Working Yourself Into the Ground
Yep, I've been there. I think I assumed doing so was evidence I was healed from prior #traumas. I received poor midwifery care, nearly seventeen years ago now, and my son died. I thought creating a midwifery practice and ultimately raising the standard of care, offering families a safe place to birth would help right some of the injustice we suffered. I earned my doctorate with a focus on improving neonatal outcomes in the home and birth center settings, and went to law school in hopes of becoming an advocate for families. I was published. Every time I pulled on a professional jacket, I felt as if I had made it. I escaped poverty and ignorance, the image of everything I was always told I could never be as a child. Having grown up in a very toxic home, ultimately ending up homeless and then in a foster home, it seemed to me that success as an adult meant I had healed from those traumas. My childhood seemed another lifetime ago and certainly wasn't impacting my life as an adult; my career and long-time marriage was evidence of that.
I worked myself into the ground, on-call for births - sometimes as many as ten to fifteen a month - plus clinic days, functional medicine, teaching, administration, leadership responsibilities at both the state and national level, homeschooling my children, manager of the home. I didn't sleep. I had no me time whatsoever. Exercise was non-existent but always on the schedule. Clean food was hit or miss, if I did eat, as often I wasn't home for days at a time to cook or even shop. I can't believe I lived like that. Although I thought I was successful, I recognized I was just barely keeping my head above the water, but I held onto hopes that everything was near-golden just after I completed the hurdle. I was always almost there.
While men certainly can and do work themselves into the ground, taking on more responsibility than any one human should bear, I knew my experience was largely about fear. I was locked in a #patriarchal wasteland, obeying its rules, locked into its system. For lack of alternatives, I embraced the male Heroic Journey as evidence that I wasn't bitter, broken, or fragile. I was a strong, independent woman, who rose from the ashes and created something for herself, to help others, to improve life's experience so others don't suffer as I had. My feminine instincts were suppressed, ironically, in spite of encouraging women to embrace their own. I ran counter to the values I taught my clients more specifically with regards to healthy living but even as who I sensed I was as a woman. I wasn't entirely naive to this fact; I recognized I was working towards success in a male-dominated world which required that I behave like a man.
When I was first out of graduate school, I had a job offer in Pocatello, Idaho. They flew my husband, son, and I out there for a week to be wined and dined. We were offered a tour of the community, met with a realestate agent, offered fancy meals, wheels, and a hotel but then offered $20K less a year than I was making as a part-time nurse but as a nurse-midwife, I would be responsible for call at both the hospital and birthing center while also working a clinic schedule. My husband clearly was not going to be able to work with my committing to this sort of schedule, so not only do we lose the $20K from my previous position but also his entire salary. The obstetricians offering me this "exciting opportunity" were making many times more than they were offering me to work the same schedule, yet they had the support team with a wife at home, nanny, and housekeeper in place. This is the "equality" professional women are offered.
We must act like men, play by their rules and if they allow, join their societies and institutions but we will inevitably fail because the system is not designed to support women. This is a man's world. We are judged by a masculine criteria and inevitably we fall short because we are not men. It is easier to just go with the system, because this world values women who do, women who stick to the rules, who do not rock the boat or push for more. I am learning however, that in becoming what men want us to be, what society expects, colluding with the patriarchy, we are cut off from the source of our own creativity, from the wild mystery and freedom which makes us women. When we perpetuate the system and neglect our own #authenticity as women, protectors of the home, our littles, and especially the earth, we allow for their destruction and ultimately, embrace this wasteland.
I was often praised and reminded that I should be proud of myself. I had come so far and clearly separated myself from the traumas from my past. The thing is that none of this is what I had dreamed as a child. I had simply responded to my traumas and circumstances. I had originally wanted to be a personal trainer and own my own gym, but getting pregnant in college derailed those plans so when my daughter ended up on life-support from a hospital-acquired infection, I altered my path to become a nurse - the real hero that saved my daughter's life. Watching women be abused, manipulated, and overpowered in childbirth caused me to seek my midwifery license. My specialty training was all a similar story - I dug into areas in my career where someone else needed rescuing. My passions had long been abandoned, but I never really had enough time to think about it much and abandoning my career was not a possibility; people depended on me.
What is Authentically You?
This question was asked of me by my therapist, post-closure of my midwifery practice. I hadn't any idea. I identified as a midwife. I did love all that I had committed to and certainly felt passionate about the cause, but was it really authentic to me? I felt confident that midwifery came easy to me. It seemed a natural role, but I wasn't confident it fed my soul and was nourishing. Rather, I felt a bit like I was martyring myself. I could not set healthy #boundaries. In fact, I was sacrificing my health and relationships, even taking punches to the gut on a fairly regular basis. Was midwifery my calling if it failed to honor me as a person?
If I considered my childhood, I remembered playing in the dirt and the creek. I cared for animals and searched for tree fairies. I slept outside and counted the stars. The woods were my sanctuary. As a teenager, I loved dancing, music, and working out - walking every day to the gym after school. I was fascinated by the body, how to improve its function and achieve our most optimal state. I certainly had always loved health sciences, but it was the #wellness component that I truly adored and could not attain for myself, as long as I was a midwife.
I hadn't dreamed for a bigger house or more jewelry. I didn't need more money to be happy. It did seem though that I had a real sense for being busy and I mean busy to the point of chronic anxiety, and ultimately physical illness. I was filling my empty areas, my broken heart with responsibilities. My success and praise seemed to be evidence that I was on the right tract. Rather than trying to figure out what made my own heart sing, what brought me joy, I had spent my life working to protect others, to make them happy, ultimately squeezing myself out. I was living from my head and not living intuitively. Certainly we can do both, be successful and live in balance and with belonging to the world, but we have to be in proper alignment and live authentically or we will feel empty, unfulfilled, and question if our life has meaning.
Members of #Eden Family Practice are offered a Detoxification & Wellness program to assist them in getting rid of what doesn't serve them and embracing what is authentic to them. We work to become our best selves. This offers an intense daily program that digs into ourselves, as well as Wednesday Wellness gatherings so we can hold each other accountable. Before the wasteland burns you up or burns you out, consider a wellness consultation. Engage in our wellness community. Commit to yourself and learn how to best honor your own rights and needs.