21 Days from the Old to the New Normal, Week 3: #StayingAtHome, Sitting with Paradox (and catching babies!)

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Part 1 of this series can be found here. Part 2 is here.

The Weekend: March 14 and 15

Saturday morning, a friend suggested we meet up at a basketball court so the kids could play. I’m thinking, that’s OK, right? It’s just my younger son and one other kid. My husband Gurpreet says he thinks we should shy away from that, especially with contact sports, and in general we should keep everyone at home. Yet again, I’m thinking this is nuts, we’ve gone from no crowds to no school to no small gatherings to no get-togethers with even ONE kid? But he was spot-on about not going to India. That gave me pause, along with having just experienced an entire week of safety thresholds changing by the day.

Moments later, I got a message from another mom on a group text. Her son was already asking to have the usual small group of boys over—what did we think? I replied that our “family policy” was evolving in that moment. One of the dads said his family was observing strict social distancing and suggested Google hangouts instead. He shared the article many people reading this will have already seen, “Social Distancing: This is not a snow day.”  I was convinced.

Despite the background anxiety, we had a nice weekend, relaxed and harmonious. We cooked a lot, took a long walk together, played Pandemic (because what else?) and actually won for the first time. Even though the reason behind it was nothing to celebrate, I set out to intentionally appreciate the empty calendar and whatever blessings this mandatory downtime and togetherness might bring. I listened to my boys chatting and laughing before bed and playing basketball together (thank God for our little backyard “court”!) and felt grateful for their relationship, since they would be spending A LOT of time together.

I got nostalgic for our homeschool days and in a way looked forward to having them at home again, especially the relaxed mornings, something I missed from those days. With my husband working from home and our kids being older, there would be no child care issues, and with all the assignments from school and me not having to curate or plan anything, I thought, this will be a piece of cake! (Let’s see if I end up eating those words.) And nothing would start for a couple weeks anyway, since they would be on spring break.

Knowing I wouldn’t have to plan everything, it was even more fun to make a short list of activities we could do within the current constraints. Providence Preservation Society self-guided tours. A walk on the beach followed by researching piping plover conservation. We would go find the harbor seals.

Monday, March 16

Did I say relaxed? Harmonious? Relishing the blessings? Even a little excited? Right. Welp, that was short lived.

Monday, reality set in. Not going anywhere, and who knows for how long. No friends, at least not in person. No team basketball. All together, at home, all the time. There was fighting (them with each other and me with them). Yelling (me). Complaining (everyone).

After dinner, I dragged everyone, kicking and screaming, out for a walk. It was just the reset we all needed. I asked them, “How would you describe this time to beings from another planet?” My older one said, “It’s like you can do anything you want, but at the same time you can’t do anything.” That resonated with me, as it did seem this time would be a strange combination of freedom and restriction. When it was my younger one’s turn to describe it, he said “Boring, boring, and garbage.” He’s usually articulate and wise beyond his years so I don’t know what happened there, but at least he said it with good humor.

We talked about how although we are all going through an adjustment to this new reality, people all over the world are suffering and dying and many others have lost their jobs. We told the kids—at the same time, reminding ourselves—it’s OK to feel disappointed about things we are missing, but relatively speaking, we have nothing to complain about. And what can we learn from this time about living in the moment, adjusting to the unexpected, and not taking the future for granted? What can we do to serve others?

Tuesday, March 17

Off to work in our office to do outpatient visits. This was the first day I wore a surgical mask for all patient care. It felt awkward, particularly in the outpatient setting. I felt compelled to apologize to my patients for the mask and explain that I was not sick, it was just the new protocol.

By that Friday, the next time I worked in the office, it was clear no one needed any explanation.

Wednesday, March 18

Back at the hospital for 24 hours. Birth happens. Babies will come out the same way, always, no matter what else is going on.

My midwife student and I were busy. We had four births and another woman in active labor besides. In the early evening, I received a text from a colleague. She had just heard that until further notice, our hospital would not allow any medical or midwifery students, in the interest of reducing “nonessential” personnel. I decided that since I had not yet heard this by any official notification and my student had already established relationships with all our patients, I was not throwing her out on the spot. She would finish her shift, and I would keep this information to myself until the morning so she could care for our patients and attend their births without being upset.

She did a fantastic job. When I told her in the morning that she wouldn’t be coming back until further notice, she was disappointed but had been expecting it. Some of her classmates at other clinical sites were already gone. A couple of weeks later, it would no longer be up to the individual clinical sites. The school itself would soon suspend all clinical training for their students.

I do not envy decision-makers in this situation. I pray for them daily and I know there are many considerations going into every difficult decision that I may not know about. I had trouble with this one. This exemplary student has decades of critical care and labor and delivery nursing experience. Even as a new grad midwife, she could hit the ground running after graduating in a few short months—just as we may be facing a provider shortage due to illness and quarantine. We are pulling health care providers out of retirement, and yet here we are hitting pause on the training of new ones who would have soon been ready to step in and fill urgent needs.

I wonder if we would be doing that if we were not facing such a dire shortage of PPE, needing to save every scrap for those of us who are currently licensed to provide care. This makes me angry.

Thursday and Friday, March 19 and 20

The week’s end involved a lot of contemplation and discussion with family and friends about what this time means—for now and the future. A larger conversation was emerging about how as horrible as this crisis is likely to get, it also has the potential to catapult us into a reordering of society that could result in a more compassionate, creative and just world.

Like so many people, I was determined to appreciate the opportunity for more family time, more time for care of the home and creative projects, and simple enjoyment of nature and reflection. At the same time, I wanted to take care not to spiritually bypass the horror of what is happening around the world and increasingly here in the U.S. I always struggle with what can feel like the perversity of personal gratitude while other individuals and entire populations of people face extreme hardship. To some extent, I always live with the question: am I doing enough to be of service in the world—not only to do my part, but also to deserve to enjoy my life? All this is intensified now.

The freedom of unstructured time alongside extreme restrictions. Collective and individual blessings alongside collective and individual anxiety and grief. It was clear this time would be nothing if not a lesson in living with paradox.

Gurpreet said: Imagine? Something  a thousand times smaller than the width of a human hair has brought the whole world to its knees.

© Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama! 

Part 1 of this series can be found here. Part 2 is here.

 

Are Women Free to Make Noise in Labor on Maternity Wards?

 

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One of my blog posts from last year was published in The Huffington Post today. It’s one of my favorites, about women feeling free to use their voices in labor and birth.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/camille-williams/are-womens-birth-sounds-s_b_9678662.html

© Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama! 2016

Anger and Spirituality Are Not Mutually Exclusive

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Kali, the Hindu goddess of death, destruction, creation, fertility, healing, and compassion.

I’ve been thinking a lot about anger. I’m working with it at home in my efforts to quit yelling at my kids. While I navigate that process, I’ve also been thinking about how anger plays a role in our responses to the injustice, corruption, and violence we see in our world. Unfortunately, there’s been no shortage of material for this kind of exploration.

There’s also no shortage of pressure in spiritual growth culture to beware of negative emotions and be all about positivity and good vibes at all times.

Having the sole mission to spread love and inspire others with positive messages is one way to serve, and we need more of this for sure. And there are other valid ways of being in the world that are a little more down and dirty, but can still effect positive change. Anger has its rightful place in this realm, as the call to direct action and the generator of energy. Continue reading

Are Women’s Birth Sounds Silenced in the Hospital?

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Attention birthing women: This will be the hardest work of your life. It will test you on every level. Childbirth education is very helpful, yet there’s no way to know how you will feel physically and emotionally until you’re in it. There are many schools of thought on how to cope, what to call the forces of labor (contractions or surges?), and how to label the feeling (pain or sensation?). I like to keep it simple: it’s really hard, and yeah, it hurts. And, you are stronger than you know, and you can do it. Whether or not you plan to use pain medication or epidural anesthesia, know that you have what it takes within you to get through however many contractions you choose to feel fully.   Do your preparation, trust in the birth process, and believe in yourself.

But once you get to the hospital, whatever you do, for God’s sake, maintain some decorum and do it quietly! And if you can’t do that on your own, we’ve got something for you that will fix that problem quite nicely.  Then, we can ALL be comfortable.

Is that the unspoken message women receive from hospital staff during labor?   Continue reading

Maternal-Child Health Studies from the Department of “Duh,” and Musings on the Disempowered State of Midwifery

Two articles drove me crazy this week.   Let me say at the outset: the title of this post is not a jab at the researchers. I am grateful for their tireless work, in awe of their professional accomplishments, and happy that they are proving what should be self-evident. What I am lamenting is the fact that these things are not obvious to all.

Continue reading

What I’ve Learned from Our First Year Homeschooling, Part 2: Hmmm…This is a Lot Like Midwifery!

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Boy 1 making a comic book

“Certainty does not propel me—wonder does.” –Persephone Brown

Structure and freedom. Routine and flexibility.   Finding the right mix of these elements for my son (and for me!) has been my greatest homeschooling challenge. By “challenge,” I mean I have agonized over this and at times felt overwhelmed with self-doubt and uncertainty.

After 7 months of living it on top of 6 months research and preparation, I think I have finally come up with some preliminary answers to the question, “What homeschooling approach is best for my child and our family?” The short answer is: eclectic and evolving. Continue reading

There’s the delivery report. Then there is the Birth Story.

The other day, I sat down to document a birth in the medical record. I was still all abuzz inside from witnessing the two kick-ass women I had the privilege of attending that night.   It suddenly struck me, the flatness of what I was about to write compared to what actually happened.  I get that we have to document in a certain way, and that’s OK.   But wouldn’t it be amazing to say what we really see, for each and every birth?  Continue reading