Tend

It is the last day of what has been a very long year. 2017 has ushered more changes into my life than most years have, and it feels like a paradox to me that I have written less this year than in any other year of my adult life. Or rather, I have put fewer words to paper. Most of the writing has been done on my flesh. Sometimes it is hard to be gentle with myself when words don’t come. As someone who has been writing their whole life, to have a year filled with such profound transitions and not to be writing about it feels unusual.

But just because I haven’t been writing doesn’t mean I haven’t been paying attention. Last year, I wrote out this quote and taped it to the ceiling above my bed, so it was the first thing I read every morning and the last thing I saw before closing my eyes at the end of another day:

“remember,
you were a writer
before
you ever
put
pen to paper.
just because you were not writing
externally.
does not mean you were not writing
internally.”
― Nayyirah Waheed

I’ve spent this year writing myself home. Sometimes I am speechless at the ordinariness of the beauty that is right before me, when I am truly here to witness it. I think again of Mary Oliver’s exhortation to “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it,” and I feel like I’ve been living in the first two of these, and am slowly finding my way back into the third.

My word for this year has been “belonging,” and I have spent the past 12 months unpacking what it means to belong deeply to myself, to come alive in my own skin, to be a part of an interconnected web of people–my community, my chosen family, the people I deeply love and who love me in return–and to belong to the world.

I have chosen a new word to explore in 2018, or rather, it chose me somewhere back in October: tend. This one I anticipate will take me in many different directions, as I examine the different words that this root can become. It is a verb all on its own, and that itself can go in different directions: tending to do something, for example, as well as caring for and giving attention to. From the Latin tendere, meaning “to stretch,” come words like attend, tension, and intent. It also makes me think of tenderness. I’m so curious to see where this word (in all its many forms) will lead me.

I just looked back at what I believe is my very first word-of-the-year post, and I was delighted that I both picked the same poem to reflect on, and that as in years past, my word for this year was already present in what was alive for me and what I was writing about then. I also just reread my post from one year ago, and saw how deeply I lived my way into all of the questions I held as I approached 2017. I appreciated anew the freedom I gave myself to just exist:

You have permission never to leave behind a written account of your existence. If your life full of fabulous stories ends up as nothing more than a multicolor mandala crafted from millions of grains of sand, sprinkled onto this beloved earth for just one lifetime’s worth of moments before being gathered up in a brilliantly wasteful display of impermanence, all is still well. You do not exist to produce evidence of your presence here. Just be present here.

 I am in tears, just a few hours before the year ends, re-reading the words I wrote to myself on January 1st. In the end of that letter to myself, I wrote (and notice how my word for this coming year is embedded in the first line):

Dearest Rob from 2016: thank you for the intention you put into becoming the storyteller, the author of all that you are writing into being in the world. Thank you for becoming more and more yourself, for becoming me.

And, to the person I am becoming over the next year who will write to me on the cusp of 2018 with a new word to explore: I am excited to see how this year turns me into you, how I belong to you and you belong to me and we both belong in the grand scheme of this extravagant life that each moment is contributing towards.

I stand up from kneeling, my hand full of sand gifted to me by the ocean. I will take these tiny grains of time and use them to draw a temporary masterpiece on the canvas of my body. I will not grieve as the waves wash them away, because I know that I am a part of all of it, and it is a part of all of me. That is what belonging means to me now. I will see what it means to me in 365 days.

Last weekend, I went back to the coast, and I walked along the beach, and I let tears cascade in rivulets down my cheeks as I watched a small river pour its heart into the ocean, and watched the waves claim the flowing water as its own. I stood in rapt attention, meditating, seeing if I could discern at what point the drops of water that comprise the river became waves, became ocean, and when they were still river. I felt the water in me pulling me to the ocean as well–which is how I ended up nearly freezing my ass off camping on the beach in December!–and as my salty tears ran towards the sea, I realized that this is precisely what belonging means to me. The ocean, remembering itself in each drop. The river, running steadily on its way, knowing it was never not ocean, even when it was snow at the peak of the mountains in whose shadows I stood. The water in me, remembering itself in the waves, and knowing that the waves I danced with remembered me, too, and missed me when I was away.

I knelt again, Rumi’s words in mind, and kissed the icy ground, bits of sand and salt clinging to my lips. And as I stood, I saw a wave tugging at a heart-shaped stone, a gift from the ocean to my own heart, a reminder of the magic that asks for my attention and my intention, over and over and over again.

Sometimes I feel isolated, and forget that I am made of vast ocean, and ancient stardust, and fiery sunshine, and gentle breezes. The atoms that compose what I know as myself were born in the hearts of dying stars, and they have been other things, and they will again be other things as soon as they are done being me. Sometimes I forget that I belong here because I am made of all of this, and I am here to be all of this, simply to be it, with nothing needed to prove my worthiness. With all of the chaos going on in the world, it is easy to lose sight of this belonging, and when I do I have found that if I take myself to a place with stones, they will offer me their hearts and remind me of my magic. All I have to offer is my attention, my presence, which I suppose is the magic itself: just being here now.

As I stand here on the cusp of a new year, I want to write to the person I was at the beginning, to the person who was writing to me and imagining me here, and I want to imagine myself here again next year, writing back to me about all of the things this coming year will have held for me.

Dear Rob (from a year ago),

Thank you for diving into the adventures that belonging has taken you on. You can’t possibly have known it from where you are, but in saying yes to this word you are opening your heart to the possibility of letting yourself come alive in your body and in your relationships and in your community and in your world.

52 weeks ago, you wrote me a letter, stating that you were excited to see how this year turns you into me. 41 weeks ago, you crossed another threshold in transition, and made a conscious choice to craft your body into a place you can be alive in. Weekly since then, you have turned hormone injections into rituals, and have found yourself sitting on old-growth nurse logs, or in caves formed by tree roots, or at the tops of mountains, or in your call room, or in a pile of gorgeous fall leaves; each poke of the needle an offering to the healing of the wound, of the wounds, of the greater Wound. You’ve been witnessed by a roomful of your dearest queerest friends, by a line of marching ants, by a curious chipmunk, by a swarm of bees, by a flight of noisy cormorants. The world is present and compelled by your intention to be your most alive, tender, queer self.

You will fall in love this year. I could tell you more about that, but I want you to do the discovering yourself. But know this: in just a few weeks, you will meet a person who will change your world. Pay attention. They’re amazing. Let yourself love them as fiercely as your heart desires. They will become family to you. You will be lighthouse keepers for each other, mirrors for each other’s souls. You will learn each other’s names and call each other home. I am excited to see what else you will call home.

You will have a longtime friendship return, and deepen, and open your heart in ways that it needs to be opened. Don’t run away this time. Stay here, in it, and breathe, and heal, and do time-traveling magic together to send love and care and healing back to the people you were when you ran away because you didn’t know how to stay. This time you will stay, and your love and compassion and tenderness with each other will soften and expand you. Let that happen. Nurture that. They are also your people.

You will be in your body more in this year than possibly ever before. A couple of years ago, you wrote a poem that included the lines, “to live in this skin / and come alive here.” You will do that this year. You will also balance it out by doing the opposite, by taking the space you need to have downtime where you don’t feel present. Sometimes you won’t feel alive in your skin, won’t want to. Sometimes your body HURTS, and feeling that is hard, and you’ll need to do something else, and that’s exactly what you will do. You will take care of your gorgeous self enough to turn yourself into me here at the end of the year, and I am so grateful for that, for all of those intentional choices to eat, to sleep, to take a shower, to take a walk, to text a friend and tell them you’re in pain, to text a friend and tell them you’re in love, to text a friend and tell them you’re delighted by the magic in your life. You will splash in the ocean and hike by yourself and camp alone and get lost on dark beaches and wonder if you will find your way home. You will see sunsets so stunning that you immediately burst into hot tears because you are so glad to still be alive to see this one, right here.

You will catch babies, and more babies. You will deal with some emergencies that you’ve never handled before, and you will handle them, and babies will come out screaming, and parents will be alive to hug their babies. You will help people who don’t want to be pregnant stay not pregnant. You will hold devoted space for all of the stories that your patients bring through your door and into your heart.

It won’t all be beautiful. You will hold lost babies in your hands and feel your heart crack a little as you send blessings for them on their journey to wherever they are headed, and you will grieve that they couldn’t stay. You will hold their little bodies gently, with reverence, and you will let yourself be fully human and grieve their loss even as you handle the clinical side of what is occurring. And even that will be gorgeous in its awfulness. Death is a part of this work, too; it is one we fight to hold at bay, and sometimes there is nothing we can do about it. Pregnancy is as complex and perfect and flawed as the rest of our body’s processes, and sometimes it breaks in ways we cannot fix. And then you will hold death with the same kindness that you hold life.

You will also have moments of as great of fear as you have ever known in midwifery practice, and you will stay as calm and grounded as possible, as umbilical cords come out before babies, or as blood that should be inside a body cascades out in waterfalls onto the floor, or as shoulders are stuck, or fetal heart tracings are terrifying. You will care for the people who entrust their lives and the lives of their babies into your capable hands. And then you will go home and take care of yourself so you can do it again tomorrow.

You will write a little, here and there, in your journal or on your blog. You will write more on the dynamic canvas of your body. You are a work of art and a skilled artist, love. Keep at it. As Nayyirah Waheed said, “keep speaking the years from their hiding places. keep coughing up smoke from all the deaths you have died. keep the rage tender. because the soft season will come.”

Thank you for all of the work you put into becoming me. You lived your way into answers to questions you asked a decade ago, and you asked new questions you might not ever find answers to. Thank you for your dedication to discovering what it means to belong.

And to you, Rob, who waits a year from now on the precipice of 2019 for me to do the work of becoming yourself, I’m so curious about where “tend” in all its forms will take you, will take me as I become you. I’m curious about the ways your heart will break open this year, and how you will fall ever more deeply in love with your one wild and precious life (to borrow another line from Mary Oliver). I’m curious about the people who have yet to become pregnant whose babies you will have the privilege of welcoming into the world. I’m curious about what face will stare back at me from a blog post in this space a year from now, and what those eyes will have seen and those hands touched. I’m curious how you will tend the fertile soil of your heart and that of your garden, how you will offer your attention to the everyday miracles of your life, how with intention you will create change and healing in your world, how you will sit in the tension of existing in the liminal spaces, how you will “keep the rage tender,” how you will notice tendencies towards living anything less than your truest life and work to shift them.

It’s nearly midnight; time to bring these reflections to a close and take myself to a party where I can ring in the new year with people I love and care about. At midnight, I will blow a kiss across the expanse of the coming year to land on the cheek of the person I will be when I read it as 2019 approaches. And I will keep showing up for the life I am creating and writing my stories on the raw canvas of my skin.

Here’s to a year of tender, attentive tending. Bring it. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.

Live Everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)

A Thousand Ways to Kneel and Kiss the Ground

It is the end of one year and the beginning of another, and with the turning of the year arises in me a sense of reflection about who I was and what I did in 2016, along with curiosity and intention about the coming year. Last year, I explored the idea of home. This year was all about storytelling. I had such big ideas a year ago of how I would chase this word down, how I would let it inspire me to take control of my stories and craft them and attach words to them so they do not just exist in my body. Instead, I found myself opening to the ways that my stories wanted to tell me. I learned that there are nuances to the idea of storytelling, that the narratives in my head that I repeat to myself that can be harmful to me or to my relationships are stories I want to work on un-telling.

Just as home didn’t take me where I thought it might, neither did storytelling. But both brought me more deeply back to myself. And that, ultimately, is why I choose a word: it is an intention, a spell, a way of channeling my focus throughout the year and deepening my exploration of a facet of my being that I want to connect with.

In my grand tradition of writing letters to myself, here’s one from me at the cusp of this year to myself where I stood a year ago.

Hello fierce storyteller,

The way you showed up for your life this year was nothing short of extraordinary. I want you to hear that, to fully receive it, to let it settle deep into your bones. I wish that you, from the beginning of 2016, could see a glimpse of all that you would create and become this year.

You chose storytelling as your word for the year, envisioning that you would spend a lot of time and energy devoted to writing down your long history of amazing stories into a format that could be transmitted to others. You thought you would be writing your book, and instead the level of writer’s block you’ve felt this year has been challenging and unexpected. You have journaled and blogged much less than in previous years, and it has taken significant work for you to be gentle with yourself about that.

But that doesn’t mean you haven’t been storytelling. In January, you started dancing, and that changed your life and your body and the very way you move through the world. If I could give you any single piece of advice about this year, it would be to show up for that first ecstatic dance. Let that container give you permission to move in your skin, to process and release emotions and traumas and stories lodged in your muscles and your fascia and your bones. Let the way you learn to dance be one of the most liberating stories of the year. Don’t ever stop dancing.

Rumi said,

Let the beauty of what you love
Be what you do.
There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
There are a thousand ways to go home again.

These words will come to your mind towards the end of this year, as you find yourself on the Oregon coast at the winter solstice looking for heart-shaped stones. You will be walking along the beach, reflecting on all the work that needs doing and feeling inadequacy about your limitations and not being able to do all of it. You will wonder how your gifts can possibly be enough to do your part of being the healing of the wound when the wound feels so vast and your gifts so comparably small. Then you will see a heart-shaped stone in the sand, and in kneeling to pick it up will notice that the sand itself is made of tiny stones, and as you lean in even closer with a meditative state of focus, you will notice that some of those tiny stones are also heart-shaped. In inexplicable ways, part of your unique magic is expressed through seeing and collecting heart stones; you’ll find and bring home hundreds of them this year. And in that moment on the beach, after pressing your lips to the icy-cold sand, you will understand at the core of your being that whatever ways you are called to show up and offer yourself to the telling of the greater Story are enough. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground, and this is one of yours. You are always going home again.

You have permission never to leave behind a written account of your existence. If your life full of fabulous stories ends up as nothing more than a multicolor mandala crafted from millions of grains of sand, sprinkled onto this beloved earth for just one lifetime’s worth of moments before being gathered up in a brilliantly wasteful display of impermanence, all is still well. You do not exist to produce evidence of your presence here. Just be present here.

Show up so deeply and fiercely for your life that when your flame is ultimately extinguished, you know that you burned as brightly as you could. Put down capitalistic ideals of all that you need to do with your precious time here and let your fragile self be gathered up in the interconnected webs of belonging that hold you fast. Let your heart be open to all that needs healing in this world, yes, but remember that the need is not the call. What the world needs is not the same as what the world needs from you. Be careful not to take on more of the world’s pain than you can metabolize; otherwise you will drown in it and not be able to do your work in this moment.

Dearest love, I know this year of exploring storytelling as your theme has not quite gone as you imagined it might. When you sat down at the end of last year to conjure up your word for 2016, you did not know where it would take you, but you knew you wanted to go there. And in your first blog post about it, prescient human that you are, you even named the word that would claim you for the following year as well:

In the last fifteen minutes of this year, I am committing to my word for 2016. I had a hard time deciding on this one (there were several strong contenders!). I know what this word will ask of me, and I am not quite sure if I have the courage to show up for it. But I want to go to the places it will take me and stuff my pockets with anything worth bringing back.

Storytelling.

That’s my word. That’s my goal. Now that I’ve journeyed back home to my body, I need to explore all of the stories I carry. I need to remember where I came from and who I am and what my life wants from me.

I need to rest my palms on my sturdy trunk and feel that I, too, have roots. I belong in this world, and this world belongs in me.

Looking back even a little further, to your post on home, you predicted the words you would choose for the next two years: “Home is being my whole self and living an authentic life true to who I know myself to be, even if it means that some people will not accept me. Home is writing down my stories so I can share them with the world… Home is finally, finally, feeling like there is a place for me in the world, like I belong here, like I am a part of all that is.”

Storytelling taught you that Nayyirah Waheed was right in her poem when she said:

remember.
you were a writer
before
you ever
put
word to paper.
just because you were not
writing
externally.
does not mean you were
not writing
internally.
–stories

This year also taught you about all of the stories you carry in your body that need un-telling. Again, Nayyirah Waheed said it first: every poem here / is an unwrite / of all that has been / written in me / without permission. You have been diligently unraveling strands of meaning and weaving them into a new whole self, a story you can clothe your body in, a soft bed where you can lay yourself down and rest.

You stood up on a stage in March and told a vulnerable story in front of a sizable crowd. You sat in countless circles and shared your name and your pronouns, which themselves speak volumes about the stories you’ve written with your life. One on one, with new friends and chosen family, you have spoken into being stories of your deep authenticity, weaving in magic that is uniquely your own. Every night, you write a few short lines in a small book designed to hold daily memories for five years’ worth of adventures.

You may not have written the extravagant book of your life that you aspired to compose in January, and that is just fine. You wrote new stories with your life, with your body, with the ways in which you showed up in the world to do your work and be the healing of the wound, of the wounds you carry and the wounds you’ve inflicted and the wounds you see in others and the deepest wounds of the world. Part of your realization this year is that storytelling does not require words.

The way you sit with people in labor and call tiny new humans into the world is a story.

The way you place your hand over someone’s heart and hold their gaze with pure love is a story.

The ridiculous love you have for your cats when they sit on your shoulder and head-butt you is a story.

The intuitive magic you bake into delicious food is a story.

The ways you stitch and weave and design crafty objects (crocheted uteruses, felt vulva ornaments, rainbow queer embroidery) is a story.

Your photographs are each stories.

The way you engage in intentional relationship-building, forming attachments with other people in co-created containers that have space for healing past traumas and fostering wholeness in connection: that is a beautiful story you keep writing every single day.

The way you move your once-frozen body on the dance floor, alone and with others, is a new story every time.

The ways in which you are making your body a place you can come alive are all stories.

The very fact that you still walk in the land of the living is such a precious story.

Your work still matters, even if it isn’t the work you thought it might be. What you are creating is your life. You will continue to write poetry, and blog occasionally, and fill in lines in your journal with who you are becoming. If you never write a book, that is perfectly okay (though I really think you will). Your very life is an epic poem, and it is up to you to keep on writing it into existence.

And now, now it is time to shift your focus to your new word. You saw this coming last year, when you expressed a “need to rest my palms on my sturdy trunk / and feel that I, too, have roots / I belong in this world, / and this world belongs in me.” You couldn’t have known then how much you would need to ground yourself in the world and in your sense of belonging here.

I don’t know what I will tell myself a year from now that I learned about belonging. It feels like an exquisite magic to speak to you in the past and to look forward to the things future me will tell me about what I have not done yet. I am curious if I have mentioned in this writing the word I will choose for 2018, as I’ve done in the past.

I want to know where belonging will take me. I want to know what it means to belong fully to myself, to feel like I belong in my body and in my communities and in my family and in the world. I want to feel like there is a place for me here. I want to explore how I interact with what I believe belongs to me, with my so-called belongings, and mindfully release what I hold onto that no longer serves me. I want to know what it is like to fit in a place or a context or an environment and to truly feel the level of acceptance that belonging suggests to me. I also want to continue to show up in the world and in my body in the ways I’ve been cultivating over the past year (and more).

There is a lot I am genuinely terrified of that might happen over the coming year, both political and personal. I want to hold the complexity of the myriad negative things that are happening in my life and in the world, but not be overshadowed by it. I want to make space for curiosity and wonder and joy and beauty and delight. I want to allow myself to continue to open to all that life is calling out of me and calling me into. I want to see how deeply I am a part of all that is, how the earth and the air and the fire and the water and the spirit are a part of me as much as I am a part of them. I want to explore connection to myself and to others and to feel myself woven into this web of belonging that will sustain me for as long as I exist in this form on this planet at this point in history.

Dearest Rob from 2016: thank you for the intention you put into becoming the storyteller, the author of all that you are writing into being in the world. Thank you for becoming more and more yourself, for becoming me.

And, to the person I am becoming over the next year who will write to me on the cusp of 2018 with a new word to explore: I am excited to see how this year turns me into you, how I belong to you and you belong to me and we both belong in the grand scheme of this extravagant life that each moment is contributing towards.

I stand up from kneeling, my hand full of sand gifted to me by the ocean. I will take these tiny grains of time and use them to draw a temporary masterpiece on the canvas of my body. I will not grieve as the waves wash them away, because I know that I am a part of all of it, and it is a part of all of me. That is what belonging means to me now. I will see what it means to me in 365 days.

So much love,

Me, right now

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:

IMG_6202

I found it in Lake Crescent:

IMG_6330

I found it at Sol Duc Falls:

IMG_4685

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

IMG_6041

IMG_5915

IMG_5904

I found it at Kalaloch:

IMG_5510

IMG_5376

IMG_5370

IMG_5257

I found it at Rialto Beach:

IMG_4960

I found it at Ruby Beach:

IMG_5025

IMG_4992

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

IMG_5038

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

IMG_5302

Invincible

For those of you who have been following my blog for a while (some since I wrote my very first post as I was starting nursing school!), it is not a big secret that I am something of an open book. I was having a conversation with someone recently who was surprised at the level of vulnerability I share in such a public space, and they were curious how I came to the place where I decided I wanted to write this deeply about my life.

I can think of no better answer than Nayyirah Waheed’s beautiful words:

it is being honest
about
my pain
that makes me invincible.

I spent nearly a decade of my life swallowing down pain so deep it threatened to drown me and could have succeeded. I fought hard to claim ownership of the voice that allows me to find the words to speak of the pain and joy that have made up this delicious beautiful mess I call my life. This body and mind I live in has survived an enormous range of experiences, some which should not have been survivable. The very fact that I am still breathing sometimes takes my breath away, and the exquisite poetic irony of this truth teases the corners of my mouth into a smile.

Finding words to attach to the experiences I have had as a member of the human race alive in this body on this planet at this particular juncture of time and space has given me a sense of delicious freedom, as if by writing something into being I am simultaneously creating it and acknowledging my utter lack of control over anything.

I had a moment of piercing clarity in a clinic visit a while back, during which time I was working with a client who was struggling with health concerns that I have had as well. I saw myself in her suffering. I remember the despair, and the longing to be seen. I did not go into detail with her about my story–it was time to focus on her own wellbeing, not to shine the spotlight on me–but something in what I said alluded to the fact that I knew on a very deep level what she was experiencing, and that gave her a measure of relief in itself. She was not alone. I understood and believed her. Isolation gave way to validation, and her pain abated, if only for a moment.

When I was lost in the despair of the closet that trapped me, that I had no idea how I would ever find my way out of, hearing the stories of others who had been there gave me strength to keep going .Through witnessing their bravery, I found my own. What I discovered is that I am made of ferocity beyond my wildest dreams, and that some measure of that courage is borrowed from others who came before me and, in the raw sharing of their stories, pointed me towards my own north star.

It is being honest about her pain that makes Nayyirah Waheed invincible. It is being radically vulnerable with my life story that revealed to me the expansive magnitude of my courage. I know that by owning every aspect of my life, I am risking loss: I have lost dear friends, family members, and social relationships because of it. I am potentially risking my safety (because queer folks still face violence for existing) and my employability (in states I would not choose to live in because my human rights can be legally discarded), among many other things. Because me being me is more than some folks can handle. But me not being me is more than I can bear.

13020190_10101813596031064_1551724506_n

Case in point: my hair is a little more queer this week than last, and there’s a lot less of it. One of my lovely people cut it for me, and I’m rather delighted by it. I had briefly forgotten the vulnerability that comes from instantly being recognizable as being a little too much, too “out there,” until I twice yesterday got called out on why I cut my hair the way I did. I cut my hair because it’s my body and I get to do with it what I damn well please. And because it’s adorable this way. And I really don’t even need to give that much of an explanation, because I don’t exist to make anyone comfortable. If anything, hang out with me for a minute and I’ll be sure to ask you a question that will take you to an edge that makes you wince a little and think a lot. It’s what I do.

I have already given up way too much of my life to fear. I let anxiety about what other people would think of me and what I stood to lose hold me back from all that living from my authentic wholeness would open for me. I played small for too long. I made myself palatable. But I’m not easy to swallow. I am a fireball of healed trauma wrapped in non-conformity with sprinkles of compassion and a heaping side of mindfulness. I am incapable of moderation. I love with abandon because I know how desperately short everything can be and I have no idea how much time I have left to soak up what the world has to offer me and to splash my own magic around liberally. I’m okay if that’s messy, and I hope you are too, because I hope that my wholeness can interact with yours in ways that makes each of us more ourselves.

So I choose in this period of transition to step out of all of the closets that have held me captive, and pry back the lids of every box I have ever tried to conform my queer little self to fit into. I embrace my wholeness as a person whose interlocking identities defy easy categorization, whose gender and sexuality don’t resonate with binaries, and whose heart has longings that don’t always make logical sense but always, always point me towards home. I say yes to loving wholeheartedly, to seeing deeply, to creating glorious messes, to arriving wherever I am in any given moment and finding myself ever only always here now. I am willing to sacrifice the illusion of connectedness with people who are incapable of loving me in my authenticity so that I can see and be seen by those who want to play in the richness that vulnerability has to offer.

At a workshop a couple of weeks ago, I stood in a circle with other folks and spoke my deepest fear and my greatest desire into the center. I learned in doing this that what I fear and what I long for are light and shadow to each other. I am most afraid not of being vulnerable, but that in my vulnerability, folks will see my true self and find me either inadequate or excessive, not enough or too much. I won’t be good enough, and therefore I won’t be lovable. The flip side of that is that my greatest desire is to belong, both to belong deeply to myself as well as finding a home in a community of family, friends, and lovelies who see me in my authenticity and love me precisely in my too-muchness.

I am taking steps towards creating space in my life for my greatest desire to be possible. One of those steps is telling my story, making myself visible, taking up space and giving others permission to do the same. I do this with a fair bit of trepidation, and also with great courage, remembering the words of Albert Schweitzer, who asked for divine help to “fling my life like a flaming firebrand into the gathering darkness of the world.”

This is me. This is what I have to offer the world. This is who I am, in my broken, unapologetic openness. This is my queer body that defies any attempts to categorize it. This is my immoderate heart that loves with abandon. Here are my stories of pain and brokenness and violence and healing and discovering that I am made of exquisite magic that wants to do big things in the world. This is the space I take up. This is me becoming invincible.

If I could send any message back to my closeted self, I would say this:

Robin,

I wish you could see how much you would fall in love with your life, how much love you would give and receive, how free you would feel on the other side of that closet door and with a good decade or so to work through all of the shit that put you in that confined space to begin with. I wish it was possible to give you a glimpse, in just a few words or photographs, of how much you would come alive.

I think of you daily, and am grateful to the point of tears that you didn’t give up. You could have, and I wouldn’t be here doing the work that I love (catching babies that share my birthday!) and loving the people that I love and sleeping snuggled next to the cats that I love and wandering through the forest just to be caught completely off guard by the incredible beauty of the world.

“I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being,” Hafiz said, and this could not be more true of how I feel about you. I wish I could help you see how deeply worthy you are of love. I wish I could reassure you that you will find it, and that it will knock your socks off. I can’t go back in time, but I can share your story moving forward, and I will.

Thank you for holding on. Thank you for putting one foot in front of the other on the days that you wanted to die. Thank you for choosing to do the hard work of healing so that I can do the hard work of being healing in a wounded world. I am fiercely in love with my life now, and if any tiny bit of this message were to make it back in time to where you sit, I wish it would be this: you will come home again. You will discover what your name is, and you will live your way into it. You will never be without family, though it may not look anything like what you expect. I promise you: you’re going home.

In the meantime, keep doing the hard work of being a whole person. I love you more than words can ever say.

Ever,

Robin

The Word Beyond Home

what is the word beyond.
home.
after home.
where is it. this word.
why can i not remember
how to say this
thing. this feeling that is
my whole body.
–nayyirah waheed

This is my first blog post this year. I have sat down many times to write and have found myself in a state where I am too full of stories to tell any one of them.

I am in transition. That is a story in itself. I am in an in-between place, where I am becoming more fully myself but not entirely sure what it is that I am becoming, where I am going, who I am in the world. I know I am a midwife; this part of my identity is solid and lovely to me in its reassurance that I know this much of who I am, at least. The rest of it feels like it is up for grabs.

In my last blog post, I wrote about the word that I chose to represent this year for me. I was anxious about choosing “storytelling” as my word, because I knew that it would ask big things of me and I wasn’t sure if I was ready. I was not wrong about either of those things. “Home,” my word for 2015, took me to some incredible places. This is a new year, a year for storytelling. This, for me, is the word beyond home.

This word, in under two months, has already called me to rise in ways that I cannot fully describe in language (ironic, given the word I chose). Committing to tell my stories this year is a radical, political act as well as an intensely personal one. I am making the intention of owning my whole self, every facet of my being, without shame. This authenticity and vulnerability is game-changing. For me to stand up and say, “This is who I am in the world,” and to be that person, involves a depth of wholeness and integration that is revolutionizing the way I walk through my days and show up in my interactions with other people.

You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done… you are fierce with reality.
–Florida Scott-Maxwell, “The Measure of My Days”

That is what storytelling means to me: claiming the events of my life, making myself mine. Being fierce with reality. And my reality has been fierce with me, to say the least. Those of you that know me in person or have followed my blog for a while know that my life has been full of some not-so-easy stories to tell. As, likely, has yours. I feel compelled to tell my stories, even the seemingly shitty ones, because I have found that my vulnerability bridges a divide that exists when we walk around in the world trying to pretend like we have it all together.

So I sit here not for the first time this year, but for the first time that I have been able to put words together in a form I can share publicly. I am taking Nayyirah Waheed’s advice and writing “the thing you are most afraid to write.” Almost. I’m not quite ready to share that one. Close, but not quite.

But I am ready to sit down with myself and write me a letter. I think of my fifteen-year-old self, closeted and lost in a mire of depression and shame, with unresolved trauma and a sense of never belonging. I think that person that I was needs to hear from the person that I am now.

Dear Robin (the 1999 version of you),

Oh, honey. Just to think of you brings tears to my eyes. I see you trying so very hard to make it, to make a place for yourself. You invented crushes (on boys who grew up to be gay–good gaydar you had!) because all of your friends were dating and you wanted to fit in. You went to church and Bible study and missionary kid youth groups, and you did your best to fit into the molds you were presented as the only possible good way to be. You sat and studied your Bible for hours a day, highlighting verses and taping them up around your room, and tried desperately to pray away parts of yourself that were becoming undeniably true for you. Parts that you knew, if you invited them into the open, would possibly cost you your friendships and family relationships.

I also see you desperately trying to stuff down secrets that wanted to come out of your body, stories you’ve held inside for too long, words you’ve told no one. I see you struggling to fight off the demons of shame and a sense of doubt in your value that comes from the violence you experienced at the hands of people who should have been safe for you. I see you holding these secrets inside you, piling food on top of them to choke them down. I see you gaining weight rapidly (a hundred pounds last year alone) in an unconscious attempt to be invisible. I still see you, and Robin: You are a lovely human. I know that the size of your body feels to you like it will make you safer. You have already internalized the sense that fat bodies are not seen the way that slender ones are, and the safest thing to you seems to be being unseen and unseeable. So your creative self, the you that desperately wants to stay alive in the world despite how hard and painful it is for you, came up with a solution. You survived, and I am proud of you. You did what you needed to do to make it.

Nothing about your body needs to change, though it will, and drastically, and soon. Over the next 11 months, you’ll lose more than half your body weight, as you lose your appetite for life and your ability to stuff anything down anymore. Your guts will literally turn on you (you were born with them tangled and “defective,” though you don’t quite know this yet), and you will have a long struggle ahead of you that will involve many invasive tests, a surgery that will take three times as long to heal from as anticipated, and a lot of pain and anxiety. And you will pull through it, and at the end, you will finally come up with the courage to tell someone about the violence you suffered through as a young child.

Sometimes the pain will feel like too much for you to hold. Sometimes it will burst out through lines traced in your skin, the blood leaking out a reminder that you are alive. There will be a time you “put the sharpness back,” as Mary Lambert so beautifully says.

Fathers and uncles are not claiming your knife anymore
Are not your razor, no
Put the sharpness back
Lay your hands flat and feel the surface of scarred skin
I once touched a tree with charred limbs
The stump was still breathing
But the tops were just ashy remains
I wonder what it’s like to come back from that because
Because sometimes I feel forest fires erupting from my wrists
And the smoke signals sent out are the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen

You will not have to wonder what it’s like to come back from that. You will come back. Do you hear me, love?

You. Will. Come. Back.

You will come home to yourself, in new ways, again and again and again. You will find words to attach to the deafening silence you’ve choked down for years. You will cling to stories of other survivors like life preservers. You will read Alice Sebold saying of her rape, “You must save yourself or you remain unsaved,” and you will set about the work of saving yourself. You will reach for the doorknob on the closet door, and you will come home to your queer self. You will find yourself with a new name and a new body. You will come to a place where you feel the permafrost in your muscles melting in dance class, and you will move in your skin and learn–little by ever so little–that you belong here.

You will do thousands of hours of hard work and self care that make it possible for me to do what I do now. Had you not invested so much into your healing, there is no question that I would not exist, either on this planet anymore or in my current role as a midwife. Death would have taken me ages ago if you hadn’t worked to keep her at bay. So you worked. You wrote. You put your pain into words on paper in dozens of journals that now fill boxes in my room. Your words pour off the lines into my memory and I send so much love back to you, back in time. I think of how much you despised yourself, how lost you were in shame and loneliness and grief. I think of the body that you hated and treated with such contempt, yet managed to keep alive. Here’s a secret: You will love this body one day. Joy and pleasure and happiness will show up beside pain and sorrow and loss, not taking their place but coexisting with them. You will expand your capacity to feel all of these things.

From where I stand, 17 years later, I am so grateful to you for your courage, and your strength, and your creative tenacity. You could have taken your life, and by extension, mine. You certainly thought about it. Your childhood friend did, last year, hanged in her closet full of despair after holding onto life as long as she could. Your closet reeks of pain, too, my love, and nevertheless somehow you held on. Thank you for holding on.

Thank you for somehow believing that there was a world with room for all of you in it. Thank you for making your way out of oppressive spaces and finding a path to a city and a community where you could be big. Thank you for following your passion to a profession where you get to do work that you love and make a difference in the world. Thank you for claiming your authentic self and wholeness in an environment that wanted you to be small and normal and ordinary. Thank you for the immense work you put into becoming me. I am in love with my life today because you did the heavy lifting and taught me how.

You are a goddamn tree stump with leaves sprouting out of it, reborn, my love.

And tomorrow, you will start your second job as a nurse-midwife, at a new hospital, with a new group of colleagues, in this city that is becoming home. You will continue to show up for your life and tell your stories. Day by day, year after year, you will become ever more yourself.

And so I send love back to you, in hopes that somehow it reaches some part of your psyche. I think of you with fondness and gentle compassion, in the complexity of the person you were and are. I think of the wars you fought and the bravery you showed just by showing up.

I have tried for a long time to escape you, because who you were at 15 is not who I am or want to be now, is not the life I want to live. I never want to return to your closet of death again. But I see now that running away from you is just running away from the person who would become me, and showing you kindness is cultivating self-care. In every way, you are me. You learn how to become an ever-closer approximation of your whole self. You live your way into you. Into me. You find your way home.

You find the word beyond home.

IMG_1591

She Said Yes

I am leaving for Haiti in a week.

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

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

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

And she said yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

You’re going to do it. All of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All my love,

Robin

Year in Review

I’m turning 31 in a few minutes, and I have been reflecting on what an incredible year the first year of my thirties has been.

I got a job as a midwife, my first out of midwifery school. I was thrilled, delighted, and terrified all at once. I finally got to do (and get paid for!) the work I love.

I packed up my life and moved 30 miles south to a town where I knew nobody, so I could be close to work. I traded proximity to my friends and my life for a 4-minute commute. It was a good choice, for the first year.

I spent thousands of hours helping to welcome over 100 babies. Some of these births were easy, some were hard, some were terrifying. Some details I’ve already forgotten, and others will be imprinted in my memory forever.

I have cared for hundreds of amazing patients through pregnancies, labors, and births, as well as breastfeeding issues, abnormal Pap smears, cancer, pregnancy loss through miscarriage, abortion, or stillbirth, concerns about various aspects of their sexual lives, planning or preventing pregnancy, treating all manner of vaginal infections and sexually transmitted diseases, mental health issues, domestic violence and sexual assault, pelvic pain, bleeding, and hormonal issues. I love my patients and I love my work, and I am so grateful for this.

I went on a camping trip with a bunch of queer women and met one whose coaching has really helped to shift my perspective in some profound ways. I highly recommend her if anyone is looking for a life coach! You can find her here.

I met an amazing person (who also happens to be a midwife) and fell in love. This woman is one of the most incredible people I’ve ever met, and I am so excited to be wholeheartedly pursuing everything that our relationship has in store for us.

I have made some wonderful friends, whom I adore and look forward to loving for a lifetime. They enrich my world in unspeakably delightful ways.

I got a fistula and had unexpected surgery and a long recovery. You can read more about that whole saga here.

My car died, and I got another one. It turned out to be not nearly as much drama as I worried it might be, and I love my new-to-me Subaru!

I’m moving, yet again, into a new home together with my sweetie. Packing up my life into boxes feels very different this time than it did a year ago. Last year, I was moving into a too-big-for-me apartment alone. This time, I am sorting through my belongings and tossing or giving away anything that does not contribute to my emerging understanding of what makes me my most whole self. This is a beautiful lens through which to filter my life.

As I tend to do at periods of transition, I like to take a few moments to write myself letters from the present to past selves. So, here goes:

Dear Just-Turning-30-Robin,

You’re in for a good year. Not just a good one; it will be pretty amazing. Your life will take you to some incredible places. You will be diving deep into your work in the world and learning to listen even more carefully to what called you to do this work. Don’t stop listening to that still, quiet voice. It will guide you.

When you get the job offer, listen to that voice in your belly. It will be the right job, the right fit. Take it. Say yes.

When the moving van pulls up to take your stuff to your new place and you close the door on the little studio you called home for your first three years in Seattle, say goodbye, but know that you’ll be back to Seattle soon enough. One year in suburbia just might suffice. 🙂

When you hold peoples’ lives in your hands, recognize how awesome of a privilege this is. Love them all as hard as you can. Sprinkle your magic everywhere.

When you’re dancing with that girl at the party and you feel her hand on your arm and electric tingles shoot down your spine, pay attention. This one is something special. You guys will go places. She’s your person. Don’t be afraid to dive in and show up with your whole self.

When you are faced with a sudden illness that asks to open you, let it. Say yes. New passion and life’s work will sprout from this soil. But you have to let it open you. Stay present with the pain in your body. There is nothing to run away from here. Show up and do the work. Pain is an excellent teacher for those who are willing to listen.

Write your heart out. Go into whatever stories in your mind and body are asking for your love and attention. Explore them through massage and exercise and journaling and blogging and other mental and physical adventures. Tell your unique stories to the world.

When your life offers your opportunities to face your anxieties head-on, do it. Stare down your fears. Refuse to let them paralyze you. Show up in a big way. Let yourself feel all the feelings that arise, and keep moving forward.

This year will open you, Robin-love. No need to be afraid of it. Just dive right in.

Oh, and next year will be awesome, too. Trust me. 🙂

Love,

An Older (and Hopefully Wiser) You

Another Day of Loving

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

–Kahlil Gibran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve got more where that came from.