Monday, June 15, 2015

decentering the self

During the doula workshop a couple weeks ago, one of the most valuable lessons I heard, over and over, was this: it is not about you.

That sounds obvious, right? You're there for support. It's the birthing mother who is the center of attention, and everyone knows it. Or should.

But learning to decenter the self, in order to place someone else at the center, is always harder than it sounds. It is obvious. And never easy.

For me, this means two distinct tasks. First, it means working very hard to deliberately drop the "prove myself" attitude that has been my lifelong default. I don't know when it started, because I don't remember ever not trying to prove myself to everyone around me. At school. At church. At home. On the field. I'm good. I'm smart. I'm capable. I'm fast. I'm strong. I try harder than everyone else. I know more than everyone else. Watch me and see. Tell me I'm awesome. 

But being a doula isn't about proving yourself, to anyone. Not to the mother and partner that hired you; not to the nurses or midwives or doctors around you; not to yourself, even. It's about being there. It's about paying attention to what's happening with someone else, so closely that you anticipate needs and meet them as they arise, without needing any acknowledgment because it's not about you, what you know, what you can do, or even the lovely selfless noble reasons you're there doing it.

Second, it means identifying, owning, sorting through and leaving at the door all my own emotional baggage around sex and relationships and bodies and pregnancy and birth--baggage both good and bad. You can't leave it behind if you don't know what it is.

You can't decenter the self if you don't know who you are.

Okay, fine, yes, I just went and feminist-cyborg-philosophized on the simple profound "it's not about you" message. But that's how I roll. :)

Monday, June 01, 2015

behold, I am doing a new thing

Hi, everyone.

Yes, behold: it's a new thing! A blog post for the first time in, what? A year? It feels like it, anyway.

I know that the world does not depend on the regularity of my blog postings, and that no one is waking up asking themselves, "I wonder if there's anything new on that blog I used to read," or anything like that. It doesn't matter, because frankly, while I enjoy the notion that there might be a small audience out there, this blog has always unapologetically been for me, primarily. It's been my outlet for frustrations and passions, my training ground for speaking my mind without fear, my dumping ground for the tangents and preoccupations that otherwise would clog my mental processes, my crowdsourcing for questions I didn't know how to begin to answer. And it's been wonderful.

But for the last year, this blog has gone silent. It wasn't intentional. It was simply the result of having a brain too overwhelmed, too preoccupied with the business of just making it through each day, to even be able to use the little dumping ground I'd constructed here on my little nook of the internetz. And not just that there wasn't time to write--more that I didn't have the time to even generate the kind of thoughts that normally would have found their outlet here.

And yes, that's not a good thing. I thrive on intellectual tangents and ruminations, and I've missed them. This space for personal expression has gone untended, because I've had very little of myself to express for some time. And that's an indication of stress and unsustainable hunker-down survival mode kind of living.

So, behold, I am doing a new thing.

For the first time in a very long time, today I thought: "I'd like to blog this, this new thing." And that in itself feels so healthy, so new, so energizing. :)

This past weekend I attended a birth doula training workshop--three days of intense learning, coaching, and practicing the information and skills needed to emotionally and physically support a woman through laboring and birthing. It is not a medical profession, but a pastoral one. It is a vocation of presence, touch, listening, accompanying and empowerment.

It was after Clare's birth, where my doula's presence was so crucial at so many points, that I first thought, 'I want to know more about this. I might want to do this.' I waited until defending my dissertation to look up DONA International and start learning the requirements for certification. I even started the process for certifying as a post-partum doula, but that process got sidelined a bit by my second pregnancy (and publishing the book, moving, my first full-time teaching post...all those things that happened basically all at once, four years ago).

So now I am returning to this interest, but this time with the intent of certifying as both a birth and postpartum doula--and with the long-term intention of making this more than simply a set of skills I can occasionally offer on a volunteer basis. Ideally, I eventually want to bring the expertise I've worked so hard for in the academic world to bear on this fascinating, complex, sacred reality of pregnancy, laboring and birth. It's not, perhaps, the most obvious way to use my PhD in Theology & Science--but it may be that it proves the most effective, most relevant, and most satisfying way to use everything I have to offer, in the hope of making this world a better place for all of us who live in it..including those who enter it, bloody and beautiful and squalling, with no idea what's ahead of them.

Friday, January 23, 2015

"he's just not capable"

It's a lie.

One of the lies I learned, as a kid growing up in the church, is that the people we know, the good people, are just that: simply good. And good people do good things. Good people don't do bad things. They certainly don't do horrible things. They're not capable of such.

Except that it's a lie.

We who are raised on the narrative of Adam and Eve, who walked and talked with the Lord in the cool of evening within the sanctuary of the Garden, doing the very first archetypal horrible thing--how is it that we miss that our faith itself belies this comfortable falsehood?

Perhaps it is simply that it is too brutal a truth to face down every day and still get out of bed and enter the world bravely. Perhaps it is simply that we need this lie in order to function. Perhaps it is simply our habit of dividing the world and the people in it, over and over again, along whatever lines are relevant, into the simple categories of good and bad.

We ought to know better. Over and over again, we hear the stories of the terrible things done by good people in the scriptures. David and Uriah, anyone? The man after God's own heart who committed murder by delegation in order to justify the rape of the murdered man's wife? Who was nonetheless so committed to notions of justice and righteousness that he could get worked up over Nathan the Prophet's made-up story of a stolen pet lamb? And who was really, really sorry after? Yeah, David was a good guy.

And yet he was capable: of lies, of rape, of murder. He was absolutely capable.

What we have got to be able to wrap our minds around is that "he's a great guy" can be absolutely true, and at the same time "he's just not capable" is a lie. Yes, he is. We all are. Because that is being human.

It's the only way to make sense of the fact that there is far less "stranger danger" than risk that your kids will suffer sexual abuse from a family friend or family member. People that you know, and trust, and love, and respect. And the brutal, terrifying truth is that you love and trust and respect those people not because you're an idiot or a neglectful parent, but because you know them and you have solid, actual reasons to love and trust and respect them! They're good people. You know this, because you know them. And you have to trust your personal knowledge of people, because this is simply the basic way we negotiate life--there's no way around it.

And yes, this is terrifying. But we have got to acknowledge the complicated, uncomfortable truth that abusers are simply human beings. They are not monsters. They aren't even bad guys. They're good guys. Good guys that we go to church with, are related to, have known all our lives, are married to--good guys who, like David, are absolutely capable.

And just because "he's not capable" doesn't apply (to anyone!) doesn't negate that yeah, he's a great guy.

I get that it's natural--in fact, necessary!--to rely on your own personal knowledge of others in making judgments. I get that it's difficult to move beyond "he's not capable" when what you're really saying is, "I can't imagine my friend/boyfriend/brother/cousin/uncle/husband doing such a horrible thing." There are reasons why people tend to believe abusers rather than victims, and this is one of them.

The only way to intervene in this is to remind ourselves--not that we can be mistaken--but the harder truth to swallow, which is that we aren't mistaken in our experience of an abuser as a good guy...and that this doesn't mean he isn't an abuser. And that we simply cannot dismiss another person's experience of that good guy with the words, "he's just not capable."