Returning to Myself: Lessons from Sexual Abstinence

7 Apr

The longest I’ve ever gone without being physically intimate with someone was when I was starting to experiment with sex. I first engaged sexually with a person when I was 18 years old. I remember doing it just to get it over with. I did not enjoy it and checked out. I kept trying until I just spent a year when I was about 20 and decided to call it quits for a year. After, I kept doing it because I thought there was something wrong with me for not liking it. I felt strange amongst my peers who were talking about sex like it was all the rage. I quietly disliked it. I wanted it to be more than what I got.

I was raised Catholic. I never got told anything about sex outside of not having it. While everyone in high school began to have sex, I was the only one waiting until marriage to do so. I felt that having sex with someone meant I was giving them everything and I wanted it to be with someone who cared about the gift that I was giving them: myself. I was naïve but now that I think about it, that 17 year old girl was on to something. It was also around this time that one of my male friends told me I needed to be broken in. Without any real guidance on the subject, I went to college completely unprepared.

I can safely say that for many of the sexual partners I’ve had in the last 10 years, I was barely present for them. I was mentally checked out and wishing that I wasn’t there. I would avoid eye contact and turn my head a lot. I understand now that I was ignoring the deep seated desire to be in a meaningful relationship with these people. That I wanted to be understood and known further than just physically. The biggest reason I subjected myself to these encounters was because I wanted to be wanted. Years of low self-esteem and feeling ugly, less than and not good enough drove my need to feel wanted. Many times I knew that the person didn’t care for anything but getting me into bed. I succumbed to it because at least I got that little bit of attention. To my sexual partners’ credit, all but one of them never forced me to do anything I didn’t want to do. I also did enjoy a couple of my encounters so not all was lost or terrible. Though, I forced myself to be in many situations out of a convoluted sense of worthiness. I perceived myself as too intense and overwhelming; reducing myself to just an object was easy.

This rhythm of disrespecting myself and not listening to my heart continued at a steady pace until I experienced a violation of body, mind and soul about 4 years ago. Though I continued to still give myself to others carelessly, something inside me was becoming more and more reluctant to get undressed out of a sense of obligation and the old notion of wanting to be wanted. What finally brought me to a screeching halt was my last relationship. I was on my 3rd round of therapy after my nervous breakdown in 2012 and began to notice that I was checking out mentally during sex. I remember going to the kitchen one day after a session and beginning to cry. My then partner came and consoled me, asking me what was wrong. I told them that I didn’t want to have sex anymore. I wanted to slow down. I wanted to be in my body. I wanted to truly connect with someone else. I wanted to take my time exploring myself and them. I realized that my own sexual trauma was up for review to examine how it affected my views on sexuality. I had a deep sense of shame that I had never taken the space to explore.

Shortly after, I was left with the realization that I wanted to spend time getting to know myself. Without much pomp, circumstance or any elaborate vows of celibacy, I quietly promised my body, mind and soul that I would listen more deeply to them last April. Sitting here almost a year later after, I am experiencing a deep sense of wholeness that I have never experienced before. I’ve been asked and encouraged to just go ahead and have sex. Trust me, I have been tempted a few times to throw caution to the wind and just do it. What has stopped me is the desire to make love and not just fuck. I’ve fucked myself and other people enough. Ultimately, I have also shown a lack of respect to anyone who I have slept with by not being fully present. I have also used their bodies just as much as they used mine. I began to realize that I too would be using someone’s body if I have sex out of a sense of loneliness and scratching the proverbial itch.

In my line of work, the sanctity of human bodies is very real to me. The same care I take in handling a newborn baby is the same kind of care I want to take with any human body. The fact that I am incredibly fertile has also helped curb casual sex. No matter what and how much protection you use, the possibility of creating another human is always there. I have met women who have had condoms, birth control pills, IUDS in place and even tubal ligation done and still got pregnant. There is always a window of opportunity open, regardless. It has made me want to be sexually intimate with someone I would be willing to co-parent with.

This year without sex has also given me ample opportunity to get a lot of self-loving in. I am an even bigger fan of masturbation than ever before. All jokes aside, exploring my own sexual force has taught me what I like and how I want to be touched.  I’ve discovered how self-loving is a vehicle to heal myself and release energy patterns trapped in my pelvic area. I’ve learned how to really let go and have the most fantastic orgasms with myself. For the first time in my life, I value my body and my intuition. I listen to my gut feeling and resist the urge to give into mental inclinations to be careless with myself and with others. I don’t know when I will have sex again and while the desire to connect in this way with someone else does not go away, I am in no particular rush to give it up. This year has taught me that I can and will have more sexually healthy experiences.

In a very real way, I have returned to myself. I have come back home to myself and true desires. I don’t mean to write this as some blanket statement that I don’t still have more lessons to learn about my sexuality. I am aware I have a long life ahead of me of getting it on and enjoying myself. This year was a way of purifying my own intentions and spirit from years of ignoring my heart and my body.

Catch & Deliver: A Critical Analysis of Language in Childbirth

10 Feb

As a woman who spends a lot of time with words, I am curious to know the deeper meaning with how words are used to describe things. Of course, with my interest in pregnancy and childbirth, I have examined words and phrases that hold more than just letters strung together. Looking up the etymology of words common to contemporary childbirth, I found some things of interest that show the contrast between the art of midwifery and hospital managed birth.

Midwife comes from the combination of Middle English words mid (with) and wif (women). It is a woman assisting, literally a woman who is with the mother at birth. Conversely, the root word of obstetrician is obstetric, from modern Latin word obstetricus meaning “pertaining to a midwife”. To further break down the word obstetric, it comes from the word obstare, which means to stand opposite to. What I found interesting further still is that in my etymological research, I was directed to the word obstacle. Gynecology comes from the French word gynécologie, meaning the study of women. It is the medical practice dealing with the health of the female reproductive system.

Historically, the field of obstetrics and gynecology stems from the medical establishment in Western society purposely becoming an obstacle to women-centered healthcare. It was a specialization for male doctors in the time when women were not permitted to be educated. According to the book, “Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers” by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, the destruction of the midwifery profession was intentional. The patriarchal institutions of the church and the medical system effectively demonized women healers and convinced countless women that they were safer in an operating room than with knowledgeable women who practiced with empirical evidence and compassion; male-led obstetrical care has a violent history of coercion, abuse and unnecessary procedures that were based on superstition and unfounded assumptions.

Dr. James Marion Sims is known as the father of American gynecology. His statue sits on a pedestal in Central Park on 103rd and Fifth Avenue in East Harlem, commonly known as Spanish Harlem. His presence in that community is a slap in the face. It is an abomination. He is credited with developing life-saving surgical procedures involving a way to repair vesico-vaginal fistula and the creation of the speculum. This would be a praise-worthy achievement if it were not connected to a terrifying history of torture. Sims operated on at least 10 enslaved women from about 1845 to 1849, with one woman named Anarcha enduring thirty surgeries without anesthesia. There are accounts of him performing these surgeries on a stage with an audience of men watching these atrocities. The procedures then were used to assist and save white middle class women and in contemporary times, these techniques are certainly valuable. However, we must not forget the violence that they were wrought out of.

Midwifery is antithesis of the current medical model of birth. The vocabulary and terms used by holistic and humanistic midwives is an indication of our views on women and birth. Midwives catch babies. Obstetricians deliver babies. To define catch, it means to intercept and seize, implying taking hold suddenly of something. It also means to receive. On the other hand, to deliver is to hand over and yield. Synonyms for deliver include emancipate, release, redeem and rescue. In this instance, it is clear that though both actions are anything but passive, delivering a baby connotates that there is some impending doom to be avoided by intervention. Midwives are with women and hold the space for birth. Midwives view birth as a natural process of a woman’s life. Obstetricians and hospitals manage birth, implying that birth is a pathological emergency that must be brought under control. It is common to hear obstetricians speak about a woman’s “failure to progress” because of her “incompetent cervix”. These statements are from a deeper misconception that the world holds about women: that they are weak, fragile and in need of being saved, ultimately controlled and coerced by the patriarchal system in place.

Undoubtedly, childbirth is hard. There are occasions in which the use of pain medication is merciful and welcome; the problem is the routine use of epidurals and pitocin that have more harmful side effects than medical professionals are telling their patients. There is a clear power dynamic that exists in which women are treated collectively as inferior by the medical establishment. With all the statistics on the unnecessary interventions performed on women during labor and delivery aside, the words and phrases we use carry a lot of baggage. Particularly in the field of childbirth, our vocabulary works on the subconscious in ways we are not yet privy to. In examining how we frame our communication about childbearing women, we can practice liberation from violence in just the way we speak.

Reference:
Slaves, Experiments & Dr. Marion Sims’s Statue: Should It Stay or Go? – http://newamericamedia.org/2010/12/dr-marion-sims-statue-where-should-it-stand.php

Sandra Iturbe: Una Madre Sabia – A Wise Mother

2 Feb

IMG_0170 It is a marvel to observe wisdom flow through a woman in her motherhood. Sandra Iturbe moved   through her kitchen with the grace of generations of Mexica women and mothers whose knowledge she has inherited. As a certified professional midwife living in El Paso, Texas, she considers herself a birth activist. On the day after her birthday, Sandra sat down to share her journey. The house spoke of quiet with daughter Yolotzin napping nearby. Painted masks enlivened one wall of the peaceful room. Two inviting couches faced a television set as the midday sunlight poured into the living room. A bookcase showed rows of childbirth books, coupled with anatomy textbooks and journals.

In her kitchen, she tidied up while preparing to speak. “I’m multitasking,” she mused as she moved around me in a blue shirt, black skirt and black shawl. She braided and rebraided her long thick black hair as we spoke. Sandra’s striking brown eyes were brought out by her black eyeliner; her brilliant smile and jovial speech accented by matted red lipstick. She awaited her family and community, whose support give her strength on her path.

Sandra came into the world in California to her parents who migrated from Mexico to Los Angeles. They worked in the maquiladoras (assembly plants) to support Sandra and her two older siblings. Her family lived there until Sandra was 5 years old. They moved to El Paso to be closer to their extended family. She followed in her older sister’s footsteps when it came time for college and majored in psychology in her undergraduate career. Sandra worked for a mental health crisis department providing support on a suicide hotline. She assessed clients for what kind of care they need, but overall found herself disenchanted with mental health field. She yearned for something more holistic.

Curiously enough, during this time, Sandra lived with some gringas (female American foreigners) who attended the midwifery school, Maternidad La Luz, which was across the street. She was fascinated by the stories her roommates had about midwifery and took to reading the books and watching videos about birthing. “All you talk about is birth as a midwife,” she said between laughter of her roommates who influenced her interest in midwifery with their stories. During this time, she came across birth anthropologist Robbie Davis Floyd and thought to get a degree in anthropology. Life had other plans for her.

Sandra applied to a post-graduate program and didn’t get in. Before she went on to become a midwife, she had to work through feelings of not being enough or deserving of such an education. “That’s not for people like me.” Her strong spirit helped dispel those thoughts. As she poured some more coffee, she remembered the moment when she began to study midwifery. She knew her community needed help transforming its women’s experience but was bothered that most of the women who came to study in El Paso did not stay. “You know what Sandra? You complain about how things are, that these women come and study and leave.” She applied and received a scholarship from Maternidad La Luz and a women’s fund, making it possible for her to attend.

Her time at Materndidad La Luz was an awesome time in life. She felt disconnected and connected at the same time. The demands of the midwifery program made it hard to spend time with her family and community; the work made her feel more connected to her ancestors and her life path. She shared that it was a culture shock, as the school attracts women who are mostly white. It wasn’t something common to her experience living in a mostly Chicano community. Sandra lost her mother to cancer at age 15. This wound began to heal on her midwifery journey as she grappled with feelings of envy and loss watching the woman she served give birth and bond with their newborns. Coupled with healing from this loss, the program at Maternidad La Luz was taxing. She was so exhausted from the long 24 hour shifts. Remembering this exhaustion, she laughed as she pretended to be her body’s voice, “I already told you 14 hours ago, go to sleep.” With the incredible journey she was on, she was very aware of what she needed to get through it.

“I don’t think I could have gotten through without community,” she stated tenderly. Sandra remembered being able to reach out to family and friends when she needed them. “Me haces sopita? Toy malita. (Would you make me soup? I’m sick)” In the same breath, her spiritual practices fortified her during her studies, citing her participation in ceremony as a grounding and healing part of her life then and now. After leaving Maternidad La Luz, Sandra began lactating. “My body wanted to become a mother,” she said as she reflected on the occurrence of producing milk before being pregnant. Three months later, she was with child.

“Motherhood makes me grateful; it makes me want to live intentionally. Life is less in my hands.” She spends her days mothering Yolotzin, who joined the conversation upon waking from her nap. The precious two year old walked into the kitchen and Sandra’s face lit up, gathering her in her arms, kissing her cheeks and asking about her nap and if her tummy needed some food. The memory of her mother is present. “She looks like me when I was little,” Sandra said. “I get it now. I get how you loved me,” she continued, speaking to her mother in the great beyond.

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Sandra is using the knowledge she has as a professional midwife to be a resource to women in her community. As a deeply spiritual person, she gives advice for pregnancy and other reproductive health concerns. She finds herself holding space for ceremony, helping women create ritual around important moments in their lives. Ceremony in her Mexica tradition has brought inspiration to her work and connects her to the ways of her ancestors. She shared with me how the Chicano activist movement has brought a resurgence of ceremony, with the surfacing of traditions such as kalpulis (ceremonial groups), Danza Azteca (traditional folk dance of the native people of Mexico) and temazcales (sweat lodge of indigenous Mesoamerican people). In sharing ceremony with women in prenatal and postpartum temazcales, as well as the larger community doing their healing work and ancestral veneration, she has found the well of her inherent wisdom on her path to truly being a madre sabia – a wise mother.

She conducted a series of workshops at one of the local yoga studios named Madre Sabia Childbirth Education. Her intention was to provide guidance and resources for all women and birthing circumstances, including home birth and hospital birth. Recently, she took a step back from the workshops to dedicate her time to her daughter and studying to be a certified nurse midwife. The women she wants to serve are still giving birth in the hospital. She wants to meet them where they’re at. “The reason I wanted to be a midwife is to serve community. Many women can’t pay out of pocket. The financial reality [in El Paso] does not lend itself to homebirth,” Sandra explains as part of the reason she has decided to continue her education. She knows it won’t be easy and not the way she wanted to learn midwifery yet knows it will have its benefits and consequences. Her optimism is contagious as she describes how the knowledge she is gaining will only benefit the women and families she assists.

In this stage of her womanhood, being a certified nurse midwife would give her the ability to support her family and be a mother. Ultimately, the wisdom her journey is bringing into focus will contribute to making her dreams come true. With Texas having one of the highest rates of pregnancy in the country, her goal is to help lower those numbers. She strives to encourage more women towards natural birth, empowering them to make informed and holistic choices.

When A Survivor Is The Midwife

27 Jan

The current statistic for women who experience sexual or physical violence – most likely from their intimate partner – is one in three women. That number is only for what is reported, and the likelihood is higher for women of color and marginalized women around the world. Women who have been physically and sexually abused are more likely to contract HIV/AIDS, to have an abortion, to get depression, injuries, alcohol use disorders and pregnancy complications, according to a World Health Organization report from last year.

I am one of three women in my immediate family. I have experienced sexual abuse in childhood and in adulthood. It is a topic that I have gone back and forth with in therapy and on my healing journey because of how deep it affects me and my relationships. It is at the forefront of my consciousness lately because my work as a midwife has initiated another phase of my healing journey: learning to be present for women in their childbearing years.

It is very easy to be triggered in my line of work. I share intimate moments with women who I often have just met and was aware when I started my midwifery training that this would be hard for me. I requested that my first vaginal exam be done by my former roommate because she was someone I trusted and knew about my past. I remember being uncomfortable with the idea of having to do pap smears and vaginal exams. I wanted to avoid them because I was afraid to trigger someone else. I was afraid to hurt them and traumatize them, especially because of the aforementioned statistic.

I avoided addressing this discomfort until a series of events happened. My former roommate moved out. The events around her departure coupled with family issues brought up a lot of my traumatized feelings. I spent the end of last year upset and terrorized, suddenly having memories of past pain and drama. I knew that I needed to go back to counseling when the flashbacks started. I knew that something was off when I would spend more and more time sleeping and taking less care of my physical appearance. I began to feel depressed and withdrawn.

During this time, I was the primary midwife at a birth and felt upset by it. I originally got angry at the licensed midwife because I felt like she hadn’t listened to me when I wanted her to come in and supervise. That anger turned into sobbing on her shoulder as I realized that I was angry with myself for not listening to the young woman. I felt like I had failed. I failed at listening to a woman and her body, the one thing I strive so hard for women to fight for and I felt like I didn’t honor her or me.Then the time came that I began to start learning how to check for dilation. All my trauma came to a head when I was asked to do another supervised vaginal exam. I almost didn’t do it and said, “That’s okay. I don’t want to do it today. You (the licensed midwife) would have to check her too to make sure I’m right and I don’t think she wants two women checking her.” I ended up doing the exam and sat in a chair after questioning why I was feeling so upset. It dawned on me when I shared with my classmate that I was projecting my own discomfort on someone else.

I started to cry that night and told another midwife that I realized my sexual trauma was coming up strongly. That I wanted the trauma to just leave me alone. That I didn’t want to deal with it anymore. That I was petrified of giving birth, not for the pain but because I am scared the trauma would come up and block me. I asked if I would ever be a good midwife with this trauma I have in the very place I spend so much time healing for other women. I asked, what if I hurt a woman by checking her for dilation? What if I traumatize her? What if I fail at empowering her? I was told now is the time to heal more and that I am an exceptional midwife, that these wounds would heal as I do this work that I have been called to because of the same said wounds.

I have gone back to counseling to address my sexual trauma because I don’t want it to control my way of caring for myself and for women. I make sure to breathe before I perform a vaginal exam of any sort so that I am present for the woman and make it as gentle as possible. I talk to my sister friends on the regular, keeping them updated on my journey and opening up to them about my struggles.  A midwife lent me the book, “When Survivors Give Birth”, which has given me more insight as to how to be a midwife with my experiences.

Knowing all this, I also make sure to not treat women as fragile and delicate beings. I know I wouldn’t want this just because of my history. I treat women with respect and patience, regardless of what memories their bodies have. I share this because I know I am not the only midwife to experience sexual abuse and understand now more than ever how aware I must be of myself to do this work. Anyone working with trauma is subject to being triggered, and they need support to decompress after they are done being a pillar of strength for someone else. It is important for those of us who are midwives, doulas, obstetricians and gynecologists to be aware of our own history so that we don’t project it on our clients. It is important that we are gentle and caring with all our women, regardless of their past, so that we can continue to create safe spaces for healing and empowerment. Below are some links and resources for birthworkers and mothers:

When Survivors Give Birth: Understanding and Healing the Effects of Early Sexual Abuse on the Childbearing Woman.

Domestic Abuse Guidelines for Public Health Nursing, Midwifery, and Children’s Nursing Services

The Effects of Sexual Abuse on Pregnancy and Birth 

Childhood Sexual Abuse and Its Effects on Childbirth

Healing the Trauma: Entering Motherhood with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Eres Una Partera? Are You a Midwife?: Reflecting on My First Quarter of Midwifery Training

15 Dec

Today marks the end of an incredible 3 months of life. I can honestly say I couldn’t have done this alone. The journey to this point has been quite the struggle, with friends and family supporting me and my vision for healing our collective. So many things and ways of thinking have changed.

I barely recognize myself sometimes when I look in the mirror. There is this exhausted, grateful and mature set of eyes that stares back at me, wanting to tell stories. Wanting to describe what it felt like to catch a woman’s child for the first time on an October night. I stepped into an entire new reality the moment my hands made contact with a brand new, wet, slippery, bluish-pink human body. The gravity of the responsibility I have chosen to take on stares at me when I am doing my newborn exams and check hour-old pupils. I remember calling my best friends the morning after I began to call myself a midwife. I told them every detail I could remember before it slipped into the blur of the speed the time here races at. I spoke of feeling the presence of Ochun, Yemaya, and La Virgencita de la Guadalupe, whose candle was burning in a corner that night. I remember feeling connected to all the women who had provided this service generation after generation. More than anything else, I was in awe. I still am.

The beginning of my first apprenticeship year has been full of growth, challenges, and opportunities to reflect on my values and ways of relating to others. I had a conversation with one of the midwives about how our practice has an impact on how we move in the world. As a midwife, there are things that are black and white, with the gray area designated to the unexpected and uncontrollable. It takes skill and experience to know what situations go in which space. The same way I have had to learn those differences in prenatal care, labor, delivery and in the immediate postpartum has influenced how I view my personal and public work. With that, midwives often have to make decisions about what care and skill they provide and commit to them, for better or for worse. I am noticing how that is forcing me to look at my own decisions and decide whether I want to commit to them powerfully or cut my losses.

This is a hard political location to come to terms with. Living on the frontera between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico comes with a long history of struggle and present-day tensions between both countries, at the expense of Mexican and Mexican-American people. I think about this every day; I walk out onto the back porch of my home and I can see Ciudad Juarez. When I get to the clinic, women have had to travel for hours for their appointments, dealing with crossing the border and the hassles that come with that. Although I am an Afro-Dominicana, the struggle with United States imperialism, immigration issues and the stress that causes folks is all too familiar. This familiarity can make it hard to witness women and their families face these obstacles daily. This part of my experience has made me markedly passionate about educating on the detrimental effects of the United States and imperialist patriarchal white supremacist ideologies on Central American, South American, and the Caribbean communities’ self-determination.

Recently, I had a hot chocolate with a sister who was born and raised in El Paso. I mentioned to her the politics of the frontera (that she is all too familiar with) and how sometimes I have to contend with also feeling like an intruder because this is not my hometown. That having to travel outside of my community in the northeast to come and get trained, then going back home with the knowledge acquired feels like a double edge sword. These facts could be otherwise upsetting and unbearable; at times they are overwhelming. I told this sister that these hard places make me more intentional about the care I give to these women.

I came here because I am a native Spanish-speaker and can address a woman’s needs in her own language well. I came because I have no desire to be a certified nurse-midwife despite the fact that my home state, New York, requires a master’s degree in midwifery to be licensed. I am not interested in working in a hospital. I believe birth is a natural process, not a pathological emergency. To be in a hospital is to betray one of my most fundamental beliefs: birth is part of life and a woman is more than capable of bringing her child into the world without medical intervention. I believe hospitals are places for emergency situations. I came here because I am always trying to find a way to learn how to be with birthing women in a similar way that my ancestors did. This is not as close as I’d like it to be to traditional birthing but it’s a happy medium that I am learning quite a lot from. I came here because I wanted to have the women who come to receive care here would teach me how to take care of them. I wanted to gain a foundation of skills that I could build upon as I continue my education for the rest of my life.

When this society speaks about immigrants, it is usually anything but positive. We are given images of people struggling, impoverished and in many cases, criminally-inclined. The struggle is real. The economic disenfranchisement is real, and the actions marginalized people take that they are later penalized for are done out of a need to seek out basic things like food, water and shelter. What I have realized from witnessing family after family welcome a new member is that we never see images of the close-knit support and community that Mexican people and other immigrants depend on and cherish as this system continues to fail them. These are not my stories to tell. However, I want the world to know that Mexican women are strong and amazing. I want you all to know that their families have their back, for better or for worse. I just wish you could see the beautiful ways these births happen and how they have changed me, only for the best.

The tenderness of a mother-in-law helping her son’s wife through a contraction and her joy when the baby finally makes it earthside is incredible. Watching women become mothers, grandmothers and aunts for the first time moves me deeply. It’s indescribable. The husbands are astounding human beings. It is watching them hold their partner’s hands, giving massages and counter-pressure on lower backs and some bursting in tears when their child is born that has cemented what I want when I find myself giving birth one day.  I want to be like these women. I want to do whatever it is that my body needs from me to birth a child, unscripted and unabashed. I want a partner who is committed, who will be there supporting me and doing whatever they need to do for me in that incredible moment of birth. I look forward to ecstatic family members when they get the news that I’ve become a mother. The memories of what I have seen here will stay with me.

No human experience is free of its grievances and I surely have them with the circumstances I have put myself in. To be in integrity with my spirit and politics, I can admit that this training is being between a rock and a hard place all of the time. There are hard realities and frustrations here. There are things that make me want to pull my hair out. Something I tell myself often is that one learns quickest in spaces of challenges and density. That when you are uncomfortable, you grow quickly and are forced to be present. Whenever I deal with something difficult here, I tell myself this. When I find myself exhausted and homesick, I am reminded that I am not here in vain but as a revolutionary woman striving to make this world a better place for the babies I’ve received in my hands.

When I get back from the clinic after a 24-hour shift and I recount what happened to my beautiful roommate, I remember the joy that courses through me and the pride I feel for getting this far despite all the obstacles thrown in my path that attempted to stop me. I feel unbelievably blessed to be trusted to catch a woman’s baby. I am more and more comfortable with calling myself a midwife. I opened the door one night and a woman accompanying a laboring woman is standing there. She asks, “Eres una partera? Are you a midwife?” Without hesitation, I said yes. I don’t have a license yet and certainly have more years of training ahead of me. I am a midwife. This is one of the most precious parts of my identity and I claim it to be true. Let’s see what the second quarter has in store for me.

To know how you can  support and help me continue my midwifery journey by donating to my tuition and expenses, check this link out for more: http://www.gofundme.com/thesewatersrundeep

These Humble Hands – Catching A Baby For The First Time

27 Oct

I was born for this charge of remembering how to midwife souls from womb side to earthside. I believe this fact of my life with every fiber of my being. I doubted it before but never again will I think I was not meant to be where I am now. The midwifery program I am currently studying in is all about learning on your feet and with your hands. I have always known that I learn best by experience. A week or so ago my cohort moved into the 2nd phase of our journey: going from shadowing midwife interns to being primary midwives under the supervision of licensed midwives.

I was the last of my cohort to catch. In the wee hours of this morning, I had the honor of catching, quite literally, the first of many small, resilient and vibrant beings on this journey. There was no time to think, only do. I leaped from my seat, bolted to the woman and was there to receive a baby who came into the world with such force and velocity. My hands were guided and supported by the gentle voice of the licensed midwife with me.

Indulge me for a moment while I switch over to my urban vernacular. It was dope and cool as hell to do that, b. Holy cow homies! That ish was crazy!

It is incredible, really. The energy changes in the room. Suddenly there is a new human being in the room, and there I was, one of the first to touch their body and spirit. I did it by instinct. I felt my ancestors come through me as I both participated and watched my hands maneuver and do what they were meant to do. I knew at that moment that this is exactly what I was meant to do: to witness in awe and humility the transformation of a woman becoming a mother, whether it be for the first time or the umpteenth time. It was perfect. Absolutely perfect. It is as though the Universe was waiting for the most perfect birth for me to attend.

I am so humbled. So elated. So honored and blessed that I was there to help this woman and family. I am grateful. I am beside myself. I am proud of myself for getting this far. The journey has certainly been wrought with challenges and steep learning curves but all of it has been well worth it. I was thinking this morning as I drove home from the clinic how birth triggers so much in us. Many of us experience emotions, be it negative, positive or ambivalent, when confronted with birth and death. I understood in that moment this morning, holding a baby wet with amniotic fluid in my hands, that my own journey to heal myself and make peace with my birth, death and rebirth, was necessary so I could be fully present and channel wisdom into my hands.

My greatest teachers are the women who allow me to assist them in birthing their children. They hold all the lessons and knowledge in their bodies. To be a witness has profoundly changed my life and I will never be the same again. Bless these hands. May they be golden and strong enough to support this miraculous occurrence.

Birthing Herself: Women, Midwives and Empowerment

21 Oct

My latest assignment and multimedia piece is now available. Check out the link:

Birthing Herself: Women, Midwives and Empowerment

 

*This multimedia story is part of an assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital empowerment and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.*

Birthing An Ancient Evolution

9 Oct

I’ve been at midwifery school here in El Paso, TX for a little over a month now. I’ve changed in ways I can’t completely articulate from being amongst sister midwives training with me and the midwives serving as mentors. The evolution is quiet. It is a creeping sunrise that breathes light gently; you must be attentive to watch the subtle changes that seem mundane but are quite extraordinary. I am grateful to be in a woman’s body with a subtle yet powerful force of birth propelling me forward. What I love is that this force is available to all beings occupying female bodies and that the world is profoundly changed because of our earthen vessels.

I want to leave this world better than I found it when I landed on the planet 28 years ago. I promised my future children and all the children I will have the honor of greeting within their first few breathes earthside that I would find a way to change the world. This simple promise has changed me much more deeply than I could have ever imagined when I thought of this in high school. I have developed a deeper understanding of my responsibility to heal for my own well-being and self-actualization so that I can dedicate the best of myself to serve in the liberation of the human spirit. My journey to becoming proud of my cultural roots widened my need to break cycles of generational trauma so that I could pass on a healthier legacy to those who come after me.

I returned to my body after years of desperately wanting to leave it. I found an oasis of knowledge that has been obscured to women and the world for more centuries than I care to count. The pain and wounds that had not been tended to came up for attention and I took the plunge into my womb, the center of my life force, second only to my heart. I began to notice the subtle energies and cycles that worked within when I relaxed and finally began to chip away at the layers of shame and complete disconnect that kept me out of my body. Knowledge of my reproductive system and reclaiming the sanctity of my menstruation opened up the world of wholeness. Of a deep knowing that there was never anything wrong with me because I blossomed slower and at my own pace. So I began to pay attention to my spirit and how it move through me with hormones ebbing and flowing. I opened myself to the moon and my body’s wisdom, learning how to listen to the anxious stomach aches that use to debilitate me; all along they were an boundary alarm system that needed to be reprogrammed. My maturing woman body has been birthing with intentionality and awareness. This is a force beyond me. It is ancient and intrinsic in all flora and fauna of the earth.

I’ve seen 5 births as a doula and 3 births shadowing midwife interns here. It wasn’t until I got to see birth from a midwife’s perspective that I began to realize the layers of transformation in all birthing women, regardless of their level of self-awareness or personal politic. There is a rather silent evolution growing and developing inside them that even they cannot fully grasp. The creation of a new life and the ramifications of choosing to follow through on such a responsibility is huge. It is a humbling thing, to birth and witness birth. It takes away so much of the unnecessary things that give way to a new maturity. This is by no means a generalization nor an attempt to romanticize birth and motherhood; it is just the observation of how basic the change is. It is the simple way in which a woman who never knew the force of her body bears down and gives light to a new human being. It is her coping and accepting that this pain is part of the process (when not birthing under the influence of heavy medication).  It is watching many women previously virgin to her body stretching, shifting, growing and opening succumb to its power and wisdom. This ancient knowledge makes her body move instinctually. It makes her ask for what she needs. It commands the sounds that come from her, regardless if she releases them or not. It is not taught; it is encouraged by wise women and loved ones who still remember how much the body knows.

Aside from my mission to liberate myself and the collective, it is more important to recognize the gravity of evolution possible by tapping into the power of birth. It is easy for me to be heady and severe with my personal politic. I have instead directed that energy into meeting myself and others where we are most passionate – our bodies and being in them. Birth permeates everything and everyone. I have seen stoic men break down into tears watching their partners cope with the contractions and become overwhelmed with the moment of birth. I have witnessed mother, sisters, and in-laws have reactions that even they don’t understand. With an understanding of how crucial birth is to the very survival of families and the human race at large, the knowledge we have forgotten and the disrespect as a result of that suppressed story is vital. Women are portals. To think of ourselves as anything less is a fallacy and tragedy. As I continue to evolve in my body and gain an incredible amount of skills as a midwife, I hope to help facilitate a deeper knowledge of the body and its ancient wisdom for women around me.

A Call To Raise Our Voices: Human Rights Violations in the United States

9 Sep

Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking of all. – Martin Luther King Jr.

Watching humans come into the world through women is one of the most influential experiences of my life. Being a birthworker affirms my reverence for life. It reminds me about what is worth fighting for: the respect for human life and its basic needs. Growing up in the Bronx showed me first-hand what matters. It called me into action as a writer and marginalized woman to speak on how human rights are being violated in the United States throughout our reproductive life.

How do I erase the look of terror and pain on a woman’s face as her membranes are stripped without a full explanation? What of the many rough speculums entering women with no way to report abuse? Of doctors saying, “You have enough sex. You should be used to this”? This is cruel. This is inhumane. This is violent.

According to Amnesty International in 2011, the United States is one of the most dangerous countries for women to give birth – it ranks 50th in the world. In other words, women face a greater risk of maternal death than in 49 other countries. To further expound the situation, issues of race and class make the numbers of maternal mortality rise. This tragic story of reproductive health in the United States is made more severe by the roadblocks to adequate health care – lack of equal access to annual exams, mammograms, family planning education, prenatal care, publicly funded care, STD testing and conscientious health workers.

I found support through the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR)’s briefing paper, “Reproductive Rights Violation as Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: A Critical Human Rights Analysis.” It outlines the abuses women suffer when their reproductive rights are violated; abuses that inflict physical, emotional, mental and spiritual pain. Furthermore, these abuses amount to torture or cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment (CIDT) that are prohibited in international human rights law. The briefing paper shows that many reproductive rights violations in the U.S meet the legal requirement for CIDT. It enrages me that women are experiencing violence throughout their reproductive life and health.

On a local level, we must recognize that our basic needs are of the utmost importance. When we acknowledge that humane treatment should never be denied, we can demand better care. I have asked myself why I have felt that I didn’t deserve to have my body respected; this question is important to deconstruct our own internal barriers to demanding justice. In helping others, I have found my voice to be the proverbial change I want to see in the world. My solution is sharing information. When I use my words to share with women about our bodies, what trauma has done to our lives and allow ourselves to be vulnerable, change happens.

Sharing our stories makes us feel less alone when we confront these violations. I can provide space for women to be open about their reproductive lives. Women often feel shame about their bodies and don’t know who to turn to. Some of these women turn to me because I have made myself available as a resourceful person. We can all do this for each other. Women who know about their reproductive health and resources can become hubs of information and empower other women.

With time, women we are in sisterhood with recognize they are deserving of competent care and education. In my experience, most have gone on to pass the knowledge to another woman. I am encouraged by all the women I’ve supported; they have shown me that my presence, willingness to listen and honor their humanity goes a long way. We all have the power to do this. As we become more informed and empowered, mobilizing into marches and protests at our local legislators and senator’s office becomes imperative. To raise our voice, we must cultivate it first. It is my hope that bringing attention to human rights violations in the United States is part of that cultivation and awakening.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Initiation Reflection – The Day Is Coming:

28 Aug

On September 1st, I will be initiated into my formal midwifery education.

Wow.

Let me say that again. I will be starting my hands-on midwifery education as of this coming Sunday. I felt the pangs of my fear rise up a few weeks ago as I stared at the work I had to do and resisted starting it. I sat with myself one night and asked why, and discovered that there was fear and trepidation. So I decided to start breathing and writing about it. It’s normal to feel scared right before your BIGGEST dream in the world is about to manifest. So many feelings but most of all, incredible excitement!

God, I’m so proud of myself. I am so overwhelmed with pride that I got this far. I crossed so many obstacles and healed myself so much that I have gotten to this point. I’ve done so much. I have changed the course of many people’s lives just by sharing and going on my journey. I am so full of gratitude because so many people see my light, the very light I have worked hard to see for myself.

I shine brightly. I want to shine my light for birthing women now. It is my time to dedicate myself to my joy – life. Childbirth. I am fully capable and mature to handle the next 12 months of my life. What a joy flows through me when I think of how soon (so so soon!) a woman’s child will slid into my hands. I have no idea what to expect. That’s okay. I am running straight into my dreams. I am more than ready. I was born to do this.

I will be going ghost for a year. I will have less access to the wonderful internet and as much as I want to share my life with all of you, I will have to put that on the back burner. Please though, email me. Drop me a line to see how I’m doing. Give me a call. Send me a text. Your faith in me inspires me to keep going.

I love all of you. Every single one of you. I am going to be licensed as a midwife because when I look at you, I know that I could have been the one to catch you in some alternate universe. And if I can add to a person like you being wrapped in love, then let this love I have for humanity keep pushing me.