Midwives needed – for a society in labour

midwives helping with birth

from The Rosengarten by Eucharius Rosslin

Two thirds of the way through my master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, I’m often asked what I hope to do with my education.  Last night, in my mindfulness meditation group, I stumbled across an answer.  It sounds a bit hokey, maybe because it’s one of those “new jobs” people talk about.  It’s so new, that I haven’t heard anyone else talk about it.  For lack of such a job in the National Occupational Category (NOC) listing, I’ll call it being a Midwife for a New Society.

The title just came to me while I was trying to keep my spine aligned as I sat cross-legged on the floor of the Quaker meeting house.  I love that this meditation group, which follows the teachings of the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Thanh, meets in the same place as my beloved Quaker community — but I digress.  I was breathing and trying to focus on being mindful of my physical presence, when it came to me that our society is in such crisis right now, physically, socially and economically, it feels like being in the transition stage of labour.  Those who have given birth will know what I’m talking about – the state when you are no longer in control, when the forces of labour have completely overwhelmed you, but you’re not quite ready to push.  You’re exhausted, beyond pain, beyond anything except the moment at hand.  It feels like things could go either way, but given the enormity of the task, death could be the easier way out.

A hundred years ago, it was entirely possible that the mother would not survive childbirth. That’s where midwives would come in.  They were the voice of calm, the guide through the darkness, occasionally the intervenor who could turn a baby in-utero, or give the mother enough encouragement to continue.  They couldn’t do the work for the birthing mother, but they could shepherd the process, and they knew the stages of labour well enough to know when to step in with reinforcements.

Imagine that our world is in labour now.  To an outsider, it looks like death is imminent. The physical changes, the pain, and the unknown all threaten to overwhelm us.  But for every crisis on earth, might there be a corresponding breakthrough?  According to this map of protests, people are crying out for change.  Traditional fossil fuels are wreaking havoc on our earth, but quietly, alternative energy sources and alternative technologies aregrowing in number and use .  For all the attacks that extremists foist upon innocent civilians, might there also be people breaking down walls of communication, and building bridges to a better society? Are their people taking charge of their lives, their health, and their communities? I believe that both bad and good are happening at such a fast pace, we can’t keep up.  It could go either way.  Our human race needs calm people who know the process of change, who can shepherd it along, and ask for intervention where needed. The human race needs midwives while we are here, in the transition stage of labour, who remind us of the big picture – the birth of a new spirit as well as the ending of what was before.

So now that I know what I want to be, the next question is, how do I get there?


My Kitchen is Clean, and Nobody is Coming Over!

my clean kitchen

Next step: the windows

Here’s a dirty little secret that many women aren’t willing to share: we aren’t all neat freaks. Despite my mother’s best training and ongoing exasperation, I am one of them. Here I am, firmly in mid-life, and my mom, who turns 75 this year, still feels she can come over and clean my fridge, or wash the walls, to “support me”. In the world of mother-daughter relationships, this signifies all kinds of anxiety-ridden, passive-aggressive baggage – I know. And I have let her, because it is one way that she can express her love for me. You can imagine what a pre-cleaning cleaning frenzy I go through each time this happens. My sons know this as the “Grandma clean-up”, and I am certainly passing my neuroses onto them.

Here’s the pattern. Grandma is coming over, so we make sure the dishes are picked up from the table, the bedrooms and the living room, and put in the dishwasher. We consolidate game controllers and make sure all those green rectangular game cases are back on the shelf. Books! They are everywhere – and I make piles of them, and banish the ones that don’t have a home yet off to my bedroom, with the mismatched socks and the laundry that hasn’t been put away yet (at least I have already folded it). We run around with a grocery bag for wrappers and straws, and a damp cloth to take the sticky bits off the tables. I sweep and mop the floor, and one son runs the vacuum while another attacks the bathrooms. All this can be done in an hour or less – so why do I wait for an occasion to do it? Why do I teach my kids, tacitly, that a consistently clean and tidy home is for OTHER people?

This is no epiphany. I have recognized this pattern in my life since I left home nearly 30 years ago. But this year is the first year that I am the Adult in my home. Before, I was waiting for some Prince Charming that I could serve (oh yeah, let’s not go there), or I was in a relationship and hoping that Prince Charming would lend a hand (one did, and one decidedly didn’t). This year, there’s me and my kids. And sometimes, like this weekend, there’s just me.

Well, guess what? I like a clean kitchen. I’m not waiting for anyone to come over to wash and put away the pots and pans, to get rid of the compost and to sweep up the crumbs from toast. I am worth a shiny sink or two. It calms me and helps me concentrate to be in an orderly house. Cleaning it is not an act of subservience if I’m doing it for me. I may never be a neat freak, but I can give myself the gift of a home that I love to be in.

Opening up to vulnerability

On A Pink Cloud by Mark van LaereYou may have seen Brené Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability – with 10.6 million views, I’d be surprised if you hadn’t at least heard of it. In it, the social work researcher describes her work, determining why some people are able to live “whole-hearted” lives while others struggle. The key, she says, is opening up to the possibility of bad news, disconnection, and rejection. It’s taking our fear and shame by the horns and saying yes, it’s there, and feeling it anyway – because we are worthy of love and connection.

On a scale of 1-10, how worthy do you feel of love, connection and acceptance? How much are you willing to be vulnerable? After some rough years where I didn’t feel worthy as a partner, a professional, or even a functioning grown-up, I am starting to open myself up to vulnerability. It’s a huge step forward. Maybe, like Brené says, it was a spiritual awakening. It means that whether I am applying for work, creating a career for myself, or opening myself up to new friendships (maybe new relationships), it matters much less than it used to if that connection doesn’t happen. Within myself, I am learning to be whole.

And now, here’s the new lesson for me – learning to be whole includes learning how to grow, how to be shaped and influenced by the people and things around me, while still feeling entirely myself. I don’t have to give up who I am to connect with others. I can have boundaries and relationships, and so can the people I care about. Occasionally for me, breathing through that (still scary) place of vulnerability, I imagine either myself or whoever I am interacting with wrapped in a big pink cloud. Try it – it’s surprisingly effective!

Wishing you pink clouds and whole hearts,