It’s been a while since I’ve posted, due to the fact that the last couple months and particularly the last couple weeks have been insane. I’ve used the word “overstretched” to describe how I feel to people. Stretched is a nice word, implying challenge; overstretched is not. But I have an hour right now to write, and something that I need to write about and to understand better by writing it.
I got a call on Friday from an OB caseworker at a clinic that I’d offered to volunteer with. She had a couple set to be induced this weekend, both immigrants, he speaks English, she doesn’t. Her induction is tonight, though I just found out that there are some early signs of labor happening. It’s exciting, it’s a little scary, it’s a lot of things.
The one thing on my mind right now is: how do I prepare to step into this incredibly intimate experience with two strangers? How do I enter an intimate experiential space with a woman who doesn’t share my language? Does it matter that we don’t speak the same language–will other, alternative, languages present themselves? There’s the language of context, where we assume what we’re communicating based on where we are, what’s happening, what happens in that place. There’s a language of sympathy, read in facial expressions, in a touch, a laugh. Then there’s translation; presumably her husband will be translating everything for her. What will that feel like? What will the dynamic be?
And, strangers. For the last birth I attended, I knew her as well as I could know someone that I’d been meeting with a handful of times, sessions where she’d describe what was happening between her and her OB, what she’d been practicing in classes, laughing about her husband setting up a crib, things like that. I didn’t really feel that I knew her until I stepped into the delivery room and witnessed a wide range of intense emotions and deep, deep sensations, with zero social niceties. It was about as real as real gets. It was awesome. There was a moment of strange fusion during the birth where I felt connected, to her, to the baby, to God, to other women, to other children, even to myself in the future and any children I might have (insh’Allah). I don’t know how to describe it in any other way. And maybe it didn’t even matter that we’d met a few times before, because it wasn’t me as a personality that she needed, it was companionship through fire itself.
I can do that, again, and again, and again. I think. I hope. And maybe it’s easier that they don’t know me as me. To them, I’m likely another in a set of characters they’re interacting with around the birth–caseworker, midwife, doula. They don’t need to know me, or that I’m a volunteer full of my own fears about experience and inexperience, or fears about my capacity for witnessing good and bad, joy and suffering alike. I can just be what they need, when they need it. Which is in about six hours…