Put Your Big Girl Panties On

Do you all remember my t-shirt slogans from months and months past… or is it years?  I’ve come up with another slogan: “Put your Big Girl Panties On.” Let me back track. A year ago, I started writing a series for the Where’s My Midwife? blog. My series was about potential slogans for t-shirts. I came up with “Don’t Hate Me Because I Had a Beautiful Birth” (one of our most popular blog entries ever—thanks readers!) When I wrote that blog, I was feeling positive and upbeat. Then personal tragedy hit.

My sister, Elena, had been diagnosed with a highly metastatic form of cancer only a month after our midwives were fired from a local practice. If my sister could (and was!) battling, and seemed to be kicking cancer’s ass, well, I would battle right along with her. While I would continue to fight against the injustices that I witnessed daily in my community, not only about access to midwives, but also to woman-centered care locally and nationwide, I would try to spend as much time with my sister as possible.

About a year after Elena’s diagnosis, she lost her battle, and she suddenly passed away.  I was with her as she took those last difficult breaths. There were moments that I thought as I slept next to her on the hard cot in her hospital room, and as I kept certain forces at bay (unwelcomed visitors, etc.) that this was actually the culmination of my work as a doula. I will always hold those moments with my sister close, as difficult and painful as they were.

This was the second year that we experienced the holidays without my sister. It was harder this year for me than last year. Last week I sat across from my friend and midwife, Suzanne, one of the two midwives who was dismissed from our local practice. As I wept, wailed, and screamed (unfortunately my grief has recently manifested as anger towards people who I dearly love), Suzanne gently suggested that I contact a therapist. She chose her words carefully, “Sylvia, I want you to consider if you might benefit from medication, therapy, or both.” It is one of the things that I appreciate about the way that midwives practice. They are at their core “with woman,” and they are trained to care for the total person. I appreciate that Suzanne recommended that I seek help not only as my friend, but also as a health care practitioner.

The last two years were for me the intersection of a personal fight (dealing with my sister’s illness and death) and of a more public battle (increasing access to midwives.) It’s been a tough couple of years. For me “put your big girl panties on” has meant that I got up every day and not only take care of myself and of my children, but it has also meant that I continued to work to make change in my community and beyond. As we become “big girls,”(i.e. women) we face major life changes and tragedies. “Putting my girl panties on” means that I need to prepare myself mentally and physically for this next stage in my life. I am facing life without my big sister, and I am also squarely in the middle of middle age. (Did you know, by the way, that midwives provide continuity of care throughout women’s lives?) I have made an appointment with a therapist to help me navigate these unchartered waters. Thank you, Suzanne, midwife and friend, for reminding me that it’s necessary to take care of this aspect of my health.

So, I leave you with this. When I say, “put your big girl panties on” I mean that we all have our personal and public battles to fight. For me it’s one of the mantras that have helped me through the past couple of years. Join me in putting ‘em on and in fighting your own fight: whatever this may be.

Greetings from Utah

Salt lake City, UTI write to you from the exotic location of Salt Lake City, Utah. Salt Lake City is a medium-sized city surrounded by huge mountains. We moved here one year ago from Wilmington, North Carolina. It has taken me a while to settle in here. In fact I am currently in the “Where’s my midwife?” phase of the process. First I found a pediatrician for the kids, then dentists, and an eye doctor. Now I am due for my annual well woman care. In Wilmington the shortage of midwives made that decision pretty simple. I wanted a CPM and I had one choice. Here they have a whole section in the yellow pages for midwives, including some CPM’s. There are 15 CNM’s and two CPM’s listed in the phone book, a little surfing on the web introduced me to several other CPM’s. Wow, after fighting so hard for just a few midwives, now I can think about other things like convenience, personality, other specialties they offer, and the more subtle differences in midwifery philosophy.

Ultimately I am looking for a lot more than simply a gentle PAP smear. One of the things I miss most about Wilmington is the birth community. It started with the doulas and NCFOM and grew to include Where’s My Midwife? and then Women in the Center. There is a committed group of people actively striving to make birth better for the families in North Carolina. I am sure that when I prod a little deeper into my community here, actually talking to people rather than simply doing Internet searches, I will find similar things going on here. After all, there is a strong doula organization, Utah Friends of Midwives, La Leche League, an ICAN chapter, a birth center and even a MEAC accredited midwifery school; surely these are signs of a strong birth community.

However, somehow all of this seems less accessible than the birth community in Wilmington. Maybe it is because Salt Lake is so much bigger and I don’t know everyone. Maybe I have been too lazy and introverted. There do seem to be less public events. What if a more open community with less injustices to fight against breeds less active consumers? Whatever the reason, I am going to put in the extra effort to create community for myself and bring Where’s My Midwife? to a new city. Even though there are more midwives here there are also more people, the birth statistics probably aren’t that much different from in Wilmington. There are probably a few more percentage points of births being attended by midwives and a few less percentage points in the surgical birth category, but this is still America and we need more midwives and more normal birth. I am embarking on a new adventure, stay tuned for more from the beautiful city of Salt Lake. If you live here I would LOVE to hear from you!