Becoming a doula, week 4: life intervenes

WHOP-CRUNCH.

I heard it outside my window. That unmistakable and unwelcome sound, metal hitting metal. I live on a route to the Minnesota State Fair. A gorgeous, sunny Friday morning of the last weekend of the second largest state fair in the United States. Texas has bragging rights to the biggest — well, enough said. The traffic in front of my apartment building had been non-stop since 6 a.m., and it was now 11.

My initial peer out the front window showed that the front of my car looked fine. (We don’t have designated parking here.) The maroon SUV, stopped in the middle of the street, did not. But I did wonder where the other car was. Two men were talking, civilly enough.

But my curiosity would not be denied. I went out the front door and traversed the little walkway between my apartment building and the adjacent one. (Our steps to the street are temporarily gone due to a city plumbing update gone awry.) The next building’s steps brought me right to the rear end of my car.

The fender was completely severed. The exhaust was on the ground. Broken plastic and glass formed a car-shaped outline. My car had sustained a fatal blow. A little circle of people had been milling around, waiting to see who owned the gutted gray car. Curtain up; it is I.

The 80-year-old driver and his wife were nice enough. They stayed — as if they had a choice. Their car wasn’t drivable, either, and the wife was tottering her way around with a walker. Out of town and on the way to the fair, the wife saw something on the right side of the street. “Oh, honey, look!” She pointed. He looked. As they say in the racing world, the car goes where your eyes go. In this case — into my car.

But they were insured. I’m driving a rental, thanks to their insurance. The payout’s fair (pun intended).

Three days later, my laptop fan started making a disturbing tweedle. The tweedle morphed into a warbly rhythm: tweedle-whop, tweedle-whop. Like the whoofer noise that rock-and-roll guitarists in the 1960s would generate from their amps. Shutdown-and-restart didn’t resolve the matter. A trip to the Geek Squad and their initial effort to clean the fan couldn’t fend off the tweedle-whop, either. The laptop, new in February, is now “off to the shop,” compliments of the service plan I bought.

So — I’m sure my horoscope shows that the machine stars were not aligned for me last week. It all distracted me from writing my doula goals — and from working on my book.

The good news: when I moved to Minnesota in 1975, I came here alone. Knew not a single soul. But I stayed here, remarried, and had two sons. Both are grown and married; one lives here in Minneapolis his wife. They got married last July. This blog entry is coming to you compliments of my daughter-in-law, who is loaning me her laptop while mine is at the doctor’s.

As I was driving over to pick up her laptop, I realized how much my life had changed. Over the years, I have often said, “I have no family in Minnesota.” Make that past-tense: I had no family when I came here. But I grew one, a pretty nice one, truth be told. One son bought me a business book to start my biz; the wife of the other is loaning me her computer. I have family here.

Despite the hurdles, I composed the Facebook page for my doula business. Last spring, one of my clients had sent me a thank-you note addressed simply to “Paula the Doula.” I think of my services as simple — I focus on what the mother is needing so that she can find her own strength. I’m not the magic; the whole birth process is. So the simple “Paula the Doula” it is. After that, I created a profile on “Doula Match,” a website where moms can peruse the profiles of various doulas to see if there are a few they want to interview. (Pretty fancy for the likes of me, but I’m willing.)

My next task is to figure out just where on my flash drive my revisions chart is for my book. I’m taking lessons on revisions, and I have an assignment due a week from tomorrow. I may have to write my chart all over again.

But that is the stuff of another entry.

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Becoming a doula, week 3

From the looks of things, I like taking on challenges that are beyond my skill level. For example, three years ago, I made my oldest son a duvet cover for Christmas, at least that was the intention. (It turned out to be ready for presentation the following May.) I had never made a duvet cover before. Not only that, I didn’t have a sewing machine. I was using a tartan from Nova Scotia on the top side, and it had been at least 30 years since I had taken on the onerous task of matching plaids — lining up the stripes in a plaid pattern when sewing the pieces together.

And now that I’m starting my doula practice, I’m back at it. I’m finding it helpful to have a couple of tangible projects on the side while establishing my practice. I’m making some kitchen towels — much more manageable than a duvet cover, except that I decided that the towels are primarily decorative and made from various batik patterns. I have no idea if batiks are functional for the primary purpose of a kitchen towel, which is to dry dishes. Because I have an antique glass collection, it makes some sense to have towels from a flat fabric, not a terrycloth — you don’t want to use a linty fabric on glass.

Well, at any rate, the batik towels are turning out pretty nicely, and primarily using skills that I already have, although it has been more than 40 years since I took on the top-stitching I’m doing with these towels.

And then we have the piano. My neighbors are probably wondering why someone as out of practice as I decided to take on a Brahms intermezzo and one of the choruses from “Messiah.” Brahms is known for requiring big hands; I rarely see hands as small as mine on an adult. But this intermezzo is slow and I can “roll” the big octave-plus reaches. And it’s gorgeous and irresistible.

The keyboard accompaniment in “Messiah” is an adaptation — since the whole oratorio was intended to be performed with an orchestra, the keyboard part just integrates all those instruments into the keyboard. It has been known to make even the most accomplished pianist or organist swear. I am very far from said accomplished musicians. The chorus I’m learning is “And the Glory of the Lord.” The left hand is almost always straddling octaves.

I have had to learn each piece measure by measure — hands separately, hands together, rinse and repeat. And then the same for the next section. “And the Glory of the Lord” is several weeks from being played at performance tempo, but I’m primarily learning these pieces for my own enjoyment.

The confluence is perfect: learning these very challenging compositions when I am starting my practice. For one thing, starting a business feels a bit beyond my skill level. Eight years ago I had to close the door on a failing business. Granted, it was the recession. Yet my refusal to take a close look at my records and to live within my business’s means — those all played a role in the failure. So I feel the ghost of Business I traipsing around. As the poet Marge Piercy wrote, “Memories that get up in the night and pace in boots, to and fro.” Just under the surface, I am asking myself, “Will I fail again?”

There’s another confluence — the daunting task my clients are undertaking, the reason they have asked for my support. We don’t give birth very often in modern life — just once or twice for some of us. The first time, we are doing something we have never done before. We get as prepared as we possibly can. But we can’t practice for birth the way we practice a piece of music. Additionally, we face the mountain of negative beliefs we have absorbed from our culture. All our lives, most of us have heard few positive things about labor. We have images of screaming women in our heads. We face this new task with no small measure of doubt and fear, even before it all starts.

Learning these difficult pieces, then, is a way of keeping solidarity with my clients. Every time I roll an octave-plus interval in the Brahms piece, every time I swear because my left hand missed a leap in the Handel piece, I have an opportunity to sympathize with my clients.

We’re all learning something new. We are all challenged beyond our skill levels. None of us are anywhere near a “comfort zone.” But we’re doing it together. And even if we don’t feel it in our bodies, our hands, our pelvises, or our bookkeeping — progress is happening.

Defiantly Dreaming

When I reflect on this stage of my life — having a creative space, working on my book, building my doula practice — who should be on my mind but … Kermit the Frog?

Absolutely. In his signature song, “The Rainbow Connection,” he challenges the unimaginative, overly logical mindset that doesn’t see the magic under the surface in the world around us:

Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what’s on the other side?

Rainbows are visions, and only illusions, and rainbows have nothing to hide.

So we’ve been told, and some choose to believe it. I know they’re wrong, wait and see.

Someday we’ll find it, the Rainbow Connection, the lovers, the dreamers, and me.

This song, ostensibly written for children, has spoken to me since I first stopped and listened to the lyrics, long after my own children had graduated from the “Sesame Street” stage of life. My reaction to those words? I felt vindicated.

I know they’re wrong. Who were my “they”? And what were they wrong about?

I see myself in high school. I’m sitting in study hall. I’m staring into space.

“Paula.” The teacher stuck with study hall whispers to get my attention.

I look up from a haze of — well, whatever was passing through my head.

“Get going on your homework.”

“I finished my homework,” I say back, as respectfully as I can, but still annoyed. I try not to show my annoyance.

“Oh.” The teacher looks — well, stymied. What do you say to a daydreaming student who is done with her homework? “Well …” he fumbles for a response. “Well … look busy.”

Every time I think about that moment, I am still annoyed. Weren’t my brain and my thoughts mine to fiddle with and explore if my homework were done? For whom was I to look busy? What harm would happen if I were allowed to daydream undisturbed?

Now, though, when I play back that moment, and any other moment someone wanted me to snap to it, I find myself thinking of Kermit: I know they’re wrong. … Someday we’ll find it, the Rainbow Connection, the lovers, the dreamers, and me.

The third verse, which sounds mildly hallucinatory, speaks to the idea of a calling:

Have you been half asleep, and have you heard voices? I’ve heard them calling my name.

Is this the sweet sound that called the young sailors? The voice could be one and the same.

I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it. It’s something that I’m s’posed to be.

I think about that third verse a lot these days. I think about as I’m chunking through the revisions on my book. I think about it as I go about the mundane steps of building the business of being a doula. (Yes, it’s true — I want to be a birth companion. To do that, I have to put the building blocks into place: file folders for forms, business plan, projection of start-up costs. The “something that I’m s’posed to be” needs my inner adult to take care of those details.}

The “something” hit me over 20 years ago, when I shepherded women through birth as a volunteer. As I walked with these women, whispered encouragement, breathed with them, or simply bore witness to their journey, I felt as if I were doing the work I for which I was made. The sensation never left me.

How marvelous to be able to do that again. To be side by side, shoulder to shoulder, with a laboring woman and her partner, bearing witness to their transformation into parents. It truly does feel like “something that I’m s’posed to be.”

It’s what happens to people who daydream. Who dare to say  “no” to the request to “look busy.” We start hearing someone, something, call our name. We get summoned to get to know the deep side of ourselves and to bring that side to the surface. To close the gap between whatever it is we’re doing — “looking busy” — and what we are truly supposed to be.

The photo is a sampling of my collection of Depression Era glassware. It serves as a reminder to me that, even in that time of privation, people had the courage to dream, to seek beauty and refinement. The chair is where I sit when I write. It’s where I’m sitting right now, letting my mind and soul meld with the other dreamers. Are you letting yourself dream?

On this beautiful, crisp day, I hope that each of us has the opportunity to be still, to let the mind wander, to find the “something,” and get one step closer to it.

Happy Thursday.

 

Becoming a doula, week 2

Last week was the first week at my new job. It wasn’t like any other first-week-at-a-new-job week that I’ve ever experienced. I had no deadlines, myself as boss (a pushover if there ever was one), and no job description.

So what did I do? First, I set a larger goal: file for certification with Doulas of North America International (www.dona.org) by the end of the year. Toward that end, I began each day by starting a task list. My accomplishments for last week sound pretty mundane: figure out which part of my living room is the “doula corner,” print off the certification packet, read two chapters from The Women’s Small Business Start-Up Kit (Peri Pakroo, NOLO), view a webinar on the DONA website regarding the business aspect of one’s doula practice.

Each item on the task list was like a spoke on a wheel — all had to be present for the wheel to move. The last spoke, the webinar, was particularly valuable. The presenter of the webinar stated bluntly that most doulas love the in-the-moment work of being present with a laboring mother. The business? Not so much. But leaving the business in disarray will lead to a failed practice and no more laboring women.

That webinar convinced me that I was in good company. I’ve been through one business failure, and I know what it takes to fail: stop paying attention.

The presenter also stressed that a doula needs to know what is unique about her approach, and who her “ideal client” is. That way, when I develop my business “stuff,” I won’t just be doing something canned.  The presenter recommended taking a “retreat day” at a local coffee shop to mull all over one’s uniqueness.

So what is unique about me? Some of my really great peers in the doula world talk about the connection between their practice and a world philosophy. Somehow that approach would land me in the world of weirdness: “I connect my work as a doula to …” what? My faith as a liturgically observant Protestant? That seemed to not work at all.

My philosophy is pretty simple. I believe that women are capable of giving birth. I tell my mothers, “Never doubt that you can do this.” And I mean it with all my heart. Each human on the planet is living proof that women’s bodies can give birth. It’s not at all like the movies, with the woman screaming, out of control, cursing at her husband.

When labor starts, another belief drives me: it’s not about me. I may have my preferences about pain meds, position, etc., but this event is not happening in my body. I’m just there to help.

Well, that all sounds like a good start.

Amazingly, last week ended with my getting called to be at a birth. I was second back-up. Doulas always arrange back-up in case something comes up (overlapping labors, stranded, doula gets sick, etc.). This time even the back-up had a conflict, but I was available. How’s that for a start?

This week I’ll take my retreat, look at a website-building thing, reorganize my doula bag (not at all like a doctor’s black bag, mine has a psychedelic print), read two more chapters, and sort my papers — get the non-doula stuff out of my doula corner.

Wish me well on this great adventure! Keep watching this space!

Becoming a doula

I’ve entered a new phase of my life. After months of reflection, I listened to my heart. And what was my heart telling me? To become a doula.

And what on earth is a doula?

The word “doula” is Greek for “female servant,” but modern-day doulas are not servants at all. Those of us who are birth doulas provide continuous emotional, physical, and informational support to women during labor. (The doula world also consists of postpartum doulas, who provide support to the mom/baby/family unit after the baby is born, and sibling doulas, who support the children during their baby sibling’s birth. There are a host of other doulas, too, but talking about them would take me outside of my own story.)

How did I get here at the age of 65? It’s truly a coming home to my true, authentic self. In my thirties and early forties, I was a “volunteer labor companion,” as we were called then, for a childbirth education group here in the Twin Cities, where I live.  Eventually during this time, I became a divorced mom; being available 24/7 was no longer possible.

But then, 20+ years later, I found myself reflecting on the changing childbirth environment, the need women have for support for any birth experience but particularly for a birth that is not riddled with interventions, and the fact that the support role is no longer a volunteer role but a paid position. It started feeling like a calling.

I joined Doulas of North America International (www.dona.org), took the workshop that is one of the prerequisites for certification, and then signed up for an internship at a freestanding birth center in St. Paul, Health Foundations (www.health-foundations.com). The women I supported in my internship, and the births that they had, convinced me all the more that I belong in the world of birth. When I am with a laboring woman and her family, that place feels like the whole world. I lose my skin. I am immersed in this labor, this moment. I am where I am supposed to be.

My kids are grown. The husband and dog will be fine no matter when someone’s baby comes.

I soon realized that building my doula practice was not something I could do and keep my “day job.” I left that job at the end of July. After some downtime in which I did simply nothing, I have started my new job this week. My new job is building my doula practice. My job description this week included reading a business start-up book my son got me for a birthday present, printing up my certification materials, and viewing a webinar on growing my doula business. I also have a great group of internship graduates with whom to network, other more experienced doulas to whom I can turn, and a great community of friends and loved ones wishing me well.

So — it’s started, folks! Wish me well and watch this space!

And as for my book — I have begun the process of revisions — watch that space, too!

But the real ending of this blog entry is from T. S. Eliot:

“The end of all our exploring // Will be to arrive where we started // And know the place for the first time.”

TGIO — NaNoWriMo event in Minneapolis

Last night I had the opportunity to meet some of the other souls in the Twin Cities who had participated in National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org), a party billed as “TGIO” — with “o” for “over.” The organizers encouraged us to bring an excerpt to read, and being a ham, I did so. This is it, from “The Important Things in Life”:

Unseen Guidance

By Paula Moyer

Do not worry … for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say. – Luke 11-12 (NIV)

 

Oklahoma City, 1962

On that December morning, Jim had worked for exactly four years as a bank examiner for the FDIC. He and his wife Martha had created routine, ritual, that made light of the Monday morning departure to another small town in Oklahoma, a town whose only bank had a scheduled audit. The examining team guarded their schedule, though – surprise was essential for proper audits.

The Wednesday night phone call home was part of the ritual. After a day at the bank-of-the-week and a quick dinner out with the other two guys on the examining team, Jim went back to his hotel room, put his finger in the “zero” hole, designated “0” for “Operator.” The operator would then place that expensive long-distance call, and Martha would answer with a giggle. The celebration, also part of the routine, began the following Friday evening, when his car pulled into the driveway. Good to be home, he would whisper to himself every time, when he saw the faces of his three children, peering out through the window, waiting for him like he was their hero. Martha always had a meatloaf waiting in the oven, her special recipe, wrapped in bacon.

How he longed for his days on the road to end, and how marvelous it was, this week, to have on his calendar an Oklahoma City bank. “I don’t have to be on the road!” he crowed and hugged Martha and the kids. While driving to the May Avenue Bank that Wednesday morning, he thought about how uneventful the first two days of the audit had been. The rest would be a breeze. Then a passing thought flitted through his head. He was thinking of a different chapter of his life – the 1940s, when he was a liaison pilot just barely out of his teens, flying over German artillery and radioing back the location of the enemy. It had been nearly 20 years since his last flight, and he wasn’t sorry.

Shortly after the bank opened, Jim stood in a teller’s window. He was just about to ask the teller where the key was so that he could count the money in the register. Then he heard it – a man’s voice, probably a baritone, if he sang, but not a deep one. As a trombonist, Jim always noticed the range of people’s voices.

“Ladies, and gentlemen,” the slightly melodic voice called out. “Could I have your attention? This bank is being robbed.” The man held a gun in his right hand. The handles of a grocery sack were draped over his wrist. As he walked from one teller window to another, he used his left forearm to sweep each register’s cash into the sack, while his right hand kept the gun pointed at the teller. If it wasn’t so frightening, it would look like quite the juggling act.

Then the robber strode up to the window where Jim was standing. Jim stared at the gun barrel, and then at the man. The gunman’s eyes stared back, wild eyes of fear with wide rings of white showing around the pale blue irises, barely visible around the oversized pupils. Sweat dripped out in beads from under the guy’s baseball cap and hung on the wisps of hair peeking out. Jim stood with his hands raised, shoulder level. He gave the man a completely opaque face, as if he were bluffing at cards.

“This window is a loan window,” Jim then said, careful to have no emotion in his voice. “There’s no money at this register.” The round, dilated eyes took Jim in. Then the man nodded and continued on to the remaining windows. In a front page report later that afternoon, the Oklahoma City Times stated that children played undisturbed in the lobby while the robbery continued.

Once the robber had been to all the windows, he turned around and faced the bank lobby.

“Thank you,” he said clearly.

Then he left.

In the few minutes between the robber’s departure and the arrival of the FBI, Jim asked the teller to open the register. Oh, my. He whistled. Wall-to-wall money. Hundreds, fifties, twenties. Well over $2,000.

For days afterward, Martha and the kids bugged Jim about what he had said to the robber. “Why did you say that?” Martha was totally baffled. “It makes no sense. After all, isn’t robbery one of the incidents the FDIC insures against?” Jim just couldn’t put it into words. He knew he wasn’t being altruistic, but what, indeed, was he thinking?

Then it all came together. The next weekend at the family Christmas party, the robbery was all the talk, especially since it hit so close to home. After Jim had regaled his brothers and sisters-in-law with the story, he saw that his 11-year-old niece Vicki was listening. She had fixed her light green eyes on him, and a question filled her face.

“Uncle Jim, why did you say that?” she said quietly. Jim knew Vicki well. She was six months older than his own daughter Paula. Vicki’s face was a familiar one at their dinner table. The girls were like sisters. Now he took her words in – the same words his wife and kids had asked him, but with Vicki, the spirit under the question was different. He saw that her eyes were patient – and yet hungry for the truth.

Now the words came.

“Vicki, this is how it was,” Jim began in his story-telling voice. He scratched his head, a full head of black hair, and traced his thinking. “This was the first time I had been in the teller windows at that bank. I didn’t know where the key was to unlock the drawer.”

“What difference would that make?” the girl pressed on.

“I couldn’t afford to try to open it and fail,” Jim’s reasoning became clear as he continued. “If I fumbled, he might think I was triggering an alarm. At that point, my main goal was just to keep him from shooting me.” As he told Vicki the story, Jim now understood his reasoning, the strategy that seemed to unfold under his awareness.

The question, then, was not just why, but how. How, indeed, had he come up with all of that, in a matter of seconds? How did he notice the gunman’s fear, keep his own hidden, and put together a believable lie so quickly? Even though he had put the words together that formed an explanation, it was hard to comprehend, even to himself. It was as incomprehensible as the way, years before, his guts had rumbled when he was in his two-seater in the air. The rumbling told him, even before he looked down, that the enemy was nearby.

 

 

 

And now for something completely different … NaNoWriMo

This blog is (theoretically) focused on my book An Inheritance of Spirit, which I’m letting “go cold” until the winter when I work on revisions. The purpose of letting a text go cold is to be able to detach from it and have a fresh eye when one undertakes revisions.

I heard from another writer that another good way to gain detachment is to … write another book. The timing was perfect. For several years now, November has been declared “National Novel Writing Month”  and the host of the event is NaNoWriMo (www.nanowrimo.org). Registration is free (although donations are welcome). Participants take on the challenge of writing 50,000 words during the 30 days of November (averaging 1,667 each day).  It was a tool that worked well for me two years ago to get my first book along the road to completion, and so I decided to give it a whirl again.

As with An Inheritance of Spirit, the new book is a memoir (I just use NaNoWriMo as a tool to maintain my writing practice). I had been wanting to write about my grandmothers and great-grandmother as the keepers of beauty in the family with their needlework and their attention to the table. As I wrote, though, I found myself thinking also about the men in the family, and so I broadened the scope of the book, which now has the title The Important Things in Life.

I think this new book, which was written in such a short time with no feedback from anyone at all, is actually pretty terrible right now. But part of the purpose of NaNoWriMo is to by pass the “inner critic” (that nagging little voice that stays your stuff isn’t good) and just crank out words.

But, I did it. As of this morning, I generated 50,000+ words. I probably won’t begin to do revisions until next year. But it brought tremendous satisfaction and accomplishment to know that, at a very busy season at my “day job,” I was able to squeeze in 50,000 words.