Sometimes, after a woman gives birth, they need to tell their story over and over again because they are trying to put the pieces together to an otherwise indescribable event: birth. The magnitude and impact of delivering a child is so deep and so beyond our conscious mind that they have a hard time getting a grip. Everyone around them mills around them, continuing with their lives while the postpartum mother experiences a vast amount of mental, emotional, physical and spiritual changes. They are often neglected, in the sense that all the attention was on them when they were pregnant and few understand that they need support more than ever with a new child and a new reality to come to terms with. This is the most accurate way to describe how I’ve been feeling in the last few months postpartum from midwifery school.
I began my formal midwifery training last September 2013. It was conception. It was the beginning of gestating a brand new life and identity that I could never foresee how it would turn out. My year away from all that was familiar was hard. It had its stresses, worries, sleepless nights, and sudden growth spurts that only those going through this with me understood. I felt supported by my community from afar yet also isolated, unable to be honest and raw in the way I could be with a select few friends who got me through school with long hours on the phone. A major worry was finances, a common theme in my life. I am grateful to everyone who supported me to be able to pay for school and all my expenses. School itself was a challenge. One that I have yet to feel complete liberty to be frank about.
For starters, it was direct entry. I chose to learn this way because it does not sit right with my spirit to be trained in a hospital. I had to learn on the spot and that included emergency situations. I’ve seen hemorrhages and babies that needed help breathing. I’m glad I have not seen anything fatal but I didn’t have time to process what I saw – I had to keep going. The birth center I trained at is an incredibly high volume, so I saw nearly 100 humans come into the world plus the clinical hours of prenatal care I gave to the women of Juarez. It was a lot. There were so many long hours, as much as being awake for 36 hours straight and catching up to 2 babies in a 24 hour period. No time to recover, just keep going. It is a lot even now, as I struggle to tactfully write about this experience. The range of emotions felt varied from joy to rage for many reasons.
It was hard to be one of the only women of color training at this school. A lot of the rage came in here; again I don’t feel at liberty to flesh out exact details about why this was at times infuriating. I guess you can say that there was a lot of cognitive dissonance to deal with. For me, there has not been an opportunity to be solely trained by Black and Latina midwives for a variety of reasons. There is a sadness that comes from having had to learn from white midwives. This is not to say that I am devaluing how much I was taught. Most of my preceptors were great teachers and I connected with a few who I am still close to. Still, it speaks to the fact that the numbers of Black and Latina midwives leave much to be desired, as well as the fact that many women of color cannot afford to be trained for a variety of reasons related to the historical disenfranchisement of Afro-descendant people. It speaks to the removal of granny midwives and our own ancestral knowledge of birth; it is painful to know that this was stolen from us from the medical system.
Then there was dealing with my personal life outside of my education. So many things were happening for me, in terms of growing up, becoming an adult child of divorce, and as always, matters of the heart. I felt pregnant with this new person I would be at the end of this journey. I got to spend a whole year being known solely as Ynanna. I can count on one hand how many times someone called me by my birth name. I realize as I sit in the South Bronx where I was born Carmen that this is a huge shift in my reality. Midwifery made me come face to face with my own birth several times. It made me question who I am and how I came to be who I am. It also opened up this well of emotions and feelings about the world. I could feel myself feel increasingly enraged about the world I have to send these new creations into. Especially because they were Mexican-American children, the reality of their struggle was real to me. Because I was with women, the violence against women in this world made me want to break something. Becoming a midwife has made me even more passionate about human rights and less tolerant for pettiness. Perhaps borderline impatient but definitely more headstrong than I’ve ever been.
It has been hard being back. I know I am happy to be home and have been received rather warmly by those who waited for me to come back. But it’s like coming home with a new baby. What am I supposed to do with this new creation? Who is going to help me figure this out? Just like a postpartum mother has to answer these questions alone, so must I. What do I do with these emotions, particularly rage? How do I adjust to life outside of birth? Currently, I am studying for my licensing exam so I can practice legally in New Jersey. I am looking for steady employment in maternal and reproductive health because I can’t imagine doing anything else. I’ve worked too hard to do anything but my career. I hope to serve women of color because we don’t always have access to the best and most compassionate care. I can’t bear the thought of not being in service to my community. Mostly these days, I’ve been alone, like a mother nursing her new child, trying to make sense of this new person she’s become and birthed.