This one took a little longer, but I think you'll find it was well worth the extra time it took to transcribe and edit. No intro needed. This one speaks for itself. Hope you enjoy...
Mid-afternoon treat, espresso. Nice. (editor's note: contrary to popular belief, ice cream makers don't actually eat ice cream all day long.)
When I first thought of the Sundae Experiment, it was about wanting to get other people's ideas about life besides mine. Not from pros with names like Deepak or Dyer, but regular folk like you and me.
As always, the hardest part is to get rolling, so let's just start with a bit of background and see where it takes us.
Sounds good. Fire away.
Tell me a bit about what you do.
I'm a midwife in Springfield. Originally, I thought the reason I wanted to do that was to help people, but I think the real reason is I'm really nosy. I just love getting into the most intimate private spots in people's lives. That's really what drives it. And not only does that work with my patients but at a party I can just start asking women about their births and they're like, wow! And they can't wait to tell me because no ever asks them about that. So it gives me an in socially. And the women I work with are nothing, nothing like me. Some really heavy, heavy things. Had a woman whose resources were so thin, she was begging her boyfriend all night to please stop eating pizza and join her for the birth of his child. She had no one with her, just no resources. I can't say that I’m always inspired by these women, but they certainly give you a different perspective.
I knew that's was what you did, but had no idea it was like this. Wow.
The other type of midwifery, that is breaking break with women, and really being with them in the most empowering place they can be, that's great. I really don't do too much of that. The tradition of midwifery I work in is the tradition that has always served the under-served and forgotten women, and fortunately we have Medicare so I can get paid, where traditionally women have just done it for a chicken.
I assume you were trained as a nurse?
Yes, I was a nurse and worked in a pretty well to do hospital. Always knew I wanted to be a midwife, since nursing school. Didn't know I wanted to work with pretty under-served people until my first job in Chicago, that was really my first exposure I had with really poor women and what their lives are like. I found it really inspiring.
Here's where I would normally ask 'describe a person, place, book, or event that had a big influence on you'. Is it safe to say that Chicago job is that for you?
So I first started working with immigrants in Chicago. The practice itself was difficult, and I ended up leaving after 3 years to work with homeless women. That blew my mind. Just blew my mind. The change I was able to go through. The first time I went there for my interview, I was shocked. I walked in and couldn't wait to get out of the neighborhood. I was really freaked out, but I soon learned it was only rough on the outside. People were there to get help. We were there to give them help. And that was very obvious for the folks we took care of. And they weren't as crazy as they seemed from the outside. It was a really good way for me to get a good look at the underbelly of society and break bread with that a little bit.
Were these woman victims of crime?
It was a health center so the people there had to have a certain amount of self-awareness and mental competency to get themselves to their health care provider. There were plenty of health care workers who find people under the viaduct and in the shelters. I didn't do that. My services weren't needed in that capacity in that clinic. Most of the women I would see were very normal women who came on hard times. A third of them had drug and addiction issues and often a mental health component.
What's the best part of the job?
It's the connection with the people. I got it all night last night with this family I would have never known. Seeing women bond. In my current job, I see it a lot. Women really take care of each other. Unfortunately, their partner is in and out. The women, however, they rise to the occasion. And last night we had 8 or 9 women there, cousins, etc. and they were there to support the woman giving birth. I see that a lot. And I got to be part of that with those women. Last night was a little different, they weren't happy with the support and were about to start complaining until I got there. I think I get to provide a bit of a bridging of the health care system with folks that just aren't really made to feel welcome.
When you're not midwifing or being a Mom, you do Yoga. Do you feel that helps you to be more compassionate in your job?
It must. I think it helps the part of me that is able to be vulnerable with people and not feel broken and not feel like I have to protect myself from strong feelings for patients. I definitely have fallen for a majority of my patients. I think that's a strength, and I don't think I could do that if I didn't feel strongly that I don't need to protect myself from those strong feelings, that those strong feelings are who I am and they make me stronger, and they don't make me make decisions that aren't medically correct just because I love them.
Can you understand why other health practitioners don't let themselves be so vulnerable?
I think we all have our own special gifts. I think that as a Scorpio, I came into this world with the ability to feel very raw and comfortable and see other people's vulnerabilities.
I imagine it would be hard to be a nurse and not have a certain tolerance for the highs and lows of the human condition.
I agree, and nursing in the hospital for me was really good training as a midwife in the capacity I worked. If you're going to be intimate with people, you gotta do it right now. This is your only opportunity, you're meeting them for the first time, and then they're going to go out. I may bump into them on the street but otherwise this is it, this is the only time we have. And it's really important, this can change her experience and I think that a lot of nurses, although very caring and compassionate, are just not willing to go there. Whereas as a midwife, you have the chance to build up a relationship over time which is part of why they let me in the door.
Also working with very under-served women makes me look at my problems in perspective. Look at my problems, these are good problems to have! I'm always arguing with my coworkers, I will always see people, even if they're two hours late. Have you ever tried to use the Springfield bus system?! I can barely make appointments with a working car and a husband that helps.
Not to mention that many of the women I've worked with are refugees. One of the best experiences I've had in my career was there. She was a young woman with her husband and 2 kids. It took about an hour and a half, we kept waiting for the translator. Finally, we did her appointment, she was 27 weeks pregnant at the time, 2/3rds through. I noticed she was very small and thin. I asked her basic medical questions, then a week later brought her back to check her again; took her weight, and talked to her about nutrition.
In that week, she had lost a couple pounds, so I asked her, she'd been in the country 3 weeks, her WIC cards had run out, asked her what she had eaten, 'let’s do a diet recall', we do them all day long. She told me she'd been living on potatoes and potato water. In the United States. And one of the most wonderful experiences I ever had, I said 'hold the phone' and I walked out and took all my coworkers lunches and I brought them in, and then I went out and brought her lists of places she could go in the area to get free food. I told her there's a lot of messed up things about this country, but you are going to eat every day! You get to eat. I bought everybody else lunch that day. I remember I had spent 14 bucks on lunch at Starbucks, take it! There she was, not complaining, not about to complain about it. Strong, strong people.
That is a great story. You did a noble thing there, and it seemed like it was instinctual for you.
Fast forward a decade and your kids are off to college for the first time. What would be your advice for them?
That depends on which kid I'm talking to. Different advice. Luke, my oldest, is so gifted socially. My advice wouldn't reflect my personal philosophies on life, it would reflect my concerns for their success. For Luke, take time every day that is not about connecting socially with people – sitting down, doing homework, having a coffee by himself, something that reminds him every day to connect with himself.
Tyman it would be the opposite. Hopefully, it would be to a different college than Luke. We're keenly aware of this ying-yang they have together. They do fit perfectly together but opposite strengths, Tyman is very strong at taking care of himself but has a hard time connecting and being in a social place without Luke. I think I would say to Tyman, remember who you are, that you are strong.
How do you keep the balance?
Yoga, couple times a week, I should be doing it more. I feel really strongly that midwifery is probably half of my life, my kids are a 1/3rd, husband is whatever's left (laughing). If my kids were half and midwifery is ¼ of my life which it was for a while, I just don't function as well that way. I'm just not as good a full time mother, at least at this stage. I'm a much better part-time mom. I know that about myself, and I feel fine about that.
Quality over quantity.
When we do have time together, we try and get the most out of it. I would come home from work, and I'd only have 45 minutes before my son had to go to bed, and I’d just breastfeed him. I'm always amazed at how much love you can pack into 45 minutes. We're doing it, it's ok, he gets it.
I've dabbled with yoga and Qi gong and meditation. They all take time out of your day, but I think they have the power to provide stress relief and energy and focus that makes it well worth it.
I was talking with someone who was saying yoga is about how you feel afterwards, relaxed. For me, I love everything about it, including doing it. One time I heard a yoga instructor say, 'you're seeking the bliss' and yah, you end up being more flexible, but that's because if you do a lot of yoga you'll end up strong or flexible but that's not why you're doing it, you're seeking the bliss.' It's nice that you can be in touch with that. To really understand that you're not trying to hurt yourself, you're trying to explore yourself and grow and oxygenate, and that's very blissful. Bliss is nice.
Another benefit I've noticed with these practices, you feel less inclined to open a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos after a yoga class. It puts you in a healthy state of mind.
Heat is a big part of the yoga I do now, and when I leave I feel like a big sponge, and I have to be wary of that. Sometimes I go home and the kids are crazy. When I'm about to walk into that I have to think, ok, I have to wring out this sponge a little but because I’m going to be really impacted by their moods. Drink a bunch of water, think of filling up a little bit. But I have to be really careful after doing those classes. If I have a glass of wine, it just feels like it goes deeper.
I recently heard Steve Jobs use the quote, 'Live every day like it's your last because someday you'll be right. And if you're not enjoying what you're doing, change it.' Do you agree with that?
Yah, absolutely. I'm kind of shaking my head in disbelief that I work in this amazing profession and not everyone feels that way. It's such an honor to be with families in these moments. Burnout happens. You can feel joy, I don't know if it matters what you do. I know yoga teaches this - finding the Zen in waitressing and cleaning the toilet. Being able to be present and do a good job and contribute wherever and doing whatever you're doing in that moment.
I think enjoying what you do comes when what you're doing lines up with what interests you, what you're good at, and what inspires you. I got some of that from engineering, but much more from being an ice cream shop owner.
It's a party when people come in here. Very joyous place. I say this to smokers with those last 3 cigarettes, 'I want you to sit down and enjoy it. Sit there and like it, enjoy it.' that's what people do here, they enjoy themselves. That's important in life.
It may be a little harder to find joy in cleaning the toilet, but it is all around you.
If I can inspire them to come to their doctor visits more often or take their prenatal vitamins, inspire a little self-care awareness, that makes me happy. I'm not really in this to change lives. If that happens, if I'm lucky enough to inspire someone enough that's great, but I wouldn't want to be that egotistical to think that way. People have their own path. It's none of our business in many ways as to how they are going through this life. I just try to connect with them.
It's still a nice thought, although you’re right, it shouldn't be an expectation. I think you underestimate your impact.
About a year ago I realized I was in this more because I was nosy than I wanted to change people's lives. And I thought, 'wow, that's really profound!'
When all said and done, what will be the thing that best defines you?
Being able to connect with people. What I see in my son Luke. I get a lot of feedback from patients that I am definitely on their side and I love them, and they can feel it, and they're psyched.
And why wouldn't they be.
Any parting thoughts?
There's a quote that's been rattling in my head last months...
"Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found." — Pema Chödrön
Thanks for sitting with me, and thanks for doing what you do.