“That’s the way, all the way down. Down and through”
The words flowed out of my mouth naturally, fluidly, like it hadn’t been a year and change since I last said those words to a woman about to meet her baby. The thump-thump, thump-thump of the fetal heart monitor played mindlessly in the background; a familiar, joyful sound track. It almost felt like I had never hit pause on the baby catching part of my midwifery practice.
But some things were off. I struggled to get my gloves on quickly, my hands sweaty. The nurses hesitant, wary of this new unknown midwife. I sorely longed for the familiar smiles, my comrades in birth who could read my mind and my face. Who I trusted implicitly in the scariest parts of the night.
Today, right after I gave a woman medications to help soften her cervix prior to terminating a pregnancy she asked me what I like about my job working in an abortion clinic. I paused a moment. Patients don’t often ask me this question in the abortion world.
“I’m a midwife,” I replied. In my mind, that answer was self-explanatory. “I love guiding people through transitions. Abortion. Birth. Miscarriage. Menopause.”
I was looking at a picture of myself five years ago today. My wild, waist length wavy hair flaps in the breeze at Deception Pass on a spontaneous day trip. I was different in every part of my being. Half way through my final year of midwifery school, living in an apartment so small the two foot table we used for dinner had to be folded up during the day, broke and falling deeply in love with an equally broke, adventurous bike-riding Northwest man. I squirmed in my own skin the way early twenty-something women do when they’re always the youngest person in the room.
I look around my home now. My ketubah, a contract signed on my wedding day with my husband (the bike-riding Northwest man) hangs on our walls among family photos. A small table and a tiny chair sit pushed up against the wall with a little vase full of vibrant violet flowers picked by my son’s joyously chubby fingers. Board books and fairy tales have infiltrated my bookshelves previously packed with Marxist and feminist literature. I speak up firmly and confidently. I have the answers and this time I know I’m right. My body looks different; it has made the transition from maiden to mother.
So many of the changes we experience in life are gradual, each day changes us in small ways, so much so that at the end of five years I look back at that picture of the dreamy-eyed student midwife and I hardly recognize myself. But our lives also follow a bit of Darwin’s theory of punctuated equilibrium. The things that really change us, that force us to adapt, are often sudden and stark. There is a before and an after, and we are left to make up the difference.
A squalling, brilliantly pink babe emerged just moments after my encouraging words above. The flood of hormones and adrenaline protecting this new mother’s brain from the full comprehension of how drastically her life has now changed. Not all moments us midwives live for are these heart-stopping, dramatic changes–we love all the little transitions, too. Ushering someone through a first pelvic exam. Their first birth control method. Starting to try to get pregnant. Discovering their sexuality and coming out for the first time. We love it all: the molasses-slow changes that happen year to year and the giant, flashbulb-memory type changes.
I left birth because I needed my transition into motherhood to be the focus, not helping others through this one particular transition. As I pulled home from the hospital that night, I heard my key click in the lock and could already hear the cries of, “Mama!” from behind the door and I went through my daily transition from midwife to mama.