I’m a seeker, and I bet you are too. I seek answers to questions about the meaning of life and how I can live my best life. I read books and articles and listen to podcasts. I constantly consume information on what the "right" ingredients are for my healthiest, happiest life and how I can make the biggest impact in the world.
Years ago when I was a flight attendant for Continental Airlines, I was working a flight from Newark to D.C. The weather was stormy and had caused our flight to be delayed by several hours. At first, people waited in the boarding area, then, people waited on the plane at the gate, then, we closed the doors and pushed back and waited more. I was the lead flight attendant that day, the one making the announcements, and in charge of first class. There was one man in particular who got angrier with every minute we were delayed. He complained to us as if we were at fault, probably even shouting at us over the situation. When we finally took off, the captain made the announcement that there would be no service, and the flight attendants needed to stay seated for their safety. My jumpseat faced the first class cabin, and I could clearly see this man who had been angry for hours as we took off. From take off to landing, it was the most turbulent flight I had ever been on. What should have been a quick, 45 minute flight, took hours as we tried to avoid bigger pockets of air and then had to circle around before landing. You can guarantee that I had my four point seat belt on as tightly as possible. I took my book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl, out of my bag and I tried to read it on that bumpy flight. I'm not sure how much I read in those hours but I will always remember how pale our customer’s face was after takeoff, and how he loosened his tie, gripping his seat and hanging on for dear life. I thought to myself, “Now what matters? Does it matter that we were late? Or does it matter that we get there alive?”
I kissed the floor of my apartment when I finally arrived back home many hours later that night. I was thankful to have made it back safely. I thought of Viktor Frankl’s words, and I pondered the meaning of my life, and I hoped that I could live a life worthy of each breath we get to take on this beautiful planet.
Viktor Frankl was a Holocaust survivor and the creator of Logotherapy. He observed that people who had even one thing to live for held onto that meaning as a reason to live through the horrific experiences they were put through. Right now I’m thinking of the people in Syria and Turkiye who have survived for so many days under the rubble of the earthquake, most recently, a teenager was discovered alive 10 days after the earthquakes hit. What must they have been holding onto? And what is the meaning of life for them now?
When I slow down to remember these things, it doesn’t matter so much to me that I get to contribute to bettering the world in the big ways I dream of. I just want to contribute. I want to wake up each day so full of gratitude and love that it’s as if a light is shining from inside of me and I get to spread that light to everyone I meet. I want to be the change I wish to see. I want to live from a place of abundance. I want to share with others that the meaning of life doesn't have to be complicated, it doesn't have to be a never-ending search or a final destination. This breath, these friends, this family, this community, is all I need. I can do good things, no matter what my job title is or what big things I accomplish to make the world a better place. Of course I’m still going to seek to make the biggest impact I possibly can on humanity and our precious planet but if I wake up everyday knowing that no matter what I accomplish, I belong, and I love this life, I’m bound to live a life full of purpose and contribution.
Originally published on LinkedIn
These are the underlying afflictions causing dis-ease in people, negatively affecting communities, companies, and the health of our planet.
Depression, anxiety, suicide, and mass shootings have become commonplace.
Our “networks” reach far and wide and inundate us with an overwhelming amount of surface-level information about what’s going on in the world.
These things take space in our consciousness, they dominate our mental realities.
But what exists in the here and now?
Whose lives do we touch on a daily basis and who do we know and love deeply?
When we make goals for ourselves, how many of them exist in the metaverse of virtual reality, and how many exist in our tangible reality?
These are the things I have been thinking about for the past year.
One year ago, you could say I was going through a dark night of the soul. I had been laid off from a job and company I loved in a way that brought up past trauma.
The hatred and division of the pandemic had left me feeling hopeless, with no light at the end of the tunnel.
Humanity felt doomed.
A blessing in disguise, my layoff allowed some space from the barrage of hate-filled news about people like me, once accepted and loved, now looked at like a leper, for a difference in spiritual beliefs about what I will or will not put into my body.
Try as I might to find a new role and company, I was not hired for any role I applied for and the demons of self-doubt came with every silence after submitting a newly polished resume and meticulously crafted heart-felt cover letter.
The steadfast support of my mother who invited me to move my daughter and myself in with her when I knew I wanted to start my MBA degree in 2021 and when my work was still remote after almost two years, was my saving grace. And throughout my MBA journey, I have also found hope in every course and every book that highlighted a new way of leading businesses.
Certain books and authors I’ve discovered here on LinkedIn have given me hope that the world we really want to create for ourselves and each other is one filled with human-centered companies that see and honor each individual for all of who they are and how they contribute. One book I recently discovered, titled, “Love as a Business Strategy” (Anwar et al., 2021) solidified in my mind that our world is slowly awakening from the shadow of fear and is ready to choose love.
I do have a place here.
It is not too late for humanity.
Looking back on this unusual year, I see that I was often lost in curating goals; which books to read to “know enough,” which additional trainings to take to be “good enough,” or which world problems to focus on solving to be “on brand” enough for my own life!
And then I realized, I was focusing on the wrong things. While my intentions were good, it is too easy to turn Life Purpose into another thing to madly consume more knowledge on, or madly grow my network of people who must be better at said goal than me, all while feeling more empty the larger my surface-level connections and virtual network amassed to.
Wiping the slate clean, removing the need for voracious consumption of all kinds, this year I have four goals or ways of being that I feel will lead me to a deeply fulfilling, peaceful, and purposeful life and I propose may change your life and business as well.
My Four Intentions for 2023
1. Be Kind
This virtue alone could be enough to transform our world as I see its revolutionary quality when used towards ourselves and others.
Imagine a world where even bad news (like a layoff) was delivered with kindness…
Imagine the effect of public education on children where teachers were always kind, no matter how frustrated they became…
2. Slow Down (Be intentional with time)
What would it be like to approach life with a keen awareness of how we invest our time, developing a slowed-down intention of being 100% present and committed to the activities we choose to fill our days with?
Imagine the deep satisfaction felt with this level of intention.
Now fully aware of how we spend our days, with the goal of being intentional with our time, we may become aware that not all goals/purchases/activities align with how we want our slowed-down lives to feel.
Simplifying or pruning every area of our life, from business activities and goals to the number of things we own will provide the space for mental clarity and peace and the ability to invest in what will have the biggest impact for ourselves and others.
Magic, wonder, awe, beauty. They are all around us at all times. With an intention to savor life more, we will notice the beauty and talent in the people we work with, in our quirky family or neighbors, and with all things that make up our present realities.
We will enjoy this moment or simply value it for what it brings to our lives even if it is challenging, because, we have an awareness that this moment will soon pass.
I still don’t know exactly what my future holds, but after a year of soul (and job) searching I’ve gained clarity on the goals that matter. Operating with these intentions and living my truth will lead me to the right people at the right times. I am here for a purpose, I have unique gifts and perspectives from a life path that is 100% mine and that I have no regrets about. (Thank you April Rinne for inviting me to see my career as a portfolio, full of unique accomplishments).
Yes, the world is full of problems and we can all get overwhelmed with fear, anger, and judgment. And, there is hope for all of us.
We can work together to heal our workplaces, heal our political divides, and leave judgment and shaming behind us. The first step? Be kind.
I think we all want a world free of school shootings, terrorism, discrimination, and dangerous silos that perpetuate the illusion of division. In order to dream into existence a world that not only talks about but actually provides belonging and inclusion for all people, we need to re-evaluate our own actions and what we are teaching our children. We must ask ourselves, is our behavior creating a more compassionate, loving, and peaceful world free of discrimination of any kind?
Here are some suggestions for embodying true inclusion and equity as parents or adult members of the community:
Have a no tolerance rule for name-calling, starting by exemplifying this yourself. “Brandon,” “Karen,” “Trumper,” “Anti-Vaxxer,” “Vaxxer,” “Bully,” “Idiot”… I can’t even keep up with all of the new ways to model hate and unbelonging in this country. Do you unknowingly participate in otherizing by using these terms yourself or cheering on people who do? Stop and ask yourself what name-calling does…How does it feel to be on the receiving end of name calling? Maybe you experienced it on the playground as a child. Did you then want to have a conversation with the person who made fun of you and become friends or did it make you want to dislike them even more?
When you witness otherizing and name-calling in the news, from political leaders, or at your child’s school, point it out and have a discussion around it with your kids. Ask them how it might feel if they were on the receiving end of the exclusion and stereotyping. Ask them to imagine another way to solve the underlying problem that led to the name-calling in the first place. Ask them to wonder what the problem or problems might be.
Get to know your neighbors, all of them. Don’t use bumper stickers on someone’s car or a lawn sign as an indicator of who they are as humans. If we did that, we might not speak to anyone, or we might not be challenged to think differently. Reviving a true sense of community is desperately needed in this world.
Don’t talk in terms of good vs. evil. Nothing in life is as black and white as that. There are no purely evil or purely good people. After watching a movie or reading a book with your kids ask what they noticed about the antagonist’s story. Could they empathize with anything? Invite them to wonder. If the story didn’t allow for a nuanced character at all, ask them if they think there are “bad guys” like that in real life?
Model self-compassion. How often do you criticize yourself or call yourself names for not reaching a goal or making a mistake? Show your kids that forgiveness, empathy, and understanding are high priorities in your life.
Model an interest in other cultures, ideas that differ from your own belief systems, ways of being, or religions. Do this by diversifying your friend group, inviting the newcomers to your community or school over for tea, traveling outside your region or country if you can, and challenging yourself to be open to learning about ideas and ways of life that seem foreign to you.
Read stories to your kids about regular people from all around the world. It does not and should not always have to be an underdog story or a story of oppression. Let them see diverse people, living their lives, and how they can relate. A good way to find these books is by looking for the hashtag #ownvoices.
Watch travel shows or series from other countries, ask them to notice differences and similarities and wonder what it would be like to grow up in that country.
Walk through the world with humility for what you don’t know and a curiosity for other’s deeply held beliefs even if you don’t share the same views.
Be proud of free speech. Tell your kids that people protesting demonstrates that they are passionate about whatever the topic is and we are lucky to live in a country where we are allowed to and encouraged to express ourselves in this way. Show respect, even if there are a few among the masses who are not doing a great job of showing respect themselves. As the saying goes, “hurt people, hurt people.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. left us a legacy of leading with love. His non-violent protests and standing up for what he knew in his heart to be wrong did not otherize. He did not name-call or silo people. Dr. King wanted us to realize that we are all brothers and sisters. It’s easy to slip out of this mindset and start seeing people who you feel are impeding social progress as people who are not worthy of belonging. Do not fall into this trap. We will not have progress if we can’t see our shared humanity.
My favorite book of 2021 was SEE NO STRANGER: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love. Valarie Kaur lends us the possibility of a world where we look upon every stranger with wonder saying, “you are a part of me I do not yet know.”
What would that world look like? What would it feel like? I don’t know about you, but I would love to experience a world in which we all feel like we belong. A world that offers opportunity to repair harm. A world that sets loving boundaries and gives equal opportunity to all beings. A world where we can dream and work together towards a sustainable and loving existence for all.
The Time of Great Greed
And the Birth of a New World
- a short story -
Those of us who survived were the ones who had set out in search of the old ways, and the ones who had never lost them. We were few and far between on a planet that had been disowned by its own people more than two thousand years before. The people were possessed with a greed and evil that gave them a false arrogance, as if they were better and separate from the earth and all other living things. This greed led to pillaging her core, and destroying the balance that had held us here in harmony for hundreds of thousands of years before. The more that we extracted the heart of the earth by drilling for oil, mining for coal and precious metals, the more we killed her. Day after thousands of days chemical plants turned oil into plastic, plastic that couldn’t be returned to the earth for hundreds of years and filled the oceans and streets, leaching toxins into the air that killed all living things, and we wondered why we were sick and dying.
The power that a handful at the top so greedily possessed had no end. It existed to tip the scales only their way. Except they didn’t realize that possessions and wealth would not bring them what they truly desired and the more power they took the more they wanted.
Starting in the year twenty thousand and nineteen, fear and greed contributed to much death. The people didn’t know it but they were willing hosts when they were filled with fear and worry. Stress made their bodies weak and their minds gave way and failed to fight the pathogen. Then those at the top said they had the answer, and everyone, even those among us who did not want it or did not need it, had to take this medicine, or face a prison of sorts, one that limited their life and made it illegal for them to travel, or take part in anything they used to. This great coercion was what gave way to the final rise of arrogance. The powers that be had gained unimaginable wealth while the world suffered and writhed in pain and fear.
My people came together at that time. We had to find each other. The world, under a spell, had shunned us and pushed us out of as many places as they could. They tried to exterminate us because our ideas were different. It made them more afraid. The powers didn’t even have to do any of this to us, the people did it for them, for they had begun to fear anything that was different than what the majority said. And the majority said what the media said, and the media said what the powers told them to say or their lives would be over.
When we found each other, one by one, year after dreadful year, we shared with each other all we knew, we began to resurrect the ways of our ancestors who revered and lived in harmony with the earth. We rediscovered the knowing that we are no different from the earth and what we do to her, we do to ourselves. We had to meet in secret, because for many years people were not allowed to gather, it was dangerous they said, and they were looking out for and protecting us. They knew better than us they said, and if we gathered, not only would we be punished, we would be hurting others.
So, we met in the forest in the night. We shared knowledge we could find in banned books, or if we were lucky enough to have one among us whose lineage had never forgotten the old ways, we listened deeply to them.
After many years, and chaos all around, the earth who had been writhing in pain with our continual abuse, finally had no more to give. The balance was completely gone. She shook for 730 days. The earthquakes and tsunamis and fires killed almost everyone. And the ones who were left, only survived if they knew what we knew. Or if they decided that what we knew was worth knowing and embracing and asked to join us.
Life is starting to show itself again. Trees and plants are beginning to grow and the invisible microorganisms that inhabit everything are hard at work to bring their mother back to life.
For many years we survived on potatoes. It was all that would grow. But now we have carrots, and ginger, and onions. And just yesterday, when walking in the canyons I saw something that looked like a strawberry plant.
Our council meets every night, around the fire that we lovingly build together. We share our hearts and stories that bring laughter or tears to our eyes. It is the circle that brings us life. It is the magic of the circle that harmonizes us and brings us back into balance with our great mother. Many of us remember the days of great greed. It lives in our cells. It is part of what catapulted us into this growth. We wouldn’t be who we are or where we are without it. That doesn’t mean that sometimes it doesn’t come into our subconscious as a painful memory. That doesn’t mean that we don’t mourn for those who we lost. The pain will always be there. But it is there only to remember the beauty. It is there to remind us of the sacredness of all life. It is there as a remembering of the intricate miracles of nature. Without darkness, after all, there is no light.
It was my near breakdown that brought me to this moment, in this room being interviewed for a job that I had no idea would change my life.
I had been working two jobs while also trying to build a coaching business supporting families in the revolutionary way I knew that new families needed to be supported. I was alone, with my 5-year-old daughter, overwhelmed with the reality of being a sole provider, parent, friend, cleaner, cook, creative entrepreneur, and employee. There were dirty dishes all over the kitchen, clutter and toys all over our tiny living room/my office and stuffed animals were littering the floor of our shared basement bedroom. I called my mom in desperation after judging myself harshly for the mess all around. I shouted to her like a wounded animal that clearly, I was not capable of being a good mother, not capable of providing enough for us in order for me to let a little stress go. I wasn’t sure if I could pay my rent and my motivation to promote my business felt like a flame growing smaller and dimmer every day. I wailed that I never got a break, I had been my daughter's sole caregiver her whole life, and I never got any time to myself. She needed me to be grounded for her, why did I repeatedly fail miserably with that seemingly simple task? All the little stressors that had built up in me for months exploded like a volcano as I shouted and cried over the phone to my mom how horrible life was, how I didn’t have enough hours at the hospital teaching childbirth classes, my marketing job hours had been cut, I felt like I couldn’t survive, and worst of all, I shouted, my daughter didn't help me. No matter how hard I tried to encourage my child to help me clean up the toys, she didn’t.
My daughter was in the other room but had heard it all. I was angry, overwhelmed and scared, my feelings about our life at that moment were not permanent. I needed to release them so I could find a way to pick myself up and keep moving. She didn't know that. At the time, neither did I.
Not many days after that, during our bedtime routine, my sweet 5-year-old girl insisted we call an ambulance. Her heart felt funny, she felt like she couldn’t breathe. Her breaths were shaky and rushed. As she peered up at me I still remember the look in her eyes, she was scared, and so was I. After waiting in the emergency room for hours, the EKG was finally back. It turned out she was “fine.” No heart problems, not of the physical kind anyway. But that night was the first of many months of anxiety-ridden bedtimes and my search for something that could cure my baby. Our routine of brushing teeth, reading stories, and singing songs would inevitably be interrupted by her intrusive thoughts. They were so vivid, they were beyond her years, beyond anything she’d been exposed to, and always about death. My heart was breaking. I researched day and night to find ways to combat her anxiety. I knew I was stressed, but I didn’t make the connection from my stress to her fear until we sought out the help of an energy healer whom my sister found and arranged for me. This healer was able to uncover the cause of my daughter’s anxiety in a few well-posed child-friendly questions. To my complete horror, her answers revealed that she had internalized my meltdown that night and now carried the belief and worry that she was useless and unwanted.
I was the cause of my baby’s suffering. My toxic stress. My fear for our own survival. My fear that I would get sick and not be able to take care of her because I couldn’t afford health insurance. My fear that I couldn’t keep paying the rent, that I would have to move our lives, again. My meltdown had left the ground under her unstable and changed the world into a scary place. Worst of all, she felt like it was all her fault and I didn’t love her or want her.
Fast forward to this interview room. I’m on one side of the table in this dimly lit, tight room with two Parent Educators and the Supervisor of the program on the other side. Supportive people in my life like my sister had encouraged me to look for employment and a regular 9-5 so I could relieve the stress that was destroying me and my family. While I felt like a warrior retreating from her most heartfelt cause, I looked for full-time employment and started to share with my friends what I was dreaming of. A place where I could still feel like I was somehow working towards my dreams, a place that was family-friendly and understanding of single parents, and my desire to be there for my child when she needed me. Like a little miracle, my friend Joy told me about an organization she thought I’d love to work for. At first, they did not have a position I was qualified for, but months later I went back to their website and saw a job posting that gave my soul a glimmer of hope. When I read the description and looked up the curriculum that the Parent Educators used, I couldn’t believe it. It was so similar to what I was trying to create in my struggling coaching business. And it was a guaranteed paycheck, with benefits. I was thrilled to make it to the second interview. There was a benefit listed on the posting that I wanted to know more about, so in that interview, I mustered the courage to ask: “What does the benefit, “self-care” mean?” To which my future supervisor answered, “Unlimited, unaccrued, paid time off.” My eyes must have opened wider with a confused look on my face because she went on to explain, “Basically, we believe that people who work for this organization do so because they care about what they do. We know that everyone wants to do their best to serve our community and so we respect the needs of the employee to take time off when they need it, whether that is to prevent burn-out or to support your family, it doesn’t matter.” She went on to explain that the ‘unaccrued’ part meant that the benefit started right away.
I tried to hide my emotions, I tried to hide that nearly 6 years of stress was ready to start melting off my weary body with this revolutionary concept of unwavering support and trust of an employee to know when they needed to take care of themselves and the golden permission to do so. I am sure I teared up as I said my final word in that interview of just how passionate I was about providing parents support in the way that I could as a Parent Educator with their organization and how much I wanted to be a part of such an incredible place. Internally I was shouting, “Hire me! Please hire me!!”
Fast forward to today. It’s been 2 and a half years. With the help of my colleagues, I’ve made it through my daughter adjusting to a new school and town and slowly but surely kicking anxiety’s butt, and even harder events like my father getting leukemia and dying less than a year later. And of course, wading through the altered realities of a global pandemic, as we all are... While sometimes I feel like I am going crazy working from home while my daughter does school online, barely getting out of the house for nearly the past year, I am unendingly grateful for the heartfelt, revolutionary leadership and support of an organization that has changed my life. When the pandemic hit, our organization’s focus was not only on the communities we serve but equally important, the humans who are behind the service. To ensure that we could continue serving families AND that as few employee lives would be disrupted as possible, leadership decided to sell one of our office buildings and use the money to retain our workforce, no matter how diminished our caseloads might become. Each week when our team gets together via zoom for a weekly meeting, and every other week when I have reflective supervision with my supervisor, I feel supported and held, seen and heard, no matter where I am at or what I am going through. I am always guided to grow and learn while respecting my needs and allowing for the nourishment of my soul. I couldn’t have dreamt up a better place to be a part of and it is my dream to one day share these world-changing concepts and values with other organizations and schools.
Can you imagine what the world would be like if every person was held and supported to grow into the best version of themselves by their employers?
Imagine your organization embodying these values and practices:
Relationship-based: Building relationships is at the core of the organization’s operations and is the lens through which all actions are filtered.
Reflective practice: The ability to reflect on one's actions so as to engage in a process of continuous learning. (Source)
Strengths-Based Coaching: Identifying strengths and the innate knowledge of the employee and helping them build upon those strengths to reach their full potential in their work and in life.
Intent-Based Leadership: Every employee contributing to and taking responsibility for the organization’s success and how the mission is accomplished (through activities such as Continuous Quality Improvement teams and an Annual Empowerment Survey where the vision of all employees for the organization is asked for and valued).
Creative Democracy: Creative Democracy brings people together to build stronger communities by combining artistic vision, effective planning, and broad and inclusive public participation. It clears the way for many viewpoints to be heard and allows the community to build on the best ideas by imagining new solutions that are good for the whole community. When we bring people together like this, they come up with solutions that effective, durable, and build long-lasting connection.
Trauma-Informed: “Trauma-Informed Care is a strengths-based framework that is grounded in an understanding of and responsiveness to the impact of trauma…that emphasizes physical, psychological, and emotional safety for both providers and survivors…and, that creates opportunities for survivors to rebuild a sense of control and empowerment.” (Hopper, Bassuk & Olivet, 2010, pg. 82)
Reflective Supervision: The regular collaborative reflection between a service provider (clinical or other) and supervisor that builds on the superviser's use of her thoughts, feelings, and values within a service encounter. (source)
Restorative Practice: a paradigm in which the attention is put on relationships, constructive communication, self-regulation and repairing harm. It is a way of thinking and being focused on creating safe spaces for real conversations that deepen relationships and build stronger more connected communities. The fundamental hypothesis of restorative practice is that human beings are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those positions of authority do things with them, rather than to or for them. (IIRP & Mark Vander Vennen)
Self-Care: An employee benefit that allows for the employee to know when they need to take time off, doing so in a responsible way to ensure program requirements are still met. Also, the ability to take longer periods of time to care for a family member, to grieve a death, or recover from an illness with absolute support to take the time each individual needs.
Can you imagine if these were the philosophies of every American organization when the COVID-19 pandemic hit?
I imagine if they were, we could have more easily focused on helping ensure the safety of vulnerable populations through job security and community support. We could have also ensured that people who felt like they might be getting sick would stay home knowing that they could trust that they would still be supported by their employer and not be penalized. Imagine if most of the collateral damage our whole planet has suffered from widespread shutdowns did not happen (small businesses lost forever, increased youth suicide and increased intimate partner violence, developing countries diving deeper into poverty with the loss of tourism and trade, decades of girls and youth education progress reversed and possibly halted for generations to come)? Imagine instead that our children were able to go to school this whole time with increased safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID like mask-wearing and hand washing, instead of being filled with anxiety and stuck at home for a whole year (and counting) wondering when the life they loved will ever return to them?
I know that my dream may sound like a Utopia. And that what I propose is only one part of a very complex puzzle. I also know that now is the perfect time to fight for systemic change that values all people’s lives and well-being.
I am grateful for my work and that I can be a supportive presence in the lives of the families I serve, who without this support, this year more than ever, would be in a very different place. And I am eager for more people to know and understand how powerful these concepts are. I see the butterfly effect it would have on every aspect of our culture and communities when implemented into our workplaces. Dream with me. The better future we seek is attainable with small courageous actions taken by people just like you. Share this article with your employer to get the conversation started. Let’s make this world a more loving, caring place by adopting values that honor the humanity of each individual, making this world a better place for all.
(Originally published by PALS Doulas in 2018 and republished by ICEA.org in 2019).
As birth doulas, our hearts are full when we can be fully present for a family when they need us, before their babies are born and for every single waking moment during their labor and birth. We work tirelessly: physically and emotionally putting every ounce of ourselves into making sure that birthing parents and their partners feel continuously supported. After all, that’s what the research says: birth outcomes improve with the continuous support of a doula. Let me say that again, “birth outcomes improve with the continuous support of “a” doula.”
I believe that most doulas know that in order for new parents to feel successful, they need to have a tribe. We talk about the importance of having a birth team. We ask them who will be there for them in the postpartum period. We help them plan and give them good resources, knowing that birthing and new parenting should not be done alone. We also remind them of good self care, both in labor and birth and after baby comes, because taking care of themselves is vital to their success. Without good self care, self compassion, and a little help from the community, new parents can easily get overwhelmed, exhausted and burnt out. The magic and joy of birth and parenting can be lost in the fog of overwhelm. And yet, we as doulas in this current paradigm of a sole doula supporting families, have a hard time walking our talk.
My own birth experience was the reason why I wanted to become a doula. I experienced an awakening with my daughter’s birth. My labor didn’t go as planned, as is the way with most labors. I had envisioned a peaceful water birth at my local birth center, with no interventions. But my water broke first, and contractions were taking their sweet time coming. My dreams of a peaceful water birth started to fade as we neared the 24 hour mark and I heard my midwife faintly suggest, “I think we should transfer to the hospital to see if we can get things moving along, but it’s up to you.” I cried. But I felt like we should go.
On the short 20 minute ride to the hospital, I accessed a part of myself I had never fully found before, a deep inner knowing and a complete trust and connection with my body. I asked my baby girl for her help, I visualized my body opening, and I surrendered. After being monitored for a while at the hospital, both the doctor and my midwife decided that my contractions were strong and we could wait and see. I continued to quietly visualize my body doing its job while my midwife’s soothing words helped me ease into contractions and my best friend, mother, and partner took turns physically supporting me. Only a couple of hours later, I wanted to get into the tub to help with the contractions. My midwife checked me first and said I was almost fully dilated!
I used all of my strength to birth my daughter into the world. And then I knew. Birth was powerful. Birth was a rite of passage. Birth was the place we could meet our deepest inner strength. I wanted to be a part of helping women to believe in their own strength, to trust their intuition, and to feel like they were supported and held in their most vulnerable and most powerful transformation.
With this passion building in me, I took birth doula training when my daughter was a little over a year old. I was pumped up to be a doula.
And then I had my first client.
It was hard for me to leave my daughter with just anyone for long periods of time and so I chose to have my elderly aunt, dearly loved by my daughter, watch her. I supported that first mama with all my strength, body, mind and soul for 18 hours before her baby was born. When I got home, not only was I exhausted, but my aunt was, too. It took me days to recover from losing sleep, which made it harder for me to be my best self for my daughter, and it quickly became clear to me:
I can’t be a doula.
I didn’t have childcare options that wouldn’t leave the caregiver and my daughter feeling burnt out, and I didn’t have the physical strength, or even the right nutrition and self-care practices in place for birth to not take everything out of me.
It’s been a long 4 year journey, and I have gone back and forth with wondering if I should finish my certification. I’ve been on a deep discovery of what it takes for me to feel physically, mentally and spiritually fit enough to withstand the power needed to tirelessly support and be responsible for being that ONE person who research has proven can improve a birthing person’s outcomes.
As doulas, how often do we feel like we can take care of ourselves while supporting parents in labor? How many of you feel like you can take a rest when you feel tired, eat when you feel hungry, meditate when you need to recharge while at a birth? I would say most likely, you don’t feel that way, because you know what the research says: Continuous support… And you feel responsible to live up to that expectation. You know its power. You want to be able to give that and you will make sacrifices to make that happen. At least that’s how I feel.
Something got stirred up in me recently when I read We Were Doulas Before They Were Doulas. The article talks about Danette Jubinville, an indigenous woman from Vancouver, Canada, who after the birth of her daughter was inspired to advocate for indigenous-specific birth care. She had a team of indigenous birth workers by her side during the birth of her daughter, which helped her feel like birth was the happiest moment in her life. In trying to start a birth workers collective and secure grant funding, she came across a road block. The government in Canada needed her birth workers to be “certified.” They required the birth workers to take DONA International Doula Training.
While she found value in taking the DONA training, she didn’t feel it was culturally appropriate and said, “One of the tensions with the DONA approach is that they have a narrowly defined scope of what a doula is. It forces you into this box of being an individualized birth worker.”
Jubinville says that Indigenous Birth Workers often work together and “during her own birth, the women took turns sleeping, eating and supporting her through a long stormy night.”
Let me repeat that: they took turns sleeping, eating, and supporting her through the night.
These thoughts have been stirring in me since I read that article. The way that she described her support team helping her celebrate her labor and her birth was absolutely beautiful, and I keep picturing what that must have looked like: several doulas working together to peacefully and compassionately support the birthing person and be a true part of a birthing team. (Read the full article to really get a picture of what this looked like!)
In our movement to make sure that there is “a doula for everyone,” have we forgotten our roots? Have we forgotten what is sustainable? If we were to take a look at every culture in the world, I bet if they don’t still have more than one woman working together to support a birthing woman before and after the baby comes, they used to. Even in colonial America, more than one woman was there to continuously support the birthing mother before, during, and after birth. Have we made a mistake to train doulas to be “individualized birth workers” if that means they find themselves sacrificing their own health and self-care?
Some doulas have tried to make this work easier by starting collectives or doula partnerships where on-call time is split. Some doulas write their own support into their contracts; for example, “I may call my back-up doula to relieve me if I have been supporting you for more than 18 hours.”
Personally, I tried to start a doula partnership, hoping it would be a model that would allow me to do the work, because I wouldn’t be on call all of the time. But I still would have been putting absolutely everything into the births I was called to for however long it took. Often I was so dedicated to continuous support that I might not have a proper meal or be able to take a break. My partnership never got off the ground. We gave up because it was hard to find clients. We had a feeling that people were uneasy with the thought of not knowing who would come to their birth.
We as doulas have trained the public so well. We have told them that knowing who will be at their birth is important, that continuous support from that one doula will help them feel supported, relaxed, and empowered. And I know this to be true.
But what if they knew there would be a team of doulas there to support them?
That there would never be a moment where their voice was not heard or they didn’t feel held? What if the doulas worked together seamlessly and knew they could meet both the birthing person’s needs and their own needs? How valuable would this work be if it was more sustainable for doulas?
Is it time to shift the way we train doulas and how we think about doula work?
Resources: Cochrane Review on continuous support during labor.
Article: We Were Doulas Before They Were Doulas
My dear friends, I owe you an update on how my first Half Marathon went. :)
It's interesting to me that my life experiences seem to happen in cycles. At this same time of year, around the same day as the Half Marathon, 6 years ago, I was starting another kind of Marathon: Labor. It was the first time I experienced with full-force, the power of the Mind-Body connection.
My visions for my birth, a peaceful and calm waterbirth at the birth center in the woods, slowly started to fade when my water broke with a gush as the first sign of labor with no contractions for several hours. I had a clock ticking with only 24 hours to give birth in the undisturbed way I had hoped for without interventions. (Due to risk of infection, most care providers want babies to be born within 24 hours of the bag of waters breaking).
After having worked hard to get my contractions going, I was excited for my daughter's birth and felt I was in hard labor before going back to the birth center with only a few hours left on the clock. And then my midwife gave me the disappointing news, I was only dilated 1 cm. I was devastated.
It was on the ride from the birth center to the hospital, my last chance for no interventions, that I finally went deep within. I stopped "doing" and fully believed. I believed that my body could give birth, I believed that I wouldn't need interventions and I visualized it all happening. I visualized softening, opening, letting go. Over, and over and over. Open, open, open. It was almost like I was in a trance.
My contractions were strong, and the doctor at the hospital decided to wait on pitocin to see how things progressed. I remember feeling relieved, I had more time. I continued to visualize. I asked my daughter for her help. I was completely immersed in the surreal and ethereal feelings of labor. I was in the present moment, in total surrender. 2 short hours later, I wanted to get in the tub for pain relief. My midwife checked me, and to her surprise, I was almost fully dilated. I began to push a few minutes later, and met my daughter not long after that.
The rush of endorphins, the sense of accomplishment, the complete and absolute love I felt for my daughter and absolute empowerment from birth was like nothing I'd ever experienced before. I immediately felt connected to a secret tribe of mothers. I gained an understanding of the quiet strength and resilience that mothers embody all around the world.
On race day, I had similar thoughts and emotions rush through my veins. This time, my daughter was waiting for me at the finish line.
Those last few miles were tough, but I knew I could do it. I believed I could do it. I went within to find my own strength and drew strength from all of the mothers (starting with the one next to me, thanks, Cindy!!) and aunties and grandmothers and sisters (and all the good men too!) around me and around the world.
I thought about all of the Mamas I was running for on Team Every Mother Counts and how far they have to walk to get to a healthcare facility when they are in labor. I ran for their safe pregnancies and their safe births. I thought of my daughter's relatives in Tanzania, her cousins and aunties, and their safety. And I just kept telling myself, "You can do it, you ARE doing it. Your body was made for this. Your muscles know what to do."
And there she was, as I came close to the finish line, my baby girl (my nearly 6 year old baby girl), and her auntie, my best friend and wise sage, Heather, and to my surprise, my brother-in-law Fantin and my mom Judy as well. It felt so good to be supported and cheered on. It felt so good to be acknowledged. There is nothing I would trade in the world for that love.
I have so much more to say about this. This is only the beginning of this story.
I'm looking forward to getting stronger, and stronger. Faster and more resilient. I look forward to joining Team Every Mother Counts again and running in more Half Marathons and one day, a Full Marathon. Kilimanjaro?? We shall see.
THANK YOU for ALL of your support! I have really, really appreciated the encouragement and kind words!
Thank you to all of you who were able to make a donation to my fundraiser for Every Mother Counts. I am only $5 away from reaching my goal of $500! If you feel called to donate to a very worthy cause, the link is still live: https://www.crowdrise.com/seattle-marathon-and-half-marathon/fundraiser/rebeccablankinship
Much, much, much Love.
Live a Little
Last evening, sitting around after dinner, I mentioned to my 5 year old daughter Nunu that we could do something fun for summer solstice, like, write a letter to the sun. She stopped what she was doing and looked up at me, her face full of curiosity and wonder and said, "write to the sun??" I said, "Yes, we can write to the sun about how we love its glow and warmth and think of all the things the sun makes possible that we are thankful for." "Okay," she said, "we can write to the sun."
A little while later she called to me, urging me to come outside, that she was ready. She had two broomsticks, one for me and one for her. She was wearing her cowgirl hat and her rubber boots. "C'mon, let's go." I put the broom between my legs, broom side behind me and she laughed, a shocked kind of laugh and shook her head, "No Mama, this way." As she directed the "horse's" "head" to be in front of me. Okay, I see what we are playing I thought. "Now what?" I said.
"Let's go!" She said. "Let's ride to the sun!"
"Oh, you thought I said "ride" to the sun?" I asked, hoping that my correction of her idea would mean that I could take the broomstick out from between my legs.
"Yeah!!" She exclaimed.
"I meant, write to the sun, like write words." I explained. "Shall we go inside and do that?"
"No, let's ride to the sun! Pleeeease."
I looked at the sun, I looked at my baby, I realized she had a romantic idea and I wanted to go there with her. But I stalled. I tried to negotiate with her as I negotiated with my inner child. I then chose to let the boring adult in me not worry about all of the neighbors in the apartment building probably watching us romp around the parking lot on brooms, and let my inner child live a little.
Of course Nunu wanted nothing but the best from me as we started to gallop around the parking lot. And so I galloped, and I galloped my best gallop.
One day, she won't be asking me to play horse. The magical years of living in and playing out her imagination will be gone. Even if she becomes an actor or artist, she may succumb to societies pressures of only letting her imagination soar at "acceptable" times. And so I reveled in the choice to feel the beauty and magic of childhood, right now, right here with her.
The Angel Who Gave Me Strength
Three years ago in May, I met an angel. She was a woman from Rwanda, and we were waiting for the same plane in Arusha, going to Nairobi. She had no idea why I was leaving Tanzania with my 5 month old baby girl and not even a carry on suitcase. She sat beside me in the boarding area at the small airport in Arusha and warmed me to her with her smile and her genuine interest in me. We sat next to each other and on the plane and I learned about her, a lawyer from Rwanda, with two small boys. Her husband was on the same plane, he was off to another country for work and she was headed home. They both worked hard and didn’t see each other very often. But somehow with each breath I felt how she was so thankful for her life, and not sorry about any of her struggles. I told her a little bit about my daughter's family and lied and said that we were just “there for a short visit.” I didn’t say that we had fled in the middle of the night, that the man I loved with all of my heart was so damaged and blind that instead of being the one person who was supposed to protect us he became the person I had to protect myself and our daughter from. I will always remember her words as she looked down at my baby with that knowing look of how incredible this little girl was and said “there must have been love there once, look at this beautiful girl.” I had not told her that we were leaving her father and may never see him again.
She stayed with me for the long 8 hour layover in Nairobi, her layover was 10 hours. She held Nunu for me sometimes, and let me walk around or go to the bathroom. At one point she asked me if I had any sisters or a mother at home. I told her that my sister and mother were waiting for me. That’s when she told me I was lucky, she had lost her three sisters and her mother in the genocide. I will never forget that. I didn’t get her contact information and can’t even remember her first name. I gave her my email address but never heard from her. I know she was my angel that day. She had been through so much and was so strong.
She was not a victim, she was a warrior.
I think about my daughter's father and feel sorry that he has been for many years, lost in victimhood. He is drowning in his own sad stories and never takes the hand outstretched towards him that truly wants to help. I think of his humanness and forgive him for his irresponsible actions. And then I thank him and myself and angels like the woman from Rwanda, my sister who helped me out of the country by calling the US Embassy to ensure our safety and my mother for buying our ticket home. I thank them all and myself because I know the value of this beautiful life and every day I thank God for all of its beauty.
One day, because of my experiences, I may be able to be that listening ear, that voice of reason, and that person who can on some level relate to a woman who has trusted when it wasn’t safe to trust and let her know that it’s not up to her to save another, that she can save herself.
Remembering the Rwandan Genocide today, thankful for all of the strong women and men dedicated to helping the world heal…