Sunday Morning~Exiting Gracefully

Leaving my job has been difficult, which, is a ridiculous understatement. The job itself was difficult, and though I loved my work, love the women I cared for, and the women I worked with, I was becoming angry and resentful and did not want to start taking that out on my patients. It was bad enough I was starting to take it out on the staff. When I was a new grad and working at Yale, I saw older doctors, burned out and resentful, and hoped I’d have the grace to retire before I got to that point. Not really ready to retire, I could no longer bear being part of a system that treats women as it does. I was enabling.

Years ago, I believed that working within that system would help change things, and it has. Midwives set an example for improving care and have influenced residency programs, making a difference for women lost in an over-medicalized specialty. But at some point when you see things going backward, you just get tired of pushing everything uphill. There has to be a new way of making a difference.

On my last day of work I was interviewed by a Bangor news station for a human interest story about  leaving my job.  I was thrilled and excited that they would be interested in a midwife.  I figured it must be a slow news week or something, but jumped at the opportunity.  They interviewed me for over an hour and, having just gotten back from Washington D.C. and hyped about all our issues, was nailing the points I wanted to make:  how nurse-midwives are fighting for women in a system that abuses them, how services are disappearing in rural communities, how compromised women don’t have the resources to advocate for themselves, etc. etc.  Well, it was only a two minute story not a documentary, so most of that got cut.  Actually, all of it got cut, so I spent this week writing an op-ed piece addressing those points and we’ll see if it gets printed anywhere. I feel like being a mouthpiece or a loud mouth. Let’s see how far I get.

My good-bye party was this week and it was overwhelming. It was done beautifully, in the big community room.  The one little drawback was we couldn’t have alcohol (a bit of bubbly would have been nice), but I think insurance for the place doesn’t allow it or something. I have no idea why,  but that’s what we’ve been told.

Anyway, late afternoon into early evening, many women came with their children, whose births I had attended. The oldest was 21 and the youngest was a few months.  What a sweet experience.  I wish there was a way to have a photograph with them all. My colleagues said beautiful things, wrote and sang a song, gave me flowers and a spectacular necklace they’d had custom made with sea glass they had found. I felt completely unprepared for expressing the gratitude I have for the camaraderie, career, and community.

The original staff of the Women’s Center consisted of five powerful women, embarking on a new and controversial endeavor. Many of the old boys in the medical system were very skeptical about whether we needed a Women’s Center in the first place. After all, they argued, they took very good care of women in the system that already existed, and why shouldn’t there be a Men’s Center as well? We were either naive, bold, crazy, dedicated, or lucky, but we put our heads down, plowed forward and did a good job. We weathered the controversy by standing firm, sticking to our philosophy that the center was needed and deserved, and created a vast number of well cared-for women, who were not shy when vocalizing their satisfaction.

We did all this while supporting each other: raising families, witnessing the births, and sadly, deaths of our children. We gave baby showers, bridal showers, and birthday parties for each other. We catered each other’s events. We survived struggles with teenagers, despair of failed marriages, difficulties of caring for aging parents, all the while advocating for a safe environment in which to practice. We bucked the system a lot, spent more time making our case than seemed warranted, and had time-consuming fund-raisers that produced paltry amounts so we could provide educational programs for women and families. We’d often look at each other afterward and say, “Why didn’t we each just write a check for a hundred bucks? It would have been so much easier!”

It has been such an honor to work with these women.  I have learned so much from them, gained strength when I had none left, and consider them all my family. I felt like I should be the one giving them a party.