I don’t know how to start writing about this. I don’t know how to not write about it anymore.
I think back to February. Patients start bringing their concerns to me about this new virus. I brush it off and tell them the most important thing they can do is get their flu shot because that will be a far greater risk to them.
I am in denial
I see the headlines changing daily. Life continues as normal here. I have a birthday party on Leap Day. The city is shut down two weeks later
Some days I can hardly process the whip-lash we all experienced in those early days. Wear a mask, it’s important.
Don’t wear a mask, no one wears them right, it’ll hurt more than it will help
My patients see their world closing in around them. Clutching their growing abdomens they ask what birth will be like. I tell them I can’t predict what the world will hold for us in 24 hours, let alone 24 weeks.
I get in trouble at work for sending out a mass e-mail saying we shouldn’t be seeing routine visits right now, as my anxiety begins to skyrocket about my own risk. Through the end of March my clinic operations look startlingly normal. A relic, now from the before-times.
We get a department-wide email the next day to reschedule all non-essential visits.
We are finally allowed to wear masks in clinic. We re-use the same mask all day, going against every infection control protocol I have ever studied. I am issued one N95. For emergencies.
My every day life feels more and more like an emergency
Internally I am battling my own anxiety, dealing with my own, completely unrelated heartbreak. I am the duck sitting on top of the water. Moving calmly but feet thrashing and uncoordinated below the water line.
My role now turns more to therapist than midwife. But no longer can I give reassuring touch. No hugs. No “everything is a season, everything will change.”
We are hurtling towards the unknown. What does living through a collective trauma look like? Is this it?
We soon get the answer. Black-led uprisings erupt in every city. THIS is what living through collective trauma looks like. It has been happening for 400 years but now white people are paying attention. These two pandemics, each with their own cause, are pointing out all the weaknesses in our world
How do we build a better world, how do we hold on to hope that these twin pandemics can ever be overcome in a country built on inequality?
Everyone talks only about the pandemic. We cannot look away. We cannot even think about a world where this virus doesn’t run our daily lives.
We bake our sourdough breads, we cross stitch, we wait out the apocalypse while tending our plants and our children and hope that our sacrifice will be worth it. Some cope better than others, but we try to stay connected, try to re-invent the happy hour, now over zoom. We wave and pretend. This is fine.
My ability to cope has gone up and down, rising and falling, almost tide-like. Some hope and optimism for a few days, a week if I’m lucky. Then something hits. Fresh rounds of outbreaks, more police violence, hell, even a plant that isn’t doing so well.
I become jealous of the insects stuck in amber. They simply become frozen.
I feel this tide rise and fall among the people I care for. Some make jokes. Many are now unemployed and teary in my office. Most feel on the edge of sanity but can’t quite put a finger on it. Of course you are, I say. I have to be the one holding it together. I can’t use the own tissues in my exam rooms. You’re doing the best you can. This is a normal reaction to extreme stress. I repeat as needed, 10-15 times a day with each new set of eyes, the only part of my patient that I can see and connect with.
Do I take my own advice? Of course not. What midwife is good at listening to the words she tells others and applying them to her own life?
Who midwifes the midwives through this?
We feel lucky to not be on the front lines caring for COVID patients, but guilty that our skills don’t translate to being helpful if we were called upon.
Instead, we deal with fear. We try to reassure the best we can under normal circumstances, but how do you comfort a soon-to-be-parent that they won’t be separated from their baby, when they might? How do you comfort a laboring person, who has to let their instincts take over but they can’t quiet their fear?
How do we quiet our own fear? I feel numb most days. Sardonic. Sarcastic. My voice weary when I mean it to be confident, strong, reassuring. But of what can I assure people? That I am also only human? That I wish they had consented to a virtual visit because each successive person I see puts me at higher risk?
My fuse is short. All our fuses have been shortened, so much taken away, so little to help cope. I started writing today to be a voice of ease, calm, to say, your midwives love you and care for you. We are here for you.
Some days I feel like I can barely be there for myself. And that is what’s raw and honest and true. Some days I feel stuck in caring. Trying so desperately hard to care at the same level I always have. But now this is a struggle, and it feels ugly and hard and like the empathetic centers of my mind are betraying me.
Most days I want to shout, I am trying. We are all trying. No one expected the apocalypse this year. No one figured that so many aspects of normal life would have to continue while we contend with this world-changing event. But, as always, people get pregnant. People have babies. People need abortions, and your midwives, we’re here.
We love you and care for you.