Midwifery school

I popped into this old blog space of mine tonight in a bout of nostalgia, going back in time to reread entries of my younger self: sometimes smiling, sometimes cringing, mostly grateful that I'd written when I did. I also found a post I'd started this spring, sometime after catching baby #1 but before I stared to feel slightly more comfortable with cervical checks. (Slightly.)

Here is something I have learned: I am getting really comfortable at making small talk before and during speculum exams. Why yes, I do have a list of potential topics to cover sticky-noted in my brain.

And another: when you're first learning, vaginal exams on very pregnant/laboring women feel exactly like sticking your fingers into warm jello. (Where the hell is that freaking thinned-out cervix?!)

One more: the feeling of laboring all day with a woman and then being the one to catch her baby is absolutely incredible.

And it's true. Oh, can I just tell you how happy I am that I'm learning this, doing this, getting up each day and knowing it's one day closer until I'm a real-life midwife?

I'm surprised, though, by what scares me. I used to be scared of postpartum hemorrhages and shoulder dystocias. And I still am — but I'm learning how to handle them. Take hemorrhages, for example: there's a hierarchy of medications, a step-wise approach to what you typically do, a checklist that I can run through over and over again until it's solid in my brain. That's not to say it won't freak me the fuck out the first time it happens and I'm in sole charge of managing it, and maybe the protocols give a false sense of security...but it seems (perhaps naively) more black and white. You do this, and then this, and then this. And, please god, something will work.

What scares me more, keeps me up at night, sends me home from clinical on more than one occasion with a pit in my stomach and the voice inside my head saying loudly and firmly "oh hell NO you can't do this" is the grey areas. Watching a fetal monitoring strip, watching those eerily straight lines or ugly dips that mean that maybe the baby isn't doing as well as we'd want, that maybe the placenta is just old or the baby is sleeping but maybe this kid is on the precipice of tanking on us, in there, and when do we step in without stepping in too quickly? Watching a laboring mom's fever get higher, and it's her second baby so maybe she can get to fully and push this kid out efficiently, but maybe she can't and her kid will come out feverish, too, or worse, so when do we step in?

It's sitting in the office with a pregnant teenager who's telling us about her shitty home life but she's begging us not to call DCF, that she'll run away if we do...and wondering, when do we step in? Do we stay quiet, trying to help her in the ways that we can, or do we make the call and risk her running away and never coming back? It's passing kleenex to the mom of 8 who just found out she's pregnant again and she's got chlamydia. Tears are streaming down her face as she's begging you to tell her there are OTHER ways to get chlamydia other than her husband cheating on her, there has to be another way, can't he have gotten it from a dirty toilet seat or maybe it's old and she's had it for a long time and just didn't know about it? "I'm sorry," I say. "I'm so sorry."

Those are the things they can't teach us. If only there was an algorithm we could follow to make things simpler — or if only things were straightforward enough that I could say point-blank "THIS is how I would handle every situation like this..." But there aren't. And so I watch my preceptors like a hawk, trying to internalize their skills, their confidence, their way of decision-making when things are hard. I thank the good lord that I'm still a student right now, still learning. And I hope that just like all the midwives who've come before me who were sitting in my shoes once, I, too, will become stronger and more independent just like they did.


Peaking in

I can't seem to fully leave this little virtual space of mine!

It's funny: when I began blogging, I was eager for an audience, eager for responses, eager to share my life's happenings. But in the nine (nine!) years since I wrote my first post, so much has changed. I've become much more private. I don't post much online anymore, anxious to keep what's mine, mine, but for the occasional Instagram picture of my cats. But I like being able to come back here and read what I've written, how I thought, what I was doing...so here's a little update :)

I'm at Yale now, starting to find my sea legs after a whirlwind first few weeks. I'm balancing feeling so, so, so, so (did I mention so?) so exhausted with being in school and taking exams and writing papers with the sheer joy I get from learning and being immersed in what I want to be doing — finally. The good far outweighs the stressful. I'm here, I'm doing it: studying to become a midwife, a women's health nurse practitioner, learning hand maneuvers for pelvic exams and the intricate pathways of the hypothalamus-pituitary-ovarian axis. It's amazing.

Of course, right now I'm procrastinating. I have two exams this coming Monday, and two papers due after that. I should be studying, researching, analyzing — but it's been nice, sitting here in the library, thinking about coming back to this space here and writing a bit. I'll leave with a picture of (what else) my cats, brothers I brought home in June, who have filled my time and life with happiness and black fur.

Moses and Ira



2016 came in quietly. I sat around a card table in my parents' living room, having played cards with them and a friend for the past several hours, ending in us all just waiting for the clock to strike 12 so that we could wish each other a Happy New Year and go to sleep.

A quiet beginning to the new year. I like that.

Life continues move forward. My final semester of nursing school begins a week from today…it's almost unbelievable, as it truly seems like just yesterday I was discouraged thinking about the long road ahead of me to get to this point. And yet here I am, procrastinating organizing the seventeen million pieces of paper I had to print out today to get organized for the upcoming 15 weeks (I'm so sorry, trees), tweaking my CV for the zillionth time (how can I describe what I do concisely, uniquely, outstandingly?!), and drinking mint tea (with the sounds of the Hufflepuff common room playing softly in the background).


I'm applying to one school for next fall — Yale, to get my Master's in nursing. Chances are slim that I'll get in without clinical nursing experience, so I'm realistically expecting to get that small envelope of rejection come spring, work a few years, and reapply. Though I have to remind myself to take baby steps, because first I have to pass this final semester…

In the past year, I've watched two friends get married and have babies. A younger version of myself so desperately wanted that to be me, believing that there'd be no way I'd not have at least one baby on my hip by (almost) 27. And yet, as much as I'd love (love) to have a chubby-cheeked little one in my life, the best thing I can do right now is to finish my education. Lord knows what the next few years will bring, but I'm trying to stay at peace with where I am right now. Working, learning, studying.


More than anything, it feels good. It feels right. So I go onward.



The first birth I saw was for nursing school. Day One of maternity clinical, 7:45 a.m., a nurse hustled down the hallway and saw me standing there.

"Hey," she called. "Room 12. She's close if you want to go in."


I had steeled myself in the weeks leading up to maternity clinical: there was no guarantee I'd see a birth; many of my classmates hadn't. Two 12-hour Sunday shifts at a smallish hospital. Odds were slim. Even then, after I heard the nurse, I still wouldn't let myself believe it. See a birth? Lord knows how many YouTube births I've watched, birth stories I've read, always hoping I'd someday soon be able to see one in person. Even one photojournalism project shadowing a homebirth midwife, balancing on a bed and beside the birthing tub in the living room with my camera pointed down — ready — for eleven hours ended up with a transfer to the hospital that I couldn't follow.

See a birth?

Please, please.

I trotted down the hallway next to another nurse wheeling the delivery cart. I could hear the woman several doors down. "She just came in, and she's about to push," the nurse said over her shoulder. "Go ahead."

Me? (Is this really happening?)

I walked in to see a young woman, face crumpled, sweating, clawing at the bed. "I can't I can't I can't I can't I CAN'T," she cried, over and over again. Her partner stood back in the corner, watching, eyes as big as dinner plates. I caught his eye and smiled at him. He stared back.

One nurse was busy charting, adjusting monitors, while the other was setting up the birth equipment. A doctor was getting gowned up. When her contraction finished, I went over to the woman and began to breathe with her, deeper, slower breaths. She reached for her partner's hand, and he came and held hers. I whispered her through the next contraction, her body pushing involuntarily. Eventually, a nurse said, "Grab her leg." I offered to let her partner, and he shook his head and stepped back. So I held one leg back, another nurse held another, and the woman pushed three times in one contraction and oh! look — a quarter-sized circle of head and hair!

That quarter-sized circle grew, and grew, and soon it was a whole head, and the head rotated, and then one shoulder, and then another, and then whoosh out came the baby.

Out came the baby!


I played it on a loop in my head, marveling at it, over and over all morning until another woman came in and my birth count doubled in one day. I left the hospital that night completely exhilarated and grateful.


Just prior to my maternity clinicals, I started an internship to become a doula, an internship that wrapped up in early June — I'm a doula! That, plus what I've learned in nursing school, has buoyed and validated this journey I'm on, a journey towards working in women's health and nursing and catching babies. Each of the births I've attended as a doula since then has only strengthened that charge deep within me. I've no such ideas that it'll always be like this — healthy births, happy births…I know there will be challenges and difficulties and sadnesses beyond what I can imagine now. But I pray every day for strength, resilience, capability, and compassion.

My second and final year of nursing school begins in a handful of weeks. I've got ten doula clients due between now and December. Applications for midwifery school due then as well. Who would have thought I'd be here? All those dreams, all these years, they're happening, now. Better than I ever could've anticipated.



My ode to The West Wing (aka the show that brought me back to life)

I had a snow day today, our 374th since January (it seems). And, since I had an exam yesterday and am currently in the WHEEE I DON'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT STUDYING FOR AT LEAST ANOTHER FEW DAYS!!! phase, I sat my derriere right down on the couch and did nothing for most of the afternoon.

And it was glorious.

I caught up on a few episodes of season 4 of Call the Midwife. I went down rabbit hole after rabbit hole on the internet. I drank tea. I pet the cats. And, at one point, I stopped and marveled at how good it felt to be able to sit and do nothing without feeling anxious. To actually feel happy and relaxed, and comfortable just with myself. And I credit that all to a wonderful little television show called THE WEST WING (said with a dramatic voice). (Okay, it doesn't get all the credit, but it gets a good chunk of credit, so let's just go with that, okay?)

But seriously. In a period of my life where I was overcome with anxiety and depression, feeling terrified and alone and utterly lost, I watched the first episode on Netflix completely on a whim.

And then I watched the second episode.

And then I watched the third episode.

And it became my nightly ritual to watch an episode before bed, and suddenly that time at night that had felt the most terrifying and lonely and sad suddenly became not so terrifying and lonely and sad. I imposed my own little bedtime routine: wash face, brush teeth, contacts out, glasses on, c'mere, Jed Bartlet. I lived for that bedtime routine. It became such a comfort, such a solid and safe part of my day that eventually, daytimes got a bit easier too. I watched every single episode of that show in three months and loved every minute of it. It was free therapy alongside my real (not free) therapy. And oh, good grief, you'd better believe I cried my eyes out when it was over.

I did have some anxiety thinking of what would happen when it was over. But at that point, time and therapy and friendship had worked its magic and I was doing better. My nightly routine that had buoyed me through so many days had worked — the storm was subsiding, and I was still standing.

And I found myself not so scared of being alone. Even enjoying it, really. Now I'm fiercely protective of my alone time. I crave it, and enjoy it 99.7% of the time. I have my morning rituals and my evening rituals and they start and end my day on such comfortable notes. And with that comfort and knowledge of stability, I'm able to break those routines every once in a while, knowing I can always go back to them. It's been so freeing, still, two years since I watched that first episode.

And that's how Jed Bartlet and his crew helped me find myself again.


In the thick of it

I've been re-reading my last post for the past few days. A gentle nudge from Cait led me to think about my blog, and while I've never forgotten about it, I feel like I've forgotten how to write in it. It's overwhelming to think about catching up, so I'll just jump in with the here and now. Starting as if we're in the middle of a conversation. That's what Kathleen Kelly would say, right?

So. Right now, I'm sitting across the street from the little yellow house I've spent the last 2.5 years living in. I babysat my neighbor tonight, a boisterous boy who calls me Auntie Hallie and who's getting so big I had to remind myself to bend with my knees to pick him up. Now he's asleep, and I'm procrastinating doing some schoolwork, and watching the never-ending snow fall out the windows.

I'm happy.

February is nearly over, and March is barreling into focus. That'll put us at the halfway point for this semester, my second of nursing school, which is just flying by absurdly quickly. Oh, it's consumed me in the most wonderful way. Truly. The first six weeks of school last September felt like I was constantly a hundred feet behind where I should be, while carrying hundred-pound weights on each shoulder, while being chased by a pack of savage beasts…underwater. But I got byyyy with a little help from my friennnds. And I found my rhythm, and adjusted to the coursework volume, and before I knew it the first semester was over. And now we're well into the second semester and I'm pretty sure I'll blink and it'll be time to take the NCLEX-RN exam (oh god I'm not ready).

I can honestly say that nursing school has been the best decision of my life thus far. I feel like I've discovered my purpose, and my spirit. It's challenging and terrifying and more work than I ever could have anticipated. But when I sit in class, eagerly lapping up every bit of information my professors dole out (except for the two weeks we spent on fluid and electrolyte balances, I could've taken or left those), or when I don my scrubs and walk through the doors of the hospital, I feel so driven. This is my purpose. If you'd have told me when I was in high school that I'd ever be so passionate about medicine, I'd have looked at you like you had four heads. But I love it. I really, truly love it.

So. That brings me here. I'm still wrangling toddlers by day, as the financial means to continue this education of mine. Class and clinical are in the evenings, so I have long days every day, but it's okay — because it's all things I enjoy. But I'm finding myself pulling away from my toddler-wrangling job, and instead wanting to do something more along the lines of birth work. I've been researching graduate schools with midwifery programs, and most of them require (or strongly encourage, underlined three times and with an exclamation point) a year's work in the field you're interested in. So right now, I'm walking toward a precipice: the edge of a giant mountain, where my financially safe toddler-wrangling job stays on one side and an opportunity to attend births, do labor or breastfeeding support, or work as a doula is on the other. It's a big leap, though, and I truthfully haven't figured out how to make it financially viable. But I'm hopeful. I'm ready.

And where does that leave this blog of mine? Well, it's seen me through all of my biggest life transitions. It's seen good, and bad, and good again. So I'm not ready to let go of it just yet. Here's to learning how to write, again.


Six weeks in

Feb. 2015 edit: I wrote this post last October, and for some reason it sat in the drafts folder and never got posted. I'm posting it now, because upon re-reading it I remember what an important milestone it was.

The beginning of fall is an odd time for me. At its first whispers, I fight against it. Try to run away from it. Not the cold! Not the clouds! Not months and months of socks and scarves and three pairs of mittens. Not yet!

And so, this fall, like most of the past five, I've been teetering. I'm on a ledge, a precipice, toes a bit too close to the edge for comfort, desperately trying to keep my balance so that I don't fall into the bleak pit that is winter's depression. Thus far, I've kept my balance; through the first frenzied four weeks of nursing school wherein I couldn't see anything further than the textbooks I was frantically trying to read to stay caught up; through the confusing first few clinicals at the hospital, trying to find my way and my place among seasoned nurses and sick patients; through the transition of four new very young toddlers into our classroom who cried and cried and cried for anyone but us at first. Through all the firsts.

The fifth week, though, it all started to come together. I had two good exams under my belt, reassurance that I was gaining my sea legs in the hospital, and four happy, well-transitioned young toddlers settled alongside our older ones.

And then this past Thursday night, mortality smacked me straight upside the head. It's been in my mind, these past myriad visits to the hospital, doing what little I've been taught thus far to help people who are ill…up close and personal to people who are very elderly and very frail. It can be scary, to know that that's what we're all (God willing) barreling toward with our desire to live a long life. It makes me stop and wonder if we really do know what we're getting into.

I couldn't ignore death his past Thursday night. It was right in front of me: once, literally — in the form of a woman who had passed two hours' prior to us getting there, whose post-mortem care I had the honor of watching — and once, almost, as the 90-year-old women I was caring for got very critical very quickly. I came home that night slightly shellshocked, the baby nursing student in me overwhelmed with emotion for all that I'd seen that I'd never seen before. And I came home to an email from my aunt and uncle, updating us all on the slow, merciless, end-of-life shifts in my paternal grandparents. And I thought of my sweet maternal grandfather, and how thinking of his manner of death still makes me cry.

And so that night I cried. And cried. And cried.

I've read so many essays written by people near death. "Seize the day," they say. "Don't take any minute for granted. Live while you still can." Those sentiments have always scared me, because how can I seize the day? How can I live to the fullest if I'm so busy all the time? Of course I take minutes for granted — entire hours pass before I blink, and those are hours I'll never, ever get back again. How can I be so sure I'm not wasting my precious life? I worry.

Yesterday, a quiet voice spoke somewhere deep inside my head. You are living, it said. You are living and you are doing. That is enough and it is okay. You are happy. You are alive.

And that was enough.

And so today I said: Hello, fall. And I smiled at the multi-colored trees.

And so today I said: I am living, today. And I whispered a thank you to the universe.

And so today I said: I am grateful for exactly where I am. And I am.


The next step

Ten days.

That's it. Just ten. In ten days, I'll load my computer and charger up into my giant Timbuk2 bag, slip my syllabus into a new three-ring notebook full of lined paper, and stuff pens, hilighters, pencils, and a small recorder into my new pencil bag. And I'll head off for my first day of nursing school.

It's wild to think that it's finally here. This culmination of two years of pre-reqs, applications, anticipation, acceptance, titer levels, bloodwork, physicals and orientation is effectively over, and the real stuff begins. It seems like I've been waiting for this my entire life, and really, I have.

I've got two brand spankin' new pairs of navy scrubs embroidered with my school's emblem. I've got a white nurse's jacket. White Dansko clogs that are sure to be scuffed up in no time. A stethoscope, pen lights, a name tag, nursing textbooks…check, check, check, check. All mine.

But, as the nursing program coordinator repeated three times over the course of our three-day orientation the other week, "We can teach anyone how to do nursing procedures. But what we can't teach you is how to be a great nurse. That's something you have to dig inside of yourself and become."

That's where I pause. Doubt myself. Can I? Can I remember it all, do it all, be it all? I sometimes become so consumed with what has to be done in work and life that I tuck my chin under and just do. My challenge, I know, will be to lift my chin back up and really see the people around me. The ones for whom I'll have the honor of caring, for however little or however long. While my ultimate goal isn't nursing but midwifery, I know that the skills I learn over the next two years — both physical and emotional — are the crux of what will become my life's work. And so I repeat to myself, even now, ten days before school even starts, "Open your eyes. Smile, reach out, touch. Send them love."

It's a new adventure. A new door, a new education, an entirely different learning experience. My strongest hope is that I can be a competent, careful, nurturing presence in the lives of anyone I come into contact with.

Ten days.


Working with toddlers

Last month marked eighteen months living here and working at the sweetest little nursery school. Oh, you guys, can I just tell you about the nine toddlers who fill my days with joy and frustration and sticky fingers and belly laughs and noise? They're amazing. Truly, wonderfully amazing. (And frustrating. But amazing.)

This time at our sweet school has been so valuable. I remember coming home after I first began working there, completely intimidated by such patient and loving teachers and the smart, careful language they used while guiding little ones through each day. I'd been nannying and babysitting kids since I practically was one myself, and I came into the job with tricks up my sleeve and a fairly good grasp on early childhood development. But all that paled in comparison to what I've learned here.

I forget things if I don't write them down, so here, for posterity, are a few things I've internalized:

1) Be patient. Be patient. Be patient. Give the children the time and space to do something themselves, working through frustration to succeed. It's an incredibly valuable lesson.

2) Narrate. Our toddlers are all between the ages of one and two. They're at varying stages of language development. The best thing we can do to foster language growth is to, quite literally, talk them through their days. "You're stacking a blue block on top of your red one!" "We're going to change your diaper now. I'm going to put my gloves on!" "You're patting the baby's back so gently!"

3) Give words (and tones) to emotions. The best way to curb our toddlers' meltdowns is to get down on their level and validate what they're feeling. "You're feeling so frustrated! You really wanted that toy!" "It's getting close to lunchtime. You seem like you're feeling hungry!" "Look! You buckled your chair all by yourself!"

4) Rotate toys and books. We choose specific natural objects to put out each week, starting minimally at the beginning of the week (a bucket full of crunchy leaves with a few small cups to scoop with) and adding a few things as the week progresses (crunchy leaves, scoops, and barn animals). This week we have all sorts of circular objects in one area (small tree stumps, napkin rings, etc); next week we'll put out small shiny metal objects. These all change on at least a weekly basis, which keeps everyone engaged.

5) Having several sensory-based opportunities helps keep everyone calmer. We have carpet square samples with various textures from Home Depot, as well as things like sandpaper, fabric samples from Joann's, and plenty of messy play (shaving cream is a favorite!). When the kids need a calming/centering activity, we pull out extra sensory materials. A recent no-mess favorite is paint or hair gel inside ziploc bags (taped shut) — it's fun to manipulate and squeeze.

6) It's the process, not the product, when it comes to art. This week, the toddlers painted on white cardstock and then shook salt from salt shakers on top (they loved that!). The salt made the paint look shiny and textured, and it was really fun fine motor work.

7) Sometimes when the kids are losing it and my patience is zapped, bubbles are the magical answer to all problems.

I want to add onto this as I go along.


Having faith

I grew up in a church. I mean that almost literally — my parents were the pianist/organist/choir directors/all things musical for a small United Methodist church in Texas when I was young, and the church building was our second home. We spent hours and hours there each week, and while my parents worked, my sister and I were free to roam. I remember running up and down the upstairs hallways, hiding behind the large banners that alternated being hung in the sanctuary, and playing downstairs in the nursery.

We challenged each other to "slide under all the pews and see who can get to the back of the sanctuary first" games, and climbed in and out of the cabinets in the narthex. We were completely and absolutely at home there. And the church community was our family, too. We had more surrogate aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents than I can count. They were our people. Lord knows we spent more time with them than we did our extended family in Georgia and Michigan.

And then there was Kathleen. The most amazing minister of love and joy. While my family never considered itself particularly religious, she instilled in me a strong knowledge of a loving God that I've carried with me through the years. I miss her.

Through an unfortunate situation, my family left the church of my childhood when I was around 13. I've not had a church family since then, but the longing for one has always been quietly resting in me. I attended a church for a few months in college, but never felt at home there. That brings us to now: I'm in a place in my life where I want that family, want that community, want that place of love and joy. A month ago, Cait and I started visiting churches in the area.

On our second Sunday, we found a beautiful United Church of Christ a few blocks from our house. It's led by a strong female minister, which was something I really wanted. The congregation is very, very small, but so welcoming and open. I find myself looking forward to Sundays now, excited to be in a place of glory and worship. Whether or not I consider myself devoutly religious, I'm so happy to have the comfort of a church family back in my life. It's made such a difference.

I don't quite know where I'm going with this blog entry, but I wanted to write it. I'm grateful for the ability to find a new family, and grateful for the simple joy of being in congregation with likeminded people as I begin each new week. I'm grateful for faith.