured closed. I have helped suture and staple bodies shut after surgery. I have assisted in tying Fallopian tubes when the time for baby-having is over. My feet feel grounded in the OR, and I consciously breathe in the antiseptic air, grateful that I can play this role, though surgery is not at all why I went into midwifery. (I really like the low risk, normal patients!)

I have seen hundreds of people in clinic for routine annual exams, and I feel the weight of holding their health in my hands. I have assessed their health risks, asked about their sexual well-being, screened for domestic violence, examined their breasts for masses, Papped their cervixes, and palpated their pelvic organs. I listened to their fears about their health and helped promote their well-being in as holistic a way as I can, recognizing that wellness neither begins nor ends exclusively in the body but involves the entire person (mind/body/spirit) embedded in their sociocultural framework. Individual wellness cannot be separated from social justice.

I have performed hundreds of vaginal exams, and I have gotten consent every.single.time. No exceptions.

Three sets of twins gave me the honor of helping to welcome them.

I caught two babies born in the caul. Lucky little kiddos, those ones.

Fetal heart tones in the twenties is without a doubt one of the worst sounds I can recall.

I have seen what happens to fetal heart tones when the placenta halfway detaches from the uterine wall during labor and blood flow to the baby drops drastically. Can I just say…YUCK!

Numerous women with scars on their uteruses victoriously pushed their babies out into my hands.

I know what a true crash c-section looks like, and what it means when every second counts. I have shed happy tears when a baby we were very worried about came out screaming and peed all over me.

I have witnessed a severely hypertensive woman’s mental status change just before she began seizing from eclampsia, and I rushed to help the team save her life and that of her baby.

I have seen many women before, during, and after their miscarriages. I have held a tiny pregnancy sac in my hands, and have gently extracted retained placental tissue that was causing bleeding after an incomplete miscarriage. I have sat with devastated clients who lost much-desired pregnancies, as well as with confused or relieved clients, or people feeling many things at once. Loss is complex, and heart-wrenching, and it evolves on its own timeline. Early pregnancy loss is very common, and despite the fact that I know my clients will very likely be able to have a healthy pregnancy in the future, I can sit with them in the intensity of losing this unique and irreplaceable pregnancy and hold space around that with them. And I do, usually at least once or twice per week.

I’ve worked with folks who wanted to be pregnant and were not. I’ve worked with folks who were pregnant and did not want to be. I worked with folks who were not pregnant and wanted to stay that way. And I worked with folks who were pregnant and were delighted about it. My job was to support all of them, and provide them the highest quality reproductive health care possible, regardless of which category they fell into. I’ve helped folks prevent pregnancy as well as plan for it as well as navigate the ins and outs of it once they had a positive test. And I feel honored every time.

I have seen placentas do all kinds of normal and funky things, from velamentous insertions to true knots in umbilical cords, to retained placentas requiring surgery or manual removal, to bits of membrane left behind causing too much bleeding, to cords avulsing (snapping off). I have a profound respect for this phenomenal creature, the only organ in our bodies that was intended to be truly temporary!

I’ve felt the presence of my midwife grandmother standing in the corner when a baby came out with terrible APGAR scores and I found myself running my first neonatal code blue.

I have inserted dozens of long-acting reversible contraceptives for people who want a highly-effective form of birth control for now and still to reserve the option of future fertility. The flip side of that is that I have counseled numerous women on contraception and have had quite a few come in to me for prenatal care a few months after I gave them birth control pills, but none of my patients (so far) have gotten pregnant with IUDs or Nexplanon. I am passionate about educating everyone that comes to me about effective contraception!

A young woman came in laboring only to discover that her baby was no longer alive. She still had to do the arduous work of giving birth, compounded by the enormity of grief. She pushed her stillborn baby into my hands, hands which had never touched a dead body until that moment. I came to visit her the next morning and she asked me to hold her baby, who had been in the room with her all night. I cradled the infant in my arms, marveling at the tremendous beauty of this child and at the utter wrongness of babies and death coexisting.

I have worked with numerous sexual abuse survivors in the clinic and in labor, and I do my best to ground myself first (knowing that with my own rather extensive sexual trauma history, I could get triggered and need to focus on good self-care) and then to be as aware of the special needs of this population as I can. I am able to show up and hold space for someone who comes to me in clinic for STI testing shortly after an assault, or to help give control back to someone in labor who feels out of control of her body. I feel very proud of this work that I do.

I have helped folks in abusive domestic relationships find resources to help them with whichever stage of the process they are at, whether they need a safe place to stay immediately, or a listening ear to talk about previous abuse.

I have learned that cancer is a hard thing to tell someone that they have. It doesn’t matter whether it is in their breast, their cervix, their uterus, their ovaries, or their vulva–saying, “The tests came back positive for cancer” never gets easier.

I have seen what an entire blood volume looks like on the outside of someone’s body. I would like to never see that again, but I know that my career will (hopefully!) span another few decades, and any number of things can happen in this time. Including postpartum hemorrhages.

I have seen almost every STI that exists, most within my first month of practice. I have encountered people with syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia (so much chlamydia!), herpes, trichomonas (so squirmy under the microscope!), hepatitis B and C, HIV, HPV, scabies, and molluscum contagiosum. I have treated pelvic inflammatory disease, cervicitis, vulvar abscesses, and more.

Oh, and BV and yeast–pretty much every day.

I have watched a strong young woman push out a gorgeous baby into my hands and then placed in the hands of the adoptive mother, who had dreamed of this moment for years. I have cried with both of them and sat in the midst of such intensity.

I have had to step aside from work for weeks, focusing my attention on my own body and my own healing. I have endured the most excruciating pain I have ever known, and have marveled at my body and its ability to heal. I have had to put on hospital gowns and identification bracelets and be a patient in my own hospital system. I’ve been wheeled down the hall into an operating room and given permission to someone else to cut me open so that I could work on putting myself back together. Healing is still a work in progress, always in progress, with ups and downs, but I am so grateful to be precisely where I am.

I am coming to understand in a deeper way that I need to clearly define where I end and where my patients begin. I am so empathetic that I can too easily take on someone else’s experience, especially when it resonates with mine, but this is exhausting for me. I am learning how to draw invisible lines around myself and say, “This is my body. This is her body. This experience is happening to her and not to me,” and this saves me a tremendous amount of emotional and physical energy.

These hands of mine routinely are the first contact a new person makes with the outside world. I have the privilege of, in the words of my friend Simon (who wrote an amazing poem on his becoming a midwife), “touching people inside people and calling them out.”

I have been a little hard on myself for not blogging more often like I did when I was in school. Then, last week, during a call with my amazing life coach, I had a moment of realizing that maybe being exactly where I am is just fine. Maybe just going to work, doing a great job caring for my patients, and coming home to my partner is enough. Maybe I don’t have to have extra creative energy right now. Maybe it is okay for it to feel different as a provider than it did as a student. Maybe I can be flexible and compassionate with myself in this time of transition, just as I was before I became a midwife. Maybe all that I’ve done over the past year, collecting these stories in my mind and body (if not very often on my blog), is sufficient for now. Maybe I am enough, exactly as I am now.

Wild and Precious

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

–Mary Oliver, from “A Summer Day”

This poem sums up nearly perfectly how I spent my post-call day today. My mood was melancholy, and I was far too much in my head and not enough in my body, so I set out to wander through my favorite nature preserve nearby. I had my “Healing” playlist on my iPod playing (of course I did), and the songs and their lyrics spoke to me as I made my way through the gorgeous fall colors of the trees on my walk from my apartment to the wetlands. I soaked up the beauty all around me and paid attention to the crisp air entering my lungs, filling me with oxygen.

The Curse Stops Here” by The Whitlams came on my iPod. A song written by the final member (“the last one”) of the original band after his two band-mates committed suicide, it speaks to me of both the excessive precaution I see myself expressing with regards to things that remind me of life’s fragility (“stay away from edges”), as well as a commitment to “being the last one” and breaking destructive patterns, be they generational or societal.

“My first days back and I was rolling round the town / Saying stay away from edges and from ropes if you can… / ‘Cause I am the last one / And the curse stops here, the curse stops here”

I got to the wetlands and walked one trail first, going off towards the lake before heading back and going deeper into the forest. At the start of this trail, I found an apple tree that had left a delicious, nearly-perfect bright red apple in a patch of wet green grass, and I scooped it up to bring home with me for later.


I made my way towards a small grove of redwoods at the end of the trail. After saying hello to a gorgeous banana slug and having a moment where it felt like it was trying to communicate with me via its eyestalks and little feelers in the front (it was so compelling, I took a video!), I hid myself under one of the redwoods and buried my hand deep in the rich humus. Bringing a handful of soil up to my nose, I breathed in deeply the earthy scent and smiled.

Defying Gravity” from the Wicked soundtrack came on next. “Something has changed within me / Something is not the same / I’m through with playing by the rules / Of someone else’s game / Too late for second-guessing / Too late to go back to sleep / It’s time to trust my instincts / Close my eyes and leap! / …Kiss me goodbye/ I’m defying gravity / And you can’t pull me down”

I definitely feel this in my own world right now. I am so “through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game.” This is MY one wild and precious life. I have been doing everything “right,” following the rules to a T, making good life choices, and getting my shit together. Now I’ve done all that, and it still feels like there is more I am not doing. And likely a lot of it falls under the category of not doing everything right all the time! I am working on giving myself permission to make mistakes and to learn from them instead of believing that I have to be perfect and know everything all the time.

Ani DiFranco’s “Garden of Simple” came on while I wandered through the dew-damp grass. She describes a dream she had: “we were standing in a garden / and I had a machine that made silence / it just sucked up the whole opinionated din / and there were no people on the payroll / and there were no monkeys on our backs / and I said, baby, show me what you look like / without skin / …but in the garden of simple / where all of us are nameless / you were never anything but beautiful to me / and, you know, they never really owned you / you just carried them around  / and then one day you put ’em down / and found your hands were free”

I think I am in a place of putting down things that no longer serve me and finding my hands free to do with them whatever I choose next. I cannot hold everything all at once. When I cling so tightly to things it is time to release, I am unable to gather what it is now time to hold and explore and find delight in doing. So here I am.

After nearly slipping and falling in some slick mud, I headed towards the woods.

Partway down the boardwalk through the forest, I stopped. The light shining through the trees was so gorgeous that it caused my breath to catch in my throat. I felt a little like Moses standing in front of a burning bush, and I decided to take off my shoes and walk the rest of the way barefoot. I wanted my naked feet to taste the forest floor, to soak in the complex fragrances of decaying leaves and damp earth (our skin has scent receptors embedded in it!).

I walked, feeling the cold boards and slick leaves. I nearly stepped on another slug (barefoot! Ick!). I traipsed through spider webs and felt the cool sprinkle of rain on my nose. I watched a little squirrel find some tasty morsels to nibble on.

Dar Williams’ “After All” was up next. “Go ahead push your luck / Find out how much love the world can hold / Once upon a time I had control and reined my soul in tight / … Well the sun rose / With so many colors it nearly broke my heart / It worked me over like a work of art / And I was a part of all that / So go ahead push your luck / Say what it is you gotta say to me / We will push on into that mystery / And it will push right back / And there are worse things than that / ’cause for every price and every penance that I could think of / It’s better to have fallen in love / Than never to have fallen at all / ’cause when you live in a world / Well it gets in to who you thought you’d be / And now I laugh at how the world changed me / I think life chose me / After all”

I think I am pushing my luck here. I believe that the world is capable of holding a hell of a lot more love than people show most of the time. Sunrises, like the one from this morning that I saw going off call, do nearly break my heart, and I am finding myself feeling more and more like I am a part of this everything. More than that, even, is the realization that I had on this walk that not only am I a part of the whole, but the Everything is also a part of me. I do feel that life chose me after all. My life is wonderful in all its imperfect glory.

I made it to the end of the boardwalk and hopped off, feeling the damp forest floor caressing my feet. I walked up the trail a ways, watching two chipmunks chasing each other around a tree trunk.

I admired my favorite meditation spot, a gorgeous fallen log where fancy species of fungus grow.

I found a secluded spot in the woods under a tree and lay down. I felt the body of the earth supporting the full weight of my body. I paid attention to the charge of energy entering and exiting my lungs with every breath. I claimed all of me. This whole body is mine. This whole life, all of my past experiences, everything I am and have been and done, I chose to own it and live radically into it.

Starting here, in my resting spot near a fallen redwood tree. The elements that composed is beautiful bark were in the process of being reclaimed by the forest. I thought of this strong tree that is my body, and of how I am firmly rooted in the earth for now. I wondered when my time would come to fall down, and with how much grace would I release the parts that make up me and give them back to the earth than loaned them to me for a person-suit to walk around in for a short while.

“You don’t have to be good,” Mary Oliver said. “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

The soft chipmunks loved chasing each other around the tree trunk. The soft slug loved scooting its slimy way through the grass. The soft spiders, bless their spidery little hearts, love making nearly invisible webs between branches that stick to my skin and give me the shivers. The soft birds love to chirp happily in the treetops.

The soft Robin loves to sit in the forest and be renewed. She loves to feel the weight of her body held so securely in the body of the earth. She loves feeling like there is a place for her here.

Dare You to Move” by Switchfoot came on as I was making my way back home, shoes on, heart full.

“The tension is here / Between who you are and who you could be / Between how it is and how it should be / … Maybe redemption has stories to tell / Maybe forgiveness is right where you fell / Where can you run to escape from yourself? / Where you gonna go? / Salvation is here”

I am right here in the middle of the tension between who I am and who I could be. I am becoming myself. I am living my way into my own wild and precious life. This is it, right here. I only ever always have this moment to live in.

Walking out of the nature preserve, I saw a single leaf on the sidewalk. It was brilliant, mostly green with a slight reddish-yellow hue on one corner. I saw the leaf there, and thought of how “everything dies at last / and too soon.” This leaf fell before it was fully red. I felt a twang of sadness rise in my belly for those I’ve lost before it seemed to be their time, and at the idea that I don’t know how much time I have left. None of us ever does. That leaf likely didn’t wake up that morning knowing it was about to die, but neither (I imagine) did it fight against the wind that detached it from its branch and carried it gently to the ground.

I came home, admiring a beautiful bird’s nest on the way, and was struck by the beauty of the view from my apartment comparing sunrise today with sunset. Mt. Rainier is gorgeous.

I washed up the apple I had gotten and paid attention as I ate it as if I had never tasted an apple before. This one was sweet-tart with a slightly mealy texture, and it was delicious despite the tiny worm-hole I had to cut out! I had this moment of feeling in awe of how that apple tree took the resources it had available to it (earth, air, fire from the sun, and water from the rain) and made food that I could then take into my body to feed my own pursuits in the world. My question for myself became, “What will I do with the resources I have available to me? What will these elements, combined with my spirit, leave to the world?”

I was just reflecting on that when I got a text from my co-midwife asking if they could borrow my cervix to teach one of the new grad labor nurses how to do speculum exams. Now, I love teaching skills to new providers (I recently had the pleasure of mentoring six new ARNP students in performing their first pelvic exams on a model in the same lab where I was a new midwifery student a few years ago! The model even called me “magical” at doing pelvics, which is about the best compliment I could get), and I am a nice person, so I got up at 9 pm on a Sunday to go into the hospital so the new nurse could practice her skills on me, guided by the other midwife. Some of the staff was worried I might be uncomfortable, but almost all of my class of midwives and about half of the class from the year after me has seen my cervix! After she pretended to triage me for ruptured membranes, she did her first speculum exam and said, “Wow!” when she saw my cervix for the first time. I seriously love that look, love teaching people about parts of anatomy that are not always covered in school. The human body is an amazing organism, and I enjoy sharing my delight in it with others. I taught her how to do a bimanual exam and let her palpate my almond-sized ovaries and feel my retroverted uterus, and several other nurses were interested in learning this as well, so we made it a party. After that, I let her start IVs on me to gain confidence in that skill.

This is my one wild and precious life, and I love the hell out of it. I intend to spend the rest of it, however long or short it is, making magical memories like I did today.

And you, dear reader, tell me what it is you intend to do with YOUR one wild and precious life?


“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)