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Compassionate Detachment

(This piece has taken several days to write and publish... just so you know... yesterday might have been several days ago.)

Isn't this Autumn?

The leaves are supposed to change? Things slow down? Moms bake bread and cook things in crock pots as the kids scribble on the wet from all the condensation between the heat inside and cold outside? Isn't this that season?

So, I suppose it is appropriate that I, too, might be shedding something - looking inside (ha!) more and seeing what stays and what goes.

I might have mentioned that I do my spring cleaning in the fall. I always have. I don't know why or what the pull is, but I have always done it and just shrug and clean out the closets and drawers, spruce up the place with new fake flowers, buy new pillows, rearrange the house (or office) - doing a whole slew of spring-like activities is what happens for me in the fall and this fall is/was no exception.

With the photography needing to help my business in a substantial financial way, I made many changes in the office to accommodate the in-house studio that is nearly complete. I still need clients to help me with props and backdrops and such, but the major expenses have been expended.

Yesterday was my first big professional photo shoot. I lined up several families for a Thanksgiving Weekend Special to do their Holiday Photos so they can do cards or pictures or whatever they are wanting to do with them... a mere $30 for 5 medium-sized JPGs. I limited the time to 20 minutes per family and ended up photographing 8 different family groupings.

It was delightful!

I had everything from nursing babies to sullen teenagers that I made smile. beaming smile

I am so, so pleased with the pictures, I just think I should live on the beach and take photos always there. Some of the photos look like I plopped people on a stool with a backdrop of a fake beach and some real sand under their hands it was so beautiful (the day). I really did a great job with what I was given (the day and the people) and I learned a lot, too, so I was glad of that.

I learned to look beyond where I think people can go - that most people can go further than I can physically (like climbing rocks). Rocks make a fantastic sitting stool for people! With the backdrop of the ocean? Oh, my... just loverly.

So, all these photo opportunities. I am taking practice opportunities with family and friends because I am getting nervous about this being paid to do this even though I know I am good at it. Where does this lack of confidence come in? How many times do I have to see the great results before I believe in myself? It's rather annoying. And in these practice sessions, I get two family members saying to me - on two separate days -

"So, are you done with school now? Are you just going to be a midwife-photographer now?"

And the inquiries came so fast on the heels of each other I hadn't even a moment to consider the question, but when I did, I was rather stunned because I hadn't even thought at all about not continuing in school - just that I was not going for a few months to help save the business from drowning. But... what an interesting concept.

What an interesting concept, indeed.

I'd have to mull it over some.

I get this crap a lot about how I flit around from one project to another and never settle into one thing. One minute I am a midwife and the next I want to be a therapist and then I want to be a photographer and then I want to be a writer and then I want to be a blah blah blah. Happily (and blessedly) my partner believes in me and believes that all of what I do revolves neatly into a ball towards the business (the overall business) and my midwifery fits in nicely as well. She thinks that I complement midwifery with my skills and isn't hesitant to support me when I want to try new things.

She also had to tell her naysaying family members that I was trapped by 200 pounds of fat for over 30 years and I have only had 5 years to be 20 years old and have the energy to try new things and even that has been hampered by illness and they could just be quiet because if they counted how many jobs she had since she was 20, they would surely count more than the 3-4 focus changes I have had in 5 years.

My partner said she has gladly handed over the money to start my photography business, even when it was hard financially because she thinks it would be a greater emotional benefit for me than school or being a therapist at the moment. She said she supports me no matter what I do, but thinks she sees me coming to that conclusion on my own and I began to cry (of course).

I told her I'd been talking in therapy about how I just didn't think I had what it took to be a therapist. It takes an ENORMOUS amount of courage to write that here. And it has taken days and days to actually get it published and even blogger itself went out a couple of times that I tried publishing it which I thought was not-so-amusingly telling. I kept thinking, "I'll have to change my whole Bio thingie over there on the side! Who will I be? Who am I? What will my focus be? Will I make any impact anymore? Am I destined to be a nothing now? I thought I was going to be some great impact-maker... and now look at me... a nothing. A nothing. A nothing."

That's the kind of crap that plays in my head. Not loud, but kind of a low hissing noise, like a mosquito buzzing.

Since the three September births - forevermore known as The 3 Births - I have been working in therapy with my psychiatrist trying to figure out an entire gamut of my skills and abilities. Am I able to cope with the loss of a woman's birth plan without feeling like a failure myself? Do I have to feel a woman's cesarean deep in my own pubic area? Why, when a woman isolates after a painful birth experience, is it a direct hit on my heart instead of my realistic acknowledgement of her needing to cocoon?

Compassionate detachment, my psychiatrist says, is a term and experience she learned in medical school that helps her every day. She says it is so hard, she knows, to not get caught up in others' lives and some professions are more apt to entwine with others' spirits than others - midwifery being one - but that it is important to remember whose life is whose and where the responsibilities lie.

I tried to remember the word ("detachment") through the weeks from one visit to the next with my psychiatrist and could not for the life of me. I could remember the concept, but not the actual word itself. I remembered it was kind of long, but... what was it? When I saw her and told her I couldn't remember it, she laughed and said, "Now isn't that telling?" Embarrassed, I nodded and admitted that I supposed it was.

I still struggle with the word, but have forced myself to memorize it and am even writing it (which helps me memorize things even more) - am writing it here today, too, see?

The camera allows me delightful detaching from people while also connecting in a different way. I can interact, but have the body of the camera and the lens inbetween us and I am not in charge of their lives and their souls and their psyches. Sure, I touch their spirits and see through into the windows of their souls, but if the disk gets corrupted, I can't imagine going to prison over it. Or crying for 6 weeks. Or needing a change of medications because of it. I would crap and reschedule the shoot and do it again and move on. Hopefully it wasn't a birth I did - which would be really horrible if the disk corrupted, but who of us doesn't know 20 people who didn't get their birth on tape/film/image because of a dead battery or no film or a full card?

days pass

I've written and thought. Written and thought some more. The more I think, the better I feel about not finishing the trail towards becoming a therapist. It feels healing, somehow. It feels like relief to not think about carrying so many women's burdens around inside of me. I just don't think I can do it.

Yet, I'd promised so many women I would. That I was doing just that. I had to call my dear friend with whom I bounce many of my birth rape/birth abuse/mental health issues/school issues off of (she was horribly birth abused by a midwife) and ask if I would be disappointing her if I didn't finish school - quitting school might have been what I said, actually. Would I be letting down the birth abused community? Who would speak for the women? (Don't I sound so amazingly self-centered? I need so much more therapy!)

My friend was so loving and kind, said very similar words that my apprentice had also said to me - but I had to hear them from a birth abused woman who was rooting me on towards the degree in Psychology. They both told me that I was nothing without me first. If I wasn't enjoying myself, I wasn't going to have anything for anyone. I couldn't do anything out of obligation or feeling sorry for anyone; it had to remain out of passion - which I thought I was doing until this week!

And my long-distance friend gently told me I could pass the torch. My apprentice smilingly said I could light someone's candle - they both said that I could still bear witness to women's reality and the pain they have experienced at the hands of midwives... that I can stand and say in any court that midwives and doctors and nurses do, in fact, abuse women in the name of "care" or "healthcare" and that women are not lying when they say what was done to them in the hospital or their home births. That I still have value as a "midwife for birth abused women" even if I don't have those letters after my name and don't write lengthy articles in fancy psychiatric magazines that someone will read and pay attention to. But maybe I will be quoted in one of those articles. Maybe someone will hear me and say something, do something, move some mountain because of my realization of my own admissions of guilt and shame in abusing women in my midwifery past. I can only hope.

So, for the first time today. I said it outloud.

I am not going to finish school. I am not going to become a therapist. I can't do it. I don't have what it takes. I have what it takes to be a midwife and a photographer. I can handle that level of intimacy and stress - and love and grandness! But thinking about adding more... my heart just lifts knowing I can let go of taking care of all those people filled with anguish and sorrow.

My own life has been filled - is filled - with enough of my own anguish and sorrow. Dealing with my own bipolar disorder is struggle enough some days. The thought of working on another's on a day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year basis exhausts me.

I don't know why I didn't think of it this way before. I just didn't. No one ever pointed it out, either. Maybe because I sound so sure and clear when I speak no one wants to or thinks to question what the hell I might be thinking when I am planning something so grandiose as a Finishing School for the Psyche.

What the hell was I thinking? I was in the hospital in 2006. I could have found my way there at least twice more if I'd have tried hard enough. I know there are plenty of mentally ill therapists out there and I know I'd be a damn good therapist, but I think my history of being in therapy and mental illness is just going to have to serve me as augmenting my being a damn great midwife.

I could keep writing and this feels like I am justifying, justifying, justifying... and I am not wanting to do that. I haven't written in so long, I wanted to explain some of what has been going on and why I have been so quiet.

I suspect I won't be so quiet again for awhile. Let's hope not anyway. laughing smile

I do have so many things to say.

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Reader Comments (16)

You're a beautiful photographer, Barb, and with the passion you bring to that, you will do great things! Maybe someday you could work on a photography project of women and babies who've experienced birth abuse, something to tell their stories through pictures and words- now that would be some coffee table book! :)

November 29, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterHelen

Isn't it a beautiful freedom to just let go of a decision that felt so final? Doesn't it feel so right to honor your heart and your own needs? You should be so proud. Being a midwife and a photographer (especially with your gifts) is a HUGE benefit to the world. If you are happy and fulfilled you can reach so many more than if you are tied down by obligation and emotional entanglement. Spread your wings and fly, you are beautiful and magical and deserve all the good that is coming your way. Your pictures are amazing works of art that need to be shared with the world. Take pictures and write a book and impact more than you ever could in therapy. Be blessed!

November 29, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Not finishing something we started can be very difficult to deal with, all that guilt, the sense of failure in ones self and in failing others. I kept going back to nursing studies even though midwifery had become my passion, wanting to finish something I had had to take a break from to have children. It took a great leap of faith to let it go but I realised eventually that I wasn't enjoying it, that my heart lay elsewhere. I felt guilty for ages as though I had let myself down, once again not finishing something I had started. But then I realised that I had finished, I had gotten out of it what I need to, it sent me down the path that I needed to take, I got the skills I needed and I learned so much. I let the sense of failure go, and embraced how I had been shaped for the better and how I could use this to continue along my life's path. There is no sense in wasting time with something you don't enjoy or have to do. I heard a very good quote today that I think fits "make work not work and you will never work again", my interpretation of that do what you love and it will never seem like work, if it feels like work try to change it so that it doesn't, if you can't change it... well time to do something else.

November 29, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermum2midwife

ah welcome back
and glad to hear you are taking care of yourself. I think what ever works best for you and yours... I kept peeking in to see and here you are- having worked out somethings

November 29, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

you're a fantastic midwife, a fantastic photographer, and a wonderful friend.

No...you don't HAVE to be a therepist...being a therepist is hard work...remeber, I'm the one who wanted to be a psychologist, and two professors said "no"...go into law.....

The women, this is hard, but the women need to speak for themselves...you cannot carry the whole world on your shoulders...no matter how hard you try.

If I can help with props or such, please ask.....I do sew you know, and I know where i can get a bunch of silks or other fabrics really cheep for drapes and such....

Besides, I still need to see some of those pics myself, I wish I'd know about your shoot...we need Xmas pics ourselves...:)

November 29, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterOpening Pandora

xo mo

November 30, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

"Cognitive dissonance" is the phrase I have difficulty remembering.

Sometimes you have to try something before you have the information you need to decide it isn't the right thing for you.

That is growth, not failure.

November 30, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

And from your cocoon of silence emerges a sparkly new butterfly.

Selfishly fly & flit about being happier in who you are... With adoring eyes we shall all watch and once again benefit from your work, but in a whole new way. Whose heart isn't warmed by the beauty of nature.. and what is more healing than a warm heart?

November 30, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Great partner you have...the dynamics between women as opposed to the dynamics between a man and a woman are facinating. Men seem less tightly wound but also less likely to articulate whats going on inside a womans own head. Must be why I'm not a lesbian, I couldn't hack...But for you and your partners, that understanding what an unexpected gift.

Bet you have a great puzzle at the end of all this with so many different pieces...

Peace and Joy to both of you
And have fun!!!

December 1, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

mum2midwife has it. You got what you needed--and now it's time to change.

We're so goal-focused, when many times, the journey is much more important! Maybe what you learned while going to school was the point, not becoming a therapist.

It makes me laugh, because I was all set to become a lawyer a few months ago, to fight for patient rights. But I'm just not the lawyer type. Starting to wonder if I'm the midwife type though...

December 2, 2006 | Unregistered Commenteremjaybee

Barb you have a myriad of professional credentials that lend themselves to creating a forum from which to help birth traumatized women. You are a wise person so I imagine this isn't news to you, but have you recently considered how you might use your existing expertise to venture out in an effort to assist birth trauma victims? Just thinking....direct client therapy is one of many ways you can support these families. Perhaps you will consider putting it out to the universe to speak to you about ways in which you can combine your experiences and knowledge in a way that is beneficial to these women.
Maybe it will have something to do with birth art, like photography??? Do you see where I am headed? So you can continue to hang onto the ultimate goal of helping these women and their families, but perhaps in a way that is different then you had anticipated?
Bottom line is I support you and whatever choices you make. You have such authenticity which I admire.

December 2, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I'm the one who wrote to you about birth trauma a few weeks ago and then apologized since I hadn't kept up with what was going on in your life. I just wanted to say thank you for this incredible post, you were always an inspiration but now you are officially my hero. I'm struggling with some similar decisions myself, and I only hope I can tackle them with the same honesty and bravery that you have.

December 2, 2006 | Unregistered Commentereastcoastdoula

I see you as courageous, talented, heart-centered and passionate. I love how you are finding your way with all of this...

You sound like the kind of person who would be "damn great" at anything you chose to do!

My midwife counseled me. She lovingly held my heart after my miscarriage, and during some other very difficult experiences not all to do with my baby or prengancy!

My daughter is almost 11, and my midwife has retired to Mexico - and I miss her often. Still.

Something I learned: Every heart has a "jewel" that is given to others when it's open, throughout life, this jewel is a Quality of the Divine and shines through our individual hearts in a unique way. No matter what you choose to focus on, I bet you are expressing your jewel, and contributing to the world and helping women/people and making life better for all of us.

See? I did the opposite thing, thought I wanted to be a midwife for a long time, but ended up finding my true calling was as a therapist...and I am a therapist for babies, and for anyone whose ever been a baby or been born. Or anyone whose been traumatized by the process of birth/delivery.

My torch is lit. There are those of us that will carry this work foward...

Wondering...would you be interested in writing an article about birth abuse for my newsletter?

December 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDylan

Sure, I would love to write an article... email me (Barb@NavelgazingMidwife.com) and we can go from there.

Hey, your midwife that retired to Mexico... did I buy her midwifery practice in Southern California? Wouldn't that be the coincidence of the small world? You happening across my blog and my being your midwife's successor?

December 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

You have already helped me heal, a great deal. Thanks.

You can't be all things to all people. Enjoying my work is crucial.

(you don't know me in real life, just a lurker here in etherspace)

December 5, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterstockingup99

Hello, I'm reading your blog from the UK, about to give birth to my first child. I came looking for advice, but instead I found someone whose beliefs and life patterns echo my own very closely. It's very reassuring to know you are here. Thanks.

March 28, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

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