#YourTrueCalling – Quest 2017 Begins

quest-2017

What is your vocation, your sense of callings as a human being at this point in your life, both in and beyond job and title?

And so it begins… Quest 2017! An adventure not for the faint of heart because this is just the first of thirteen prompts from visionaries in different fields provided to us “Questers” as an alignment for the coming year. Think of it as a full body (mind, heart, and spirit, too!) alignment, so that as the beginning of 2017 opens the best self is ready to bust open the door and do big things – with thoughtfulness and intention.

This first prompt, by Krista Tippet of On Being no less, gets the ball rolling by asking us to name our true calling. And if this is any example, we’re going to be going deep – fast.

I’ve written before about how the work that I do with expectant families is my true calling. In fact, it was the first post I’ve ever written on this blog. But over time that calling has shifted.

When I first started out, before I’d ever given birth or actually done any parenting of my own, I had the naive and at times self-righteous passion of a activist teenager. After all, I had taken the training, I had read ALL of the books, and I knew what was “best” for the women and families in my classes. I had a bad case of tunnel vision. Loads of desire and passion, but no real-life experience. I remember meeting with my families at reunions after they’d given birth and I would feel personally responsible, as though I’d let them down, if they ended up with a birth that didn’t look like anything they’d written on the Birth Plan they drafted during class.

As if I, or their 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper, had any control over how their births would unfold.

I find myself today, almost 20 years and four children of my own later, with a completely different mindset. I’ve mellowed in some ways and gotten even more passionate in others.

The realities of pregnancy, birth and parenting are so much more nuanced than I once believed them to be. There are too many variables to account for, too many that are unseen or unexpected, for anyone to really make an actual plan about how these things will play out. So instead, I try to work with pregnant women and the people who love them in ways that I think will really prepare them for what’s to come.

  • I want the families in my care to have positive birth experiences – no matter how their births unfold. I want them to come to my class, or talk with me over the phone or on a Skype session and feel listened to, validated and understood.
  • I want them to have knowledge about how they can best fully participate in their births. To not only accept their feelings of vulnerability around this life-changing event, but to embrace these feelings and move toward them with intention.
  • I want them to feel confident in their ability to do this thing called birth, but also know what questions to ask when necessary that will help them make decisions in real time, as birth happens.
  • Instead of chasing after the ideal “Pinterest Birth Experience,” I want them to be ready for the real, authentic, messiness that often happens in birth. I want them to know that even when birth goes rogue, it can still be a Positive Birth Experience.
  • I want them to drop comparison and judgement from their birth and parenting experiences. Both of these things are so detrimental to developing a sense of self-confidence in their new role. Judgement of others stems from a deep sense of insecurity and does little to lessen it. And when time is spent imagining others’ experience, there’s no chance to enjoy or be present in this very real moment.

It’s hard for me to distinguish my professional from my personal vocation or calling – which is as it should be, in my opinion. I want my every interaction to be honest, open, authentic and real. That kind of connection with others can only happen from a place of trust. I need to trust that in laying myself bare, others can put down their own armor and we can meet heart to heart. That means acknowledging when I’ve made a mistake, asking for forgiveness, and admitting that I need help. It means practicing what I preach to the families in my classes: Don’t run from feelings of vulnerability, explore them with wonder and curiosity – remaining open to the transformation that can occur.

So… This is my first reflection to Quest 2017 with the ever-amazing Jeffrey Davis and his Tracking Wonder Team. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in December, a prompt for reflection will appear in my inbox – and depending on the nature of the prompt, I might choose to post my reflection here on the blog if I think it relates well to my work. If not, I’ll post to the private Quest 2017 Facebook forum for the group.

This Quest is open to the public and it’s completely FREE. You can join me and many, many others from around the globe as we intentionally and thoughtfully look to 2017 and map out how we wish to bring our best selves forward to do the work in our personal and professional lives that we feel called to do.

And, as happens from time to time, a song pops into my head while I’m writing a blog post. Seeing as the title of this first prompt is #YourTrueCalling, try and guess what song came to mind and Will.Not.Go.Away? It’s not an exact fit, but it’s a pretty great ear worm. If you’re so inclined, you can give it a listen and a look here. (80’s MTV at it’s best…)

Childbirth Educator? Rockstar? Do I Have to Choose?

Rockstar

If wasn’t a Childbirth Educator, I’d be a Rockstar!

Not that I’d actually be a Rockstar, I’m not that good – but I can dream, right?!

I just came off of a “Work Weekend.” My job as a Childbirth Educator is all evening and weekend work. It’s one of the things that makes this position so incredibly family-friendly. During my days, I’m a Stay-At-Home-Momma. I’m sure there are plenty of people at my kids’ school who are completely unaware that I work outside of the home in addition to the work I do inside the home as primary caregiver for our four children.

I’m almost always there for drop-off and pick-up, and I’ve gone on a fair number of field trips over the years (although, these tend to be the ones that involve ballet or theater performances. The Zoo in rainy April? Not so much). I appreciate the flexibility of my work schedule so I can be at home, but still maintain a career and not have to pay for childcare. If we had to cover those costs, I’m pretty sure I’d have to work a full-time job just to pay for it! (I realize this is completely absurd and how many families have to do just this. It shouldn’t be a luxury for families to choose more flexible work hours in support of raising their children in a way that remains financially feasible. But that’s a post for a different day…)

This past weekend, was a full work weekend. This means on Saturday, while everyone else was still asleep, I tiptoed around the house getting ready so I could be at my workplace by 7:30 am – a little earlier than usual, but we’ve had a few AV issues I needed to address so the full-day Saturday Seminar class would go smoothly. And it did! Twenty-one couples, three observers, two educators and nine and half hours later, evaluations were gathered and I’m happy to say they reflected the passion that my fellow educator and I have for the work we’re honored to do with these expectant families.

Sunday rolled around and I was back at it again, only this time “teaching” four mini-classes: Maternity Tours. I can’t help it, even on a tour I find ways of providing education about pregnancy, birth and parenting. Tours are just another opportunity for me to do what I love most in the world. But it meant another full day which started at 10 am and didn’t end until 5 pm. Now, before anyone starts feeling sorry for me – don’t. I set my own schedule, for the most part, and I purposefully set up these full work weekends so that even if I’m away from my family for two days in a row, there will be less weekend days worked overall in any given month. Plus – I love my work, so there’s no reason for me not to want to work weekends (but it does help when the weather is crappy and cold as opposed to sunny and warm – I’m not going to lie).

No matter the size of the group I’m teaching, I try to give them 110% of my attention and energy to keep them engaged and learning. I want to share with them what I consider to be most important in our interaction with one another:

Birth is a normal, physiological process and it’s not only their right – but their responsibility – to fully participate in their labor so when they look back on this event, they remember it as a positive, empowering experience. I want them to have a birth story they are proud to tell – where they are the hero of their own epic journey. 

This requires a lot of energy output from me. Being the most extroverted person on the planet, most of the time this works to my advantage. I get energy back from being with a group of people – especially if that group contains at least one other extrovert. More energy coming from the group, just means more energy pouring back out of me. Actively engaged participants who respond positively and obviously to my use of humor, or otherwise engage by asking lots of questions, helps keep that energy transfer balanced.

After my full Saturday class, I felt pretty good. The class was with us the whole day and I felt that strange post-teaching buzz that can happen when the flow of energy has been moving back and forth freely. This continued into Sunday morning’s two tours as well. But my two afternoon tours were not balanced in the same way. I was searching for a little more energy transfer from these groups – and it was not forthcoming.

So by the time the day was done, I was feeling zapped of energy. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue, because I could go home to the bosom of my (crazy!) family and find respite (and lots of energy! Everyone in my family is an extrovert.)

But on this particular day, a friend of mine was celebrating her 40th birthday with a gathering of girlfriends at a place called VoiceBox – a set of private suites that allow small groups of people to have their own Karaoke parties.

What to do?

I was beat. I’d been talking for the past six hours, and my voice was shot. So I texted my friend to say I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to come out for the party. She responded with, “Please rally.”

And then it happened.

The pull of spending a few hours doing my other dream job, being a Rockstar, won out and I rallied. Oh, yes I did. At first, I just drank my beer and sang along while others grabbed the mic. But eventually, I got up to do my best with a few songs that I really love to sing. Songs that are all in my wheelhouse: I know the lyrics and can hit the notes. I’m pretty sure I said, “I love this song!!!” as each was cued up and ready to play, no matter who was singing. The sense of exhaustion was erased with every note.

This might sound really obnoxious but when I’m up in front of my classes and I’m teaching, I kind of feel what I think a Rockstar might feel when they’re in the groove and singing a crowd favorite. Everyone is listening for those parts that they know by heart and letting the parts that are true for them settle in their souls – happy for a moment to be with this group of people who are all in the same place, at the same time, experiencing the same thing.

And I can tell when I’ve hit the exact, right note – that my words have landed not just with the folks in the front row, but the people all the way in the back of the room.

And it’s the greatest feeling in the world!

So. While I’m not a Rockstar – figuratively or literally – it sure is fun to pretend to be one at a friends’ 40th birthday party, and I feel lucky to get a glimpse of what I think it might be like to be one when I’m really in the flow and in front of my class.

And for your listening pleasure, here’s the latest song I love to sing when I’m needing to feel like a Rockstar in my off hours. And if you’re ever in Portland, Oregon you have to check out Karaoke From Hell – this is karaoke on steroids as you’re singing live in front of an audience backed by an amazing full band. It’s as close as you can get to feeling like a real-deal Rockstar. I’m sure this will not come as a surprise – I love it!

PS – As it turned out, one of my former students was at the Karaoke party the other night. It was so much fun to have my two worlds come together this way!

What is it that you do in your day-to-day world that makes you feel like a Rockstar? What could you be doing differently in your off-hours that could fill you up in this way? (Note: You don’t have to be an extrovert or sing Karaoke to get this feeling!)

I’m a Literary Mama!

LMToday is the day!

I received the official news from the editors at Literary Mama that my essay I submitted to them in late Summer, which eventually went through six revisions, has gone live!

I’m so excited for this “origin story” to be out there in print. It tells how I came to be a writer, a title which I am finally beginning to own. The process of working with the editors at LM was wonderful for me. They were patient, encouraging and I could feel with each back and forth that they were really wanting my piece to be the best version possible. I think we achieved that together: my words + their editing prowess.

If you’re interested in great writing by women, who also happen to be mothers, please do yourself a favor and head over here to read some amazing stuff.

And while you’re there, read my essay and join the revolution, won’t you?

Thanks so much for your continued support of me and my writing. It means everything to me!

PS – If you have a story to tell, or a personal revolution you’re wanting to start – but need guidance just how to do this in an authentic way, I highly recommend Jeffrey Davis and his Tracking Wonder team of professionals. Jeffrey is leading this group of amazing individuals who are committed to doing business as unusual, and unlocking your best potential.

ZUMBA!

Zumba

I arrived at my class this evening ready to teach. It had been awhile since I was last at this location, and with the recent “ice storm” I left early not knowing what traffic would be like at rush hour. It wasn’t that bad and I was happy to clock in right on time to start prepping my classroom.

This particular class meets in a conference room in a clinic. It isn’t the best set-up for a Childbirth Education class, to be honest. The space is a little on the small side, it can get really warm, and the lighting is either ALL ON or ALL OFF.

So to get around these drawbacks the class size is limited to eight couples only and more recently, a table lamp has been purchased. In my opinion, it’s all worth it if it makes life easier for these families to have this option as a closer location, or one that works better for getting their classes in before their due dates. And in any case, the people who work at the clinic are really nice and I love my job, so it doesn’t matter that much.

But I still appreciate having a little extra time to set up when I’m at this location. I usually have to haul tables around to maximize the room space and the computer is a little slow in accessing my PowerPoint slides. It’s nice to be there with plenty of time to feel settled before my families start showing up at 6:15 for their 6:30 class.

As I came around the corner around 5:35 this evening, I heard some really loud music blaring from my classroom and the door was closed. I turned to someone who works at the clinic and asked, “Do you know what’s going on in there?”

“Oh, it’s a Zumba class!”

Wait, what?

“Ummmm… I’m supposed to be teaching a Childbirth Preparation class in there for 16 people in an hour.”

“I think they’ll be done by 6 pm.”

Okay… Not what I wanted to hear. But I wasn’t going to interrupt the class, they were in full swing and I could here them getting down to some serious Zumba-esque tunes.

(If you’ve never done a Zumba exercise class before, you really should try it at least once in your life. It’s a complete blast! The music is always ridiculously loud, like rock-concert-level-loud and has a lot of Latin or Indian (think Bollywood) influence, plus it’s one of the best cardio work-outs of all time! You will sweat like you’ve never sweat before. I’ve taken it as an exercise class before and really enjoyed it. And a couple of years ago, a girlfriend of mine had a big birthday party where we were encouraged to show up up in 80s work-out gear (think Olivia Newton John in her “Let’s Get Physical” days). We drank lots of Margaritas and ate mountains of chips with guacamole and then we did a 90-minute Zumba class. Seriously, it was one of the best birthday parties I’ve ever been to! But, I digress…)

Despite my fondness for Zumba, what I’d just heard put me in a bind as I needed/wanted more than 30 minutes to set-up for my class. I texted my supervisor to let her know what was happening and asked that she try to get to the bottom of this so it didn’t end up being a regular gig, and started setting up as best I could in the hallway outside the classroom.

At 6 pm, I poked my head in the room and found that I had to holler above the outrageously loud thumping club music, “I HAVE TO TEACH A CHILDBIRTH CLASS TO 16 PEOPLE IN THIS ROOM IN 30 MINUTES!” A young woman turned toward me and said/shouted, “OH! I’M SO SORRY! I DIDNT KNOW THERE WAS ANYTHING SCHEDULED FOR THIS ROOM! WE’LL BE OUT OF HERE BY 6:15!” And then the door closed.

Well, shoot. (For the record, that’s not the word I was repeating over and over in my head at the moment.) That just cut my set-up time in half – again. I went from having an hour to get the room all set-up to having only 15 minutes.

At this point, my students started showing up and I was forced to have them wait in the call center for a little bit, encouraging them to “get to know one another a little bit better.” To their credit, the Zumba class attendees sprung into action at 6:15, trying as best they could to help me set up the classroom. There wasn’t a whole lot they could do for me, but as I walked into the room I could feel the heat and – definitely smell the sweat – of about a dozen Zumba enthusiasts hit me full-force. I looked at the group of them assembled and begged, “Can you please find me a fan?” Which, thankfully, they did.

The students started filing in, and even though I was still taping things up and my classroom was not set up to my personal standards, class went off without a hitch. In fact, I actually covered more information tonight than I was supposed to, and so next week I have the luxury of being able to do some review and maybe even cover a little extra information at a more leisurely pace.

The reason I’m sharing this with you, is that I find it so interesting when I’m forced to “practice what I preach.”

I talk so much in my classes about how birth is too big to be planned and how you can’t really control it no matter how much you might want to – and that’s actually true of life.

You can set all the plans you want about how your day is going to play out, but in reality none of us has absolute control over any of it. We might leave early, in order to get somewhere with extra time to set-up and there’s an accident on the highway and you’re delayed by 30 minutes, or there’s ice on the roads and class needs to be cancelled, or there’s a group of sweaty people working out their Zumba-booties in your classroom when you arrive – and guess what?

You figure it out. You take a breath, realize that no one was trying to make the situation difficult for you, attempt to be as pleasant as possible (it makes it so much easier for everyone involved), suck it up and do what needs to be done.

There it is.

Birth, work, parenting, life – not as much control as any of us would like. And it’s nice sometimes to be reminded of this and realize that we have a choice to view any situation we’re in as either an opportunity or a challenge.

It’s not what’s actually happening that matters, but how you respond to what’s happening that matters.

Wow – very philosophical post today and written in one go right after my class ended, but a nice perspective to share: so happy that I’m still learning after all these years of teaching.

(And, of course, how could I reference ONJ without sharing a little bit of this goodness with all of you? I think it would make a really great song for a Zumba class, don’t you?)

It’s a Question of Quality

Quality

Of these 3 options, which one is most important in your work right now:

Quality of Life

Quality of Work

Quality of Compensation

This was the latest prompt on my Quest journey and it comes from visionary, Sally Hogshead. (There’s still time to jump on board for all the goodness that Quest 2016 has to offer for anyone who’s wanting to do business as unusual for the coming year. Join in. It’s fun, thought-provoking, and free!)

I’ve answered all of the Quest prompts so far, but most of them have landed on the private Facebook page set up for our group. All have asked me how or what I want to do differently in 2016, but I wasn’t sure my answers aligned with this blog. But this one does. I’m always trying to talk people into becoming a Childbirth Educator, because I feel my job hits all three options.

Quality of Life:

I work only evenings and weekends. To some, this might sound like a terrible schedule! But when you have four kids you need to get really creative about how you’re going to work so you don’t end up with a full-time job you hate – just to pay the childcare bills. My job allows me to have the best of both worlds: I am there for school drop-off and pick-up, I attend field trips (at least those that involve theater or dance performances), I’m able to have a presence at my kids’ school, but I still have outside work – which matters way more to me than I would have guessed. My own Momma was a stay-at-homer and I grew up thinking that parenting was the most important job a person could ever do (for the record, I still feel that way!) so I expected to be content with doing the work of mothering “only” – but I was mistaken. I very much appreciate having out-of-the-home work, too. That was a surprise. I have a job that allows for true work-life balance.

Quality of Work:

I love my job. It’s constantly changing. Each and every classroom of students informs me and makes me a better educator. I’ve been able to grow and evolve over the years, expand my repertoire in and outside of the classroom, and have gotten to the point of feeling ready to write about this subject that matters so much to me. I’m encouraged by my colleagues and students to pursue writing my book to have even greater impact in my field of perinatal and parenting education. Close to twenty years in this career, and I still haven’t experienced any boredom with the subject matter. Likewise, I’ve never stopped feeling like I couldn’t continue to improve my presentation and teaching skills. I think this is extraordinary!

Quality of Compensation:

Well, the “joke” is that you’ll never get rich being a Childbirth Educator. This is true. It’s hard for any CBE to be able to work this job only and be able to support her family. Thankfully, I have a husband who works full-time, carries our health insurance, and is a fantastic co-parent in the off-hours when I’m gone. I don’t have the same worries others do when their work is sporadic and part-time. I’m lucky for that. And all things being equal, I get paid a decent hourly wage. It’s my job that pays for all the “extras.” I pay for Summer Camps, dance and saxophone lessons, acting classes and soccer. Having four kids means having lots of extras and I’m happy to contribute in this way. I know how much these extras enhance the overall quality of our family life.

If I were to focus on any of these options for 2016, receiving more compensation for my offerings would be great!  But I need to focus on what those offerings might be, first.

I’ve done some one-on-one phone consultations for people who are not in the Portland Metro area. Is this something I could charge for? It’s certainly something I enjoy doing, and it would only positively impact my quality of life and work.

The book I’m busy writing – it would be nice to be compensated for this offering, but this is unlikely to bring in much income in 2016. There’s still much work to do, as my focus has shifted and I’m more realistic about the timeline. But what offers ancillary to the book could I be working on that might bring in some form of compensation?

What about presentations and trainings? I love to give presentations and I’m good at it. Is this an area that I can expand, maybe even outside of my own field, and be compensated for it? I love to train new educators. How could this be rolled into my toolbox of offerings that would continue to feed all three options: quality of life, work and compensation?

All good things to consider as I move into 2016. I feel like this year I’m finally ready to take the necessary steps forward to increase the quality of my life, work and compensation.

How about you? What are you doing now that supports these options? What might you do differently in 2016 to better support one or more of these options?

Circle of Trust

Trust

Sometimes it’s hard to trust that you’re good enough to be a parent.

It’s such an important job. But it’s a job that is all to often undervalued in a society where our worth is judged by how much money we make and how much stuff we own. With parenting, there’s very little monetary gain. In fact, you pretty much lose money on this deal from the moment your baby is conceived. And it doesn’t take long to realize that you don’t “own” this little person. Your job is to work really hard so that someday when they’re all grown up, they’ll leave you.

It’s hard to trust you’re doing such important work when, at least initially, it doesn’t feel like you’re very good at it.

Those early days are so fraught with anxiety mostly because you have to figure out how to feed your baby. You have the equipment and they have the instinct. Why is it so damn hard to put those two things together? It’s hard to trust that breastfeeding will ever get easier.

It’s hard to trust that you won’t drop your baby while you’re giving them a bath. They’re so slippery when they’re wet!

It’s hard to trust that you’ll ever know how many layers they should be wearing – are they too cold, are they too hot? 

And cutting their teensy little fingernails for the first time? They haven’t made a nail cutter small enough for you to trust that you won’t cut one of their fingers off in the process.

So much of parenting is being able to trust that if you can’t figure things out on your own, you’ll be able to find the right people to help you figure it all out. The people you choose to trust during this time are so important.

I sometimes imagine that circle of support and trust like a spirograph picture. You and your partner are positioned in the center and your trusted family and friends are the different colored lines that make contact with you, spiral away, then come back around to check in with you again.

These people help you adjust your expectations to match your reality. They’re encouraging, but tell you the truth. They never offer advice – unless you ask for it first. You can be real with them. You can share your good, your bad, and your ugly parenting. You trust they have your back as new parents, no matter what.

As you begin to trust in that circle of support, you might find it easier to begin to trust each other, and then finally yourself.

Make sure to tell each other, and often, that there is great value in this work. Encourage and support each other in your new role as parent.

And trust me when I tell you this – parenting is definitely the most important work you will ever do.

How have you created your circle of trusted friends and family to support you in your transition to parenthood? How is your level of trust in your partner? In yourself? Do you agree with my statement: “Parenting is the most important work you will ever do?”