2019: Embracing the Plateau

The time has come for me to let everyone else in on my theme for 2019. I stumbled upon this one scrolling through Facebook, but it struck me like a bell. One of the people I follow in my capacity as a midwife is Dr Sara Wickham, who posted about an article ‘In Celebration of Plateaus’. I read the pull out quote and it resonated so strongly with me.


I suggest we reframe plateaus as being both physically and psychologically purposeful, rather than worrisome or in need of a remedy


Davis E (2018). Labor plateaus and our sexual natureMidwifery Today. 127: 14-16.

If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that 2018 was hard going and left me feeling quite wrecked and burned out. I now feel a strong pull to recover and rebuild myself into who I want to be going forward. This is not the hiding away from the world and protecting myself deep inside like my year of Chrysalis, but neither is it pushing myself forward ambitiously and putting myself out of my comfort zone as I did with Cusp.

2019 is about moving forward, but doing so in a way that is sustainable and building on the future I want for myself and who I want to be. I think that will require reflection and a lot of self awareness about what I want to keep from my yester-self and what new things I want to try on. What better way to do that than embracing the idea of a plateau. So yes, Plateau is my theme for 2019.

A view of Ha Giang, on the border of China and Vietnam. Green mountains in the background with blue sky and clouds. IN the foreground a winding mountain pathway but right in front, a daisy in hyper focus.

The idea of a plateau is often held as a negative. They are often perceived as being stagnant of growth and with a sense of holding back, or taking the easy route. However, as with all things, there are more positive ways to consider plateaus.

Plateaus are rest points, while you’re climbing, or pushing, learning, or building. There’s also often a view, even if it’s specifically of the progress you’ve already made and how far you’ve come. Plateaus give you the chance to continue to progress, slowly, and without exerting extraordinary amounts of energy. You get to maintain forward momentum, but in a way that continues to allow recovery before you start climbing again.

I want this year to be a year where I do move forward. I want to do and try new things, but I want that to be rooted in a foundation of self care and healing. I want to prioritise coming back from the burn out I began 2018 with and which was exacerbated by the trash fire that largely describes last year for me. I want the option of stretching myself and choosing ambition, but not at the expense of recovery.

So what might that look like? Here’s a list of what I’m thinking, I’m keeping it simple because I don’t want to pin myself down or feel weighed down by goals and obligations, even those I set for myself. I am going to split it up into areas just because I can visualise it as a balance better.

Midwifery

  • Be the best midwife I can be and keep growing and learning as a part of that.
  • Keep reflecting on my practice as a midwife and connect with other midwives and learn from their experience and mentorship. Be generous with my time and support to other midwives and students.
  • Start my Masters degree. I enjoy studying and I do want to do research in the area of midwifery, so this is a first step. I plan to take it slow and let myself be immersed in it. I am hoping this also fulfils part of what I mention above regarding connecting with other midwives.
  • Continue my support of and contribution to the Australian College of Midwives as my national peak body.
  • Go to the ACM National Conference, it’s as much about learning and growing as it is connecting with other midwives. It fills my bucket.

Self Care

  • Continue prioritising the things for my physical and mental health. I am lucky that I have health professionals I trust to work with on this and this is already something that’s in progress, it just deserves its own dot point in my opinion.
  • Continue to practice relaxing and letting myself have down time without worry or fear. Let myself have fun just for its own sake. This is just habit rewiring, it wasn’t really possible for a long time and so now it’s something I struggle with.
  • Play the video games I want to play, and watch the television and movies I want to watch.
  • Go to the cinema for the immersive experience that turns your brain off.
  • Maintain sleep hygiene stuff so that sleep remains a priority. Obviously as a shift worker my hygiene is mixed, but I do my best to support something of a routine way of handling the changes.

Reading

  • I want to read more books than I read last year, I didn’t set an ambitious overall reading goal though. I am aiming for 50 books and I hope I beat it hand over fist.
  • I’m also pledging to do the Australian Women Writers Challenge again in 2019. I just enjoy this challenge a whole lot. I’m going to pledge at the Franklin level, to read 10 and review 6. I hope I exceed this too.
Australian Women Writers Challenge badge for 2019, forest green background with black silhouette of a woman in a hat in a frock with an umbrella. White text overlaying with the title of the challenge.
  • I am also doing Beat the Backlist again, because my TBR list that I regularly prune is still over 600 books. So, reading the books I already want to read, that’s the plan.
  • I still want to increase the areas of diversity I’m reading in, more queer writers, more non-white writers, more writers who are disabled or neurodivergent.
Coloured books in the background with banner text white on black background 'Beat the Backlist'

Dining Out and Cooking

Dining Out is one of the hobbies that I started to develop last year but I think I want to highlight it a bit more. It’s a hobby Fox and I share, also something my girlfriend Omega and I share. Additionally, it’s something I’ve always enjoyed but it also will tie into self care and having fun for the sake of it. I want to try new restaurants and maybe even review them. Mostly I just want to explore all the amazing food that other people are making.

That’s because cooking is a hard one for me at the moment. I feel like I’m burned out on cooking as well because of how it was so critical in recent years. Meal planning and being frugal were absolutely necessary. And I got extremely good at using food creatively and cooking amazing meals that helped us to get by, not *feeling* like we were missing out while we had so little income. It worked really well, but as a result of doing it full tilt for a few years, I need a break so I’ve been doing a lot less of the style of cooking I’m most used to and comfortable with.

I still do it, this week I made an amazing carrot cake decorated like a fox face! But it’s more sporadic rather than being a cornerstone of my days and weeks.

A fluffy looking cake of a Fox face with icing ears stuck on and orange icing, black detailing and white cut outs. Background is rainbow fabric.

So any dot points for these items?

  • Try new restaurants, including fancy fine dining and casual dining.
  • Try to attend one of the one-off dining events that happen every so often.
  • Go to a degustation event.
  • Continue to cook what I want and when I want, try not to let obligation or duty dictate things too much.
  • Continue to teach Fox to cook and encourage him to build confidence here, but also mindful of his burn out too.
  • Join in some of the months of the Food 52 Cookbook Club, it was fun for the couple of times I joined in last year and I loved the focus on a single cookbook in the company of others.

Travel

  • Do some mini weekend trips with Fox to Victoria as whimsical escapes – like wineries and bed and breakfasts, trips to the south coast.
  • The big ticket item is that we’re planning on a trip to Germany in July, it will be my first overseas trip and I’m ridiculously excited. Not sure that I’ll get in any other countries this time around, but travel is a long term thing that Fox and I both want to do more of together.

So 2019 is about embracing the plateau as a useful way to move forward, while seeing where you’ve come from, and taking care of yourself while growing and changing. Here’s to the new year, a new theme, and the best hashtag about those I’ve come across: #twenty-nice-teen.

2018 Australian women writers challenge wrap up

As you probably saw from my previous post, 2018 I spent in something of a tailspin. I came nowhere close to completing on any of my intentions around reading, reviewing or challenges. I’m still a little sad about this, but I know it happens. I did read a bunch of books by Australian women writers though. I did not review any of them properly. But here’s a quick run down on how I did in hindsight, despite the year exploding in my face amidst exhaustion, burn out and my graduate year as a midwife.

Silhouette of a woman with an umbrella black on a rose background with text Australian Women Writers Challenge 2018

The goal I set initially:

Once again I’m throwing my hat into this challenge, I really love it and that it keeps me engaged with and reading new work by Australian writers, particularly women. This year I’m choosing my own level again and I’m going with my previous challenge of read and review 15 books.
In 2018 I’d really like to make sure they include some works by Indigenous and non-white authors, and works telling stories about diverse characters too. Hopefully I’ll be more successful with this – I earmarked a bunch of books last year already, so now to actually go forth and read them. I also want to finish reading through my Twelve Planets project if possible.

Reader, I did very little of this. However, looking back at the goal I’m proud of myself for setting the bar high. I utterly failed at it – but largely due to things that I couldn’t do much about. Breakups happen, and my grad year really did take more out of me than I had anticipated. Also, these things happened in combination and I started out the year in a state of burn out so… it’s not surprising. But go me for aiming high. This helps me consider what do I really want to aim for in 2019 (post forthcoming) as well.

Books by Australian women writers I read (and did not review properly):

This last book I’m including here is by an Australian genderfluid person rather than a woman writer. However, since the purpose of the challenge is to bring attention and reviews to people under-represented by mainstream reading and reviewing trends and publicity, I think it fits within the purview of the challenge without the need to misgender the author. Also, this book was everything I wanted from a paranormal romance in recent years and found a bit lacking much of the time. It. Was. Awesome.

In total, that’s 19 books for the challenge. If you click through the Goodreads links, you’ll find that I did put some short mini-reviews for some of them, but none of them got a full proper spread here on my main blog.

That’s honestly far more books relevant to the challenge than I thought I’d read, so I’m pleasantly surprised! And with that I’m going to draw a line under the challenge for 2018 and think about my plans for 2019.

Finalising (finally) Cusp from 2017

It’s nearly the end of January and I’ve been working up to writing this post all month. Some transitions in theme happen seamlessly as one year folds into a new one, others take a little bit of extra time, others finish faster. This one was a confusing transition and even though I could metaphorically feel the cliff beneath my feet, and that I was ready to step off, to take flight to go forward, something held me at the Cusp for a little longer. But now I’m ready to move on from Cusp and all I did and learned from this exploration. To give you the background to this conversation, take a look at my initial thoughts on Cusp as a theme for 2017, and my check in post from September.

Silhouette of a cliff with a blue starscape behind it. Standing on the edge of the cliff is a female figure with scarves uplifted by a breeze.I’m emerging from the space of liminality that Cusp provided for me, that breath of almost, but not quite. Holding space for that experience for the year was both challenging and rewarding, and necessary I’m certain now, in reflection that I got everything I possibly could from Cusp. This was a theme that was with me every day last year, like breathing. It encompassed so much of what the year was about, the challenges I faced, the goals I had, how much I yearned and wanted to experience certain things and how close/how far I felt to reaching the end of a major journey.

So now it’s time to reflect, to look at the different areas of focus and bring together all my awareness of the year gone by and where I stand at the culmination of 2017 and Cusp as an enquiry.

Midwifery

And I did it! I completed my degree in the study of midwifery, I’m going to be a midwife for real! I start my graduate position in late February and this also marks the completion of my second Bachelor’s degree and the end of my undergraduate studies. All the hours of study, all the hours of prac, unpaid and doing my level best to learn as much as possible, be as competent as possible, take in every moment, every little detail. And now I have my training wheels to go into practice, transition from study to practice they call it – I’m equal parts excited and terrified. I will be able to sign my own name to things that previously were always co-signed. The responsibility for others’ experiences and wellbeing will be in my hands. I know that I’m capable of this, I know I’m equal to it. But no matter what: it is so huge in my mind. I poured myself into my studies and gave everything I had to it, especially to my clinical placements seeking to marry up all the knowledge and theory I’d accumulated into how to use this in my hands and in my speaking. I never thought I could believe in, and be so immersed in something as a job and career until I started my journey to be a midwife.

A photo of a science poster on a poster board, the background is a gradient of maroon through purple and pink. The title reads 'We can change midwifery in Australia forever: Expanding the boundaries of midwifery through collaborative autonomy'. The poster features four boxes of text outlining the intro, why it matters, the plan and conclusion. There are two images, art of a pregnant person, one with a cloud of terms with implied confusion and overwhelm. The second the pregnant person is in partnership with a midwife and together they grow a tree of the experience that supports and empowers the pregnancy and family.

From my last update, I mentioned that I’d had abstracts accepted for a talk for the Student Midwife Conference and a poster for the ACM National Conference. I applied for grants to attend these, both were held in Adelaide the student conference was the day before the national conference. Thanks to the grant and the kindness of a friend who let me stay the week with them, I was able to attend both and present my work. My talk at the student conference was well received and was part of an overall remarkable day of work by other students. Seriously the calibre of work was incredible – I was so proud to be amongst them. Also, one of the keynote speakers Nicky Leap came to speak to several us and to congratulate us on our work – including me. And then she asked if she could mention my work in her keynote speech! And she did in fact do that! Which meant a lot of people made a point of going to see my poster, and my little 2 minute presentation for it also went well. My poster was awarded the best of the conference – much to my surprise. I spent the week revelling in being surrounded by my peers – and for the first time ever, that word felt true. I had peers. I was welcomed and there were so many conversations taking place about things that were directly concerned with my own study and practice. I was able to participate and share in this. I have never felt such abiding professional identity and recognition before. It was an all around incredible experience.

I especially loved connecting with the other students there who were also intent on making a difference, throwing their hat in the ring and participating with research with the aim of improving midwifery practice and access to midwives and continuity for families across Australia.

I did indeed need to do extra shifts to complete my numbers to qualify as a midwife. But these were helpful shifts and I gave my all to my last prac and these shifts determined to come out the other side where instead of feeling like I would never be ready to practice as a midwife, to feel like I was where I needed to be, ready to take the next step. If nothing else I have determination on my side and I gave my all to immersing myself in the wholeness of learning to take on being a midwife in my own right. This was only possible with the support of my preceptors who were unfailingly kind and encouraging and also demanded my best of me. They encouraged me to take point on the care we were undertaking and by the end of it I really did have the shape of things to come set in my mind. There’s so much that comes with experience in clinical practice, but we all have to start somewhere. All I wanted was to feel ready to go to that next stage and by the end I really did.

I will always be grateful to the families that let me participate in their care and help them to welcome their babies into the world. May I always be equal to your trust and give the best care I can that supports and empowers you. 

Self-Care and Development

Focus on this area was crucial to last year and that’s also something I’m taking forward into the new year and theme. You can only give your all, and do your best if you’ve got it there to give, so refilling my well was imperative – especially as I emptied it pretty much as fast as I could fill it. I dug deeper than I ever have in order to get through last year, and so I really did crawl into December as I predicted. Let me also say, that knowing that would likely happen and then experiencing it, are two very different things. It was hard. And the attention I paid to making sure there was self-care and stress relief and extra buffering for anxiety and coping made all the difference.

Close up cover shot of Marie Brennan's 'Midnight Never Come' with a glass of white wine with an outdoor table as backgroundI put in place opportunities to spend time with friends, I joined in with online spaces that were nurturing and loving and made me feel connected and like I belonged. My friends were amazing and invited me to spend time and checked in on me and made sure I got out on occasion to do fun things. I maintained the tiny rituals for taking time for myself whenever possible, like taking baths, reading for pleasure and doing my nails. I also didn’t watch or read anything that was too taxing or demanding, I subsisted pretty much on fluff and it was an excellent decision on my part. You can see more about how my reading went in my 2017 wrap up of my reading goals. (I won’t cover reading and media separately as I think between here and my goals post, I’ve said everything I need to).

I continued to do counselling, and transitioned to a practice that is ongoing rather than the stopgap short term project I was using through the Royal Women’s. I have been trying to improve my skill in meditation and have found an app that works for me that I like using and has a bunch of meditations on a huge number of topics and ranging from a couple of minutes long to 30 minutes in length, depending on what you want and need. My meditation muscles are flabby so this has been excellent to help me to just do a little bit more often and I’ve definitely seen the benefit of it – particularly in helping me to fall asleep.

I prioritised and protected my sleep as much as possible – difficult with shift work placements, but this also made a difference. I also used a phone counselling service specific to midwifery which also helped at times. I let myself reach out for support as I needed and I didn’t sit on it or wait it out, and I think that helped. I know it will always pass, but just because I can make myself get through it, doesn’t mean I have to do it, or do so alone. That was invaluable this year.

Self-care and development has also been about trusting in the chosen family and friends around me, giving of myself and trusting that what I can give is meaningful and appreciated. It’s also been about letting myself be myself and to be less apologetic about it. It’s partly an acknowledgement of how I have dedicated a lot of time and energy into being self aware and working on my own personal growth, but it’s also putting into practice the understanding that being myself is more important than being comfortable, or being liked, and that sometimes it’s a thing that takes energy to give you energy. Coming to the end of this enquiry I feel much more grounded in who I am now, and where I am going forward – and in particular that future direction and insight there is new and shiny to me. I’ve never really had that before. Midwifery has given me so much.

Domestic Life

A super fluffy pancake on a white plate topped with blueberries and strawberries, maple syrup and creamEverything I said back in September remains true – budget was lean and I think some days the hardest bit was knowing that we are so close to it being better. It was that sense of being so close and yet, so far – you can’t enjoy your budget being better until it actually is. It was very hard to be patient, harder than other years. Meal planning was still a lifesaver, and it helped me to enjoy cooking as a hobby and not just as a chore as well. We defaulted a lot to comfort food – or things that were classed as super-easy to prepare, I regret none of this. 2017 was hard and grueling, there were not enough hours in the day and there were so many competing demands. We made it through and compromising where we could made a difference. Mental health challenges were persistent for Bat while Fox was overall better than any previous year in his mental health – mine was very shaky at times, but the other two were there for me and supported me, plus I did everything I could to improve my mental health and mitigate for the things that were demanding or damaging.

Relationships

This is largely already covered elsewhere – I am surrounded by the most amazing chosen family and friends who helped me to in turn support and maintain strength in my live-in relationships with the challenges we’ve been going through between finances and health. I am grateful for polyamory and the love I have in my life, and the possibilities. Although I didn’t get to celebrate my 20th anniversary with K in person, we both spoke more often and shared more than we have managed in previous years, I assume mainly becauth K was better at answering the phone and returning calls. Regardless of how long it’s been, he’s still a daily influence in my life, I know he loves me and has my back always – he’s shaped so much of my life, my determination, my moral compass. 2018 we will celebrate and that will be incredible.

My relationship with my girlfriend continued to be deeply rewarding and our bond is something I value incredibly – we have great dates and that feeds and delights both of us, but we also care about each other’s happiness so much and it colours so much of our interaction and care for one another. I spent more time with friends and chosen family than I had anticipated, but it was so, good, so appreciated. I am surrounded by amazing people online and off and  the time, care and affection shared with me is priceless. In particular I’m grateful to some of the closed and small online groups I’m part of – I couldn’t have gotten through last year without them.


There’s not much more to tell in some of these spaces since I checked in back in September, but I got to the end of my study gauntlet and now I’m waiting only on my registration number in anticipation of starting working. I’m also on my first real and genuine break in forever. I have no study to do, no big thing due, it’s just about me. Recovery, rejuvenation, refilling my well, rounding out all the self care, and spending time and appreciation on those who’ve supported me along the way.

Checking in on 2017’s theme: Cusp

Back in January, I revealed my theme for 2017 as Cusp and wrote about it in detail. Now it’s time to revisit what I wrote then and see what I’ve learned from this year, where am I tracking as far as what I wanted and hoped for. Reading back over that post, I’m still deeply moved by it and how it managed to encompass so much of what this year means to me.

If I felt like I could see the end point back in January, now in August… wow. I can feel the end of this degree and the journey that accompanies it breathing down my neck. I feel like there has never been enough hours in the year, and that I’ll be crawling into December. But oh this year, what a thrill it’s been to just maintain awareness of this idea of liminality, standing on the precipice and revelling in being ‘on the verge of’: on the Cusp. Trying to gain as much grounding, support, practice, research, and learning as possible. Trying to balance that with self-care and maintaining my household amidst budget pressures. As much as this year is preparing me to leap, to fly, to take off into a newly created future, it’s a deeply grounding year and I have felt like I’ve revisited many things and reprocessed things, reawoken others – not all of it welcome. And yet, I persist.

So what does that look like in the specific focus areas breakdown?

Silhouette of a cliff with a blue starscape behind it. Standing on the edge of the cliff is a female figure with scarves uplifted by a breeze.

Standing on the Precipice (credit unknown)

Midwifery

It’s looking more and more likely that I’ll succeed at this goal I’ve had and be able to finish my degree in Midwifery and qualify to practice as a Midwife. That’s an incredible thing to contemplate. Equal parts exciting and terrifying. I’ve submitted all my applications for Graduate positions, I’ve completed the interviews. And now I wait, and hope. I did the best I could with references and applications and I’m secure in how that’s proceeded so far. I also maintain faith in knowing that the sky won’t fall if I don’t secure a graduate position for next year: I can and will make this work, it’s what I’m here to do.

I submitted an abstract to both the national and student conference for later this year and both were accepted, one for a poster and another for a talk, so I’m in the midst of doing that work for presentation now. I’m delirious with excitement as this will fulfil a long held goal to present at a professional conference. I can hardly believe that it’s really happening, but it feels welcome and resonates as ‘right’ for me: I want this, I want to contribute to research and midwifery, increasing evidence for practice, expanding boundaries, making positive changes possible.

I am still working on feeling ‘ready’ to be qualified and a professional in my own right. But I’ve still got two placements left, and I know that there’s a transitional period as a graduate too. But I know that I’m closer than when I started at the beginning of the year, I’m working as hard as I can at every moment for it to come together. And it’s not like I will ever stop learning and trying to improve my practice: that’s continual and part of being a reflective and adaptive practitioner.

A corner bathtub filled with sparkling bubbles, surrounded by candlelight, a glass of sparkling wine, and a book on the sideSelf-Care and Development

I’ve needed this focus so much this year and it’s been deeply central to everything – even Midwifery. I still have things in play to fulfil  me socially with chosen family and close friends bolstering the energy from my beautiful partners. I’ve got some new online spaces that bring joy and care my way and ground me and focus me in a way that I didn’t realise I’d been missing desperately. I love Slack. In my physical social life I’ve made it as easy as possible to say ‘yes’ to things and to spend time in ways that will energise and inspire me, allow me to keep working hard and pushing forward. Also this helps me to mediate the worst of budget difficulty and mediate the impact of mental health stuff our family is going through. It’s been a hard year, but my beloveds and I are consistent in that we all persist. That is always heartening.

I am still trying to do my nails regularly, and it still helps – especially when I am managing to follow through on the regularity specifically. I am reading for pleasure and I’m cooking some amazing food. I have been taking baths and focusing specifically on activities that allow me to relax. The media and books I’ve been consuming have stayed fluffy, I’m just letting go of doing any harder reading or watching this year, it’s all about comfort and optimism right now.

I have also been doing counselling which has helped and so very validating. It’s nice to know that I’m overall coping exceedingly well with extremely challenging circumstances. That central truth helps me to keep going and contextualises it so that I don’t think that how hard things have been is just ordinary hard or challenging. It’s not. On the advice of my counsellor I’ve been starting to meditate and this time around, with the app I’m using, I’m having quite a lot of success with it.

This year has been difficult in the self-care department not the least of which because there’s so much riding on this year and so much to do that there just never seems to be enough hours. But I also had a health experience that reactivated my post traumatic stress disorder and so I’ve been fielding that being more of an imposition than I’m used to for the past few months. While I’m not depressed, I have issues with anxiety, and they play into sleep, not exactly insomnia but not restful sleep, not enough sleep, too easily roused and anxious and thinking and driving myself to ‘do’ even when what I’m supposed to be doing is sleeping.

I’ve done an amazing job in this area, and I’ve needed it. I’ve needed my loved ones and their unstinting care and encouragement, being able to just trust in their love. I’ve needed to care for my loved ones, to be able to make a difference in the difficulties they’ve also faced – be outside my own head and be reminded that there is so much going on outside my own sphere. Also, giving in what capacity I can means that I can more easily accept the help when it is offered, and since I’ve needed the help, I have also needed to know that it is grounded in mutuality and love.

I said in January that Cusp is about being myself and letting that be okay and it’s still true – whether I intended to hold so closely to the importance of that statement or not, I don’t know but the actuality is that it’s underpinned everything. I am more myself than I’ve felt able to be in the past couple of years, I am more in sync with who I am and who I want to be – they’re not so far apart now. That’s pretty amazing, I can’t even pretend that I’m anything other than elated about that.

Reading and Media

As I said above in self care, reading and media has remained a comfort to me and is of deep importance. I can’t conceive of myself as someone without at least one book or television series in progress at any given time. I’ve focused entirely on fluffy and comforting subject matter though, I’ve had no space or coping for harder work in my head or heart  with this space. I have needed reading and watching to help  me recover and relax, so fluff and comfort it is. Excellent decision on my part overall. I’m not really sure how well I’m tracking against my reading goals at this stage – that’s going to be something I allow future me to deal with.

Round earthenware casserole pot with red duck curry, decorated with toasted flaked almonds and bright green corianderDomestic Life

Everything I said before about this being a harder year budget wise was true, and so meal planning and lifting our spirits in tiny ways has been imperative. It’s helped. We’re making it through. The image I picked is from Bat’s birthday dinner, I made Red Duck Curry with Pineapple as the main, it turned out pretty spectacularly! Fox is happier in new work, and we’re so close to the point where I’ll be able to work and we’ll have two incomes finally. And what a feeling that will be! Our most powerful tool domestically continues to be ruthless kindness and gentleness with one another.

We’re all operating at heightened stress, and often limited coping. With kindness and gentleness, any impact that could make things harder or more painful is minimised and often averted. We communicate really deliberately, making requests, providing support, being accountable to one another. Mental health challenges make this both critical and very hard, tiring work. So again, self care – for all of us has been critical. Also coming together and being together, I also think that’s been important, even if we’ve not really been able to make much of an occasion of things.

I had wanted to post here more about study, domestic life, and cooking in addition to books and review – but there’s just been not nearly enough hours. I’m going to just assume that will remain the case and I’ll revisit that idea as a next year one.

Relationships

I am profoundly blessed in my relationships. One partner and I celebrated our 20th anniversary – apart, because that’s just how finances crumbled this year and we’ll make up for lost time later. I love them more deeply than I thought was possible 20 years ago, and I cannot imagine my life without them. That’s the most notable thing to mention. But everyday life with my live-in partners is both a joy and a challenge for all the domestic life reasons above. But our commitment and capacity for each other astounds me and inspires me. I couldn’t have gotten through the past few years without all three of us and our mutual determination. Fox is in a better and better place, he’s grown so much even in the past twelve months, I think sometimes he scarcely recognises himself. Bat continues to persevere with Med school and  mental health – he’s pushed himself at every turn and I couldn’t be prouder (and at times more heartbroken as to the cost), he inspires me with his ability to just keep going, and his honesty around the difficulty.

One of my connections has fallen away in a very quiet way, and I’m just letting it go. It is sad, but I know there’s no actual hard feelings, just not enough impetus and energy and when I realised I was the only one holding on it became a little easier to just take a deep breath, and let it go and appreciate having enjoyed something special. Also, my capacity to drive connection against a tide like that is limited and if I’m lacking that sense of mutuality it makes sense to just appreciate the person and breathe deep and let go. I’m still a little sad, but I am overall okay with it. It is the right choice. The platonic romantic relationship with one partner reached 4 years this year, and we continue to revel in how excellent it is to enjoy each other in the form of really excellent dates and emotional support and togetherness. When so many other bits of our lives are  mutually really hard work, it’s just so wonderful knowing that there is nothing but ease and joy with each other. It helps. That goes toward self care too.

Friendships have been myriad and so rewarding and important, from chosen family and best friends to friends far away and online. I’m rich with amazing people in my life and honestly, the only way I’ve gotten through is with thanks to them. I wish that there were more hours, wish there was more energy and I could more easily show the difference people have made, and give them more of me.


Quote image: a with woman midwife loves what she does, but who she does it for more, less about doing to women, more about doing for women, trusting birth, trusting women.I am still committed to my overall intention being open to things, taking on as much as I can in preparation for what is coming next. Midwifery filters through every aspect of my life, my feminism, my activism, my passion. The image above is a quote that summarises pretty succinctly my central philosophy behind my practice.

I’m not quite as shiny as when I started out the year, I still feel capable, I still feel energised and determined. But I’ve been knocked around by the year, and I’m still struggling. I am learning how to take even better care of myself. I feel more than ever that I’m on the verge, that I’m so very close to the end of this journey, Midwife and all the promise and new beginnings that holds. I’m still in progress, there’s still so many loose ends… but I feel equal to them, and I’ll keep going.

 

2017 is on the Cusp

The new year rolls around again. Now that I’ve wrapped up what I got out of Chrysalis, my 2016 theme it’s time to open up my 2017 enquiry. That’s how I view a theme for the year in any case, a year long subjective enquiry that I let be the background focus for how I go about things. It informs the lessons I want to learn, the growth I want to undertake or the direction in which I want to throw my energy. It’s a no-sticks way of making the whole new year and resolutions thing work for me. If you’re interested, I wrote about my what and how of themes previously.

Without further preamble, my theme for 2017 is: Cusp

Silhouette of a cliff with a blue starscape behind it. Standing on the edge of the cliff is a female figure with scarves uplifted by a breeze.

Standing on the Precipice (credit unknown)

From the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, here’s the definition that resonates with me for what I’m focusing on this year:

“An interval of time just before the onset of something”

A theme is always a concept, intended to be big enough and broad enough to encompass an entire year, with flexibility. The idea behind Cusp for me, is that I’m still in the midst of a journey – becoming a midwife. I’m still in the process of transformation and I’m not quite done. Unlike my 2015 theme Becoming, I’m much closer to the endpoint and I can see that ending in the distance. I’m close. I’m on the verge. But there’s still a way to go. I don’t yet have my wings, I’m not quite ready to fly – but I’m approaching that point and so I feel like I’m in this liminal space, in between and not-quite. I like Cusp for the potential it makes me feel, for the challenge it breathes into me and the push for this last year of effort required to achieve this major goal, career and vocation change, who I am in the world, being that kindness and change I wish to see. Everything. On the verge, standing on the precipice: just before the culmination, on the Cusp.

Weeks ago when I was letting this word and concept  tick over in my mind, I had thought this would be another inwardly facing theme. I thought Cusp would go to work on me internally and that I would need to look inward to see the effects. Now, I don’t think that is the case. I think this is far more outward facing than I’d supposed, and that it’s a kind of embracing of the world at large and putting myself and what I am contributing out into the world in various ways. There’s still the internal component I’d already mused upon, but there’s also a call for me to be visible, be vocal and practise all that I’ve learned, consolidate it all and find out how it and I all fit together. It’s pretty exciting!

Let’s break down the areas where I’m directing my focus for Cusp, and what I hope comes out of this enquiry.

Text graphic with a turquoise background. Black text reads "Keep Calm, Study Hard and Become a Midwife" with a small black crown at the top.Midwifery

I want to complete my final year in my degree to qualify as a Midwife, this is so much the thing that I am on the Cusp of, it’s so close I can almost taste it! I would like to do this and maintain the good marks I’ve gotten so far. I want to do well in my last three prac units, and get the references I need for my Grad Year Applications. I also want to get all my numbers for things together so that I can hopefully do as few extra shifts for births and the like at the end of the year. I think it’s unlikely I’ll have all the numbers and not need any extra shifts, but we’ll see. I want to go to the Student Midwife Conference this year, and if I’m lucky one of the other professional conferences (that might be pushing it though). By the end of the year I really want to feel like I’m ready to transition into professional practice for real, have my own registration and the responsibility that goes with it.

Self-Care and Development

In this area I hope to continue the practices that I’ve found work for me in the past couple of years. I want to continue to refine the care and feeding of my extroverted self, surrounded by my wonderful introverted partners. I’m grateful to them for how loving and caring they are toward me, knowing that I thrive on a base level of affection and touch. I appreciate their efforts to give me what I need and that they notice how I in turn try and support and fulfil their needs.

Two hands showing nails over dark purple sleeves, fair Caucasian skin tone with nail wraps featuring glow in the dark multi-coloured eyeballs from Jamberry. I want to remember that baths, books, Jamberry nails, video games, walks, podcasts, dinner and great conversations with my wonderful friends are my favourite self-care mediums. I want to keep making time for these and have them fit into what promises to be a busy and demanding year. I’m getting better at this as time goes on, so it’s refining and continuing as I’ve already started.

I am allowing for some gentle untangling of some deeper and older emotional stuff inside, body stuff, family history stuff and being myself stuff. I’m not sure how that will go, but I’m allowing space for it to come about, without intending to specifically dig things out of my psyche and go to work on them.

That said, I do want to finally conquer the ridiculous molehill-become-mountain that is getting my driver’s license. It’s back in active progression as I’m doing practise driving regularly again and will aim to book a couple of pass-the-test lessons and then do the test and (hopefully) pass!

My intention for this year is that I reduce my overall anxiety, that I see a reduction or ending to those habits and telltales of my anxiety. I’d like to continue to dial back my hyper-vigilance as I can bit by bit. That’s hard. About as hard as I thought, but not intractable. It involves letting go, breathing out and trusting things to be okay and people to be okay.

Cusp in this area is about being myself, and letting that be visible and outward without fear, learning to be okay with it and not quite so terrified.

Reading and Media

This is purely for me, my leisure, my enjoyment of time  to myself and how to spend it. I want to read, enjoy book clubs, do reading challenges, catch up on some of the television I’m watching, play awesome games, keep up with podcasts and share that with people here and via social media. I want to keep reviewing books here and doing some interviews and blog tour things if I get the chance. I’ve already written up my reading goals for 2017 so I won’t rehash that. I think I’ll also just allow for another post at a random interval talking about the games, media, and updates to podcasts I love and so forth. This is the simplest for this category yet, but the intention is simply to just keep enjoying it the way I am and to share it outwards with joy and enthusiasm.

Domestic Life

This year looks to be crappier budget wise, but we’re going to try and make it work as best we can, it’s the last year where budget should be so very hard and that too is reflective of the theme Cusp. That means meal-planning and using little inexpensive things to keep our spirits up and to make us feel better about things. It’s easier to deal with a strict grocery budget if you’re still able to make awesome and interesting food. Since Bat is also back to sharing more of the cooking that actually looks less stressful and more possible. Household things in general seem to be mostly running more smoothly and fairly, with room for tweaking but there’s no real ‘hard’ attached overall. I want us all to feel like the breakdown is fair, achievable and that we live as well as possible in a lean year. I have some light aspirations towards decluttering – specifically in my bedroom/wardrobe space but I’m simply identifying the desire and not putting any specifics around it at this stage. It’s all possible. I would like to post more about food, cooking and meal-planning this year if I can manage it around study and book reviews.

Relationships

A white cat and a black cat cuddled together in a soft nest where their paws and tails make a heart shape. I want to enjoy my relationships, friendship, chosen family, family, romantic and other poly-connections. I want to spend time and appreciate the wonderful people in my network.

I want things to continue to improve emotionally and in mental health for my live-in partners, it’s been a hard few years, and this year is intended to be the last ‘flagged’ hard year as after this we should have better income options which will take much of the pressure off and give us some more options. Fox is in the best place he’s ever been, but with that still comes new lessons and difficulties – like trying to learn how to actually relax. Bat is doing alright and is doing what he can to maintain that ahead of going back to Med School. His new boyfriend from the US is also planning to visit this year which I hope consolidates Bats feelings of love and safety and possibility, and that it helps him to get through the academic year.  I want him to feel loved and supported and know that Fox and I are behind him eleventy percent, and that we welcome N as his partner too.

I want to spend my 20th anniversary with my partner K who is interstate and I’ve not caught up with him in person since 2014, because money. But it’s our anniversary and there’s a lot going on to make this possible for him to be over here and for us to spend time together. We’ve been through so much together, we mean so much to one another – and despite living on opposite sides of the country, that doesn’t change. He’s still the person who wants me to have the most amazing life and wants to contribute however possible to that, and I want the same – he made it possible for me to move to Melbourne and it was the best thing for me, despite how deeply I miss him constantly.

I want to spend time with my other poly connections, enjoy the company and try and find some way of spending time regularly instead of sporadically – that ends up stressful, I’m making space for that to become easier. It’s hard with no central scheduling, competing priorities and obligations, distance, and lack of money to make things easier. I’m still allowing for the possibility.


Overall what underscores Cusp for me is being open to things, allowing for possibility and being willing to take on things, try things, do things and see what happens. I still have to be mindful of energy levels, resilience and self-care but I  feel much more capable of that at this point. This is less detailed and specific than in the past couple of years, but I feel more freedom at this point to see where it leads and to just let things happen. Hopefully that means more reflection posts along the way as I learn things too. Here’s to 2017, Cusp, and getting ready to take the leap, letting myself be with the moment, on the verge and almost arriving at the destination of Midwife.

Reflecting on Chrysalis for 2016

As always before I do my reveal and discussion of my new year theme, I like to reflect on the year past and what I learned from my enquiry over that year. In 2016, my theme was Chrysalis, envisioned as below because I felt I needed a protective place to recover, a suit of armour to prevent further damage and needed to be inward focused in order to get through another year of study, another year where I anticipated many challenges and much stress. It was a reactive theme, but even so I still put forward aims that I hoped would be part of the enquiry and part of what helped me to heal, you can read about how I originally imagined Chrysalis back in January of 2016.

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis by Kim C Smith - 2014

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis by Kim C Smith – 2014

So now, in January of 2017, where do I think my past year of enquiry has taken me? What happened, what did I learn. What will I take forward and what will I let go?

Overall

Reflecting on this theme, I think what I got from Chrysalis is exactly what I needed: comfort, peace, healing, protection, love. I spent the year reinforcing in every way I could a recovery of my energy, rebuilding of my resilience, and letting go of some of my perfectionism to make way for simply trusting that things would happen – like dinner on the table when I was in the depth of study doom. It was a year where it sounds like I was selfish and that’s true, but it’s the selfish of desperation where I had very little left I could pour out and give – I’d exhausted  myself and everything inside of me to get to the end of 2015.

Things that contributed to that state included my study, partner illness and financial stress. To share a little more, I am studying a demanding degree course in Midwifery, which I love and am passionate about – but it is one long push, there are few lulls and it is demanding intellectually, physically, and emotionally. Being realistic about that doesn’t make me love it less or less committed to being the best midwife I can be.

It’s no secret that one of my live-in partners has been in the depths of mental-health crisis for the past couple of years and this has taken its toll on him, but also on Fox and I as we do our level best to support him, protect him, and encourage anything that draws him out of the depths of it. The best outcome for 2016 was a dramatic shift in his mental health and while it’s certainly a massive relief to see, and we all hope that it will continue onward and upward it’s not a magic wand and there’s a lot of work and time before I think he can look back and say ‘This is behind me’. Right now he can say that he feels like the worst has passed – that feels true for Fox and I too.

Which brings me to that other stress point – we’re still on one income predominantly. Over the past twelve months I did some part time work which eased the pressure for most of the year. Fox has continued to be our breadwinner, he’s stoically dealt with the awfulness of his job and company that has steadily declined in all level of satisfaction. The likelihood of redundancy looms ever stronger and we’re doing our best to hold out for that as a means to give ourselves the best buffer and chance to weather a change in job and income. Fox’s dedication as a provider is incredible as is his own commitment to his mental health, which has improved slowly and steadily over the years since he first started tackling this. I’m so proud of him, so grateful to him and I can’t wait to repay his faith in me and my studies by giving him the chance to pursue his own studies.

So finances still sucked but they sucked a little less, and we  made as good a use of that as we could – we didn’t need to be so strict on meal planning (that will be a necessary change this year), we could get takeaway on occasion and did so at several points where ‘too hard’ hit. But that has been hitting less and less as Bat has recovered more mental health and capacity. There is less worry and so work happens more evenly distributed and support flows more freely in all directions. Bills were paid, we had some disposable income occasionally. I was able to invest in some training to go with my Midwifery studies that will hopefully set me up to be an attractive graduate candidate when I apply this year for a position for 2018. All the ways in which I dedicated energy to self-care, to recovery and resilience paid off, for me but also our family. We’re all in a better position personally at the end of 2016 to go into 2017.

Reading, Media and Fandom

One of my big realisations for 2015 was just how much reading for pleasure grounds me, and is a self-care mechanism and stress relief rather than simply a luxury. I’d spent most of the first two y ears of my study feeling guilty for still reading fiction and then I learned that it’s a small and regular thing I can do to look after myself and enjoy my days and weeks. So I made that a priority for last year, and letting that joy be there for myself rather than worrying that I should be studying was so helpful. I read some amazing books (my favourite books of 2016 post is still pending, but I’ll edit and link when I’ve posted it).

Blue banner image with picture of a book in white and the text Goodreads 2017 Reading ChallengeI loved reading and reviewing this year and I exceeded my reading goals in lots of ways – and there’s still room for improvement in others, as it should be. We’re never done, there’s always more room to grow and more to learn. You can read more about my reflection on last year’s reading goals if you like, or see what my goals are for 2017 in reading – I won’t rehash them here. In short: read books, review them, especially books that are diverse in important ways, and books by Australian Women Writers. Try and read 75 books in the calendar year.

I also listened to my favourite podcasts and I looked for ways that I could keep listening even when I wasn’t working. Favourites continued to be Galactic Suburbia and Fangirl Happy Hour, and I continued to really enjoy Tea & Jeopardy. New favourites include Sheep Might Fly, Magical Space Pussycats, and in non-books and fannish areas,  Acts of Kitchen and The Birth Hour. I also fell in love with the Booktube channel Books and Pieces, I highly recommend it. I managed several really great walks (and Pokemon Go was great for this as well) while listening to podcasts, which was a happy goal to achieve. Plus, I’ve also gotten to a point where some of my general online productivity like organising recipes or sorting stuff etc can be done to a podcast background so I’ve stayed mostly up to date and in love with the voices and conversations of intelligent women, who are so switched on and aware, so emotionally present and generous. This kind of listening brings such joy to me.

There were a few other media things I did to contribute to self-care and taking time out. I played games and in particular enjoyed Stardew ValleyNo Man’s Sky, Pokemon Go, and Armello this year. My favourite movies were Deadpool and the new Ghostbusters, pretty equally, although I also really loved Zootopia too.  With music, I set up a Pandora radio station for Hamilton and other Broadway musicals so that I could have background music that mostly made me feel better about the world and let me relax and think about the stories the songs were telling. Like a large percentage of the rest of the world, I unexpectedly fell in love with the Hamilton soundtrack and listened to it time and again over the months in the second half of the year. I think Lin Manuel Miranda is a gift and should be celebrated.

Midwifery

White banner with intersecting circles Hands, Heart and Mind and the kind of midwife you will be. Midwife is in the centre of the intersecting circles.In taking on Chrysalis last year, in my original post on the subject of midwifery I said:

I just want to do well. I want to do well, I want to learn. I want to be the best midwife I can be. I want to regain my confidence on prac.

This area is one in which I’m particularly proud of the outcomes. I excelled academically in 2016, beyond even my high expectations of  myself. I worked exceedingly hard for it too and I’m so pleased that paid off. I also went back to prac and it went well. I achieved that aim too, to regain my confidence in my practice and to do well in my clinical placement. I’ve also started asking for and collecting recommendations and I’ve been doing additional workshops, seminars, conferences and courses to supplement my study as part of my efforts toward applying for a graduate year position. They’re competitive and I’ve my sight set on one in particular (I have yet to work out my second and third preferences) so I’ve been working hard already to achieve this. I a