by David Whyte
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone,
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your home
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
The other day I realized that I had been working at my current practice for about 9 months. I figured it out because I was seeing patients at term who I had seen at their initial prenatal visit. We all kept marveling at how quickly those 9 months had flown by.
My patients talked about the physical transformation of pregnancy, the aches and pains, the new sensations, as well as the emotional labyrinth of preparing to welcome new life into the world and their families.
My own introspection led me through those early weeks of disbelief that I was actually working as a midwife. The giddiness, the initial fears, hesitations and insecurities…and then the sheer overwhelm, fatigue, and weariness of integrating into a new clinic family and culture all are very fresh. The fumbling to try and settle into the new rhythm, develop my own flow and voice in my new role overlapped with my son’s transformation from babyhood to toddlerhood and suffice to say, the lack of sleep helped no one in my house.
Then there’s the “second trimester” of my gestation as a new graduate, which included a period of depression and let down after years of dreaming of this moment in my life.
The above sentence took me three months to be able to write down on paper, let alone share publicly.
It’s been on my mind all the time, of course. I’d go back and forth about whether I wanted to write about it or not, waffling between wanting to share my truth and not wanting to disclose something quite so personal. The more I thought about it, though, the more I was reminded of the stigma surrounding depression that my patients face on a daily basis. We as clinicians—midwives, nurses, OB’s, MA’s, therapists—we are not immune from the complexities of mental health challenges.
I would never counsel a patient that she should keep her depression hidden. It’s up to each individual, of course, to disclose how and when they choose. But I do know that there is deep power in storytelling and sharing, that hearing other people’s shared experiences decreases the isolation and stigma surrounding things like depression, abortion, drug use, teen pregnancy, among others.
So here it is. After years of studying, developing clinical skills, the endless call shifts, working as a RN to gain clinical experience needed for licensure to achieve my dream job, persevering through incredible exhaustion to get through school while parenting a newborn…I fell into an inexplicable and all-encompassing depression when I finally arrived.
It shouldn’t have taken me by surprise, but it did.
I thought I only suffered from seasonal depression.
I thought I had my life together.
I though the financial stability of my new job would ease the months of stress about money.
I thought I had a great community of support (which I did, and still do).
Despite all all these things, I found myself underwater in that persistent undertow of a current beyond my control that I can only call depression: that feeling of complete detachment from the pleasures of life. I put on my midwife face every day and came in and did a great job and loved my patients…but it took incredible effort.
Eventually, I had a series of realizations that I needed to be taking the advice I was giving my patients and extend that same reminder of self-care and love to myself. Of course, the impacts were immediate. I am happy to say that I am slowly emerging from the dull fog and finding my rhythms and habits to help keep me active, rested, and nourished. I’m biking to work. I’m taking time for myself. I’m planning solo and family travels. I’m gently working on integrating more physical activity in my life—for the first time in my life, I’m working with a personal trainer (and believe me, I am NOT a gym person!!!). I’m slowly reconnecting with friends and rebuilding that network of support that I let go of during school and after my son’s birth.
I share all of this not to elicit pity or sympathy, or stand on a pedestal to push a particular agenda about the narratives of depression. I share my experience to reassure other aspiring and current midwives that being depressed while being a midwife happens. You are still worthy of love and respect. It’s ok to take the time you need. It’s ok to go through the motions sometimes. Know your limits, make a self-care plan, enlist your community of support to help keep you accountable for that self-care…but most importantly, know that you’re not alone.
The work we do take immense, unimaginable amounts of emotional and physical energy. We bear witness to some of the most intimate, joyful, terrifying, transformative life and death moments of a person’s life. We don’t just accidentally become midwives. It take extraordinary effort to get to where we are in our professional lives…but we are whole people, just as vulnerable to stress, fatigue, overwhelm and anxiety as anybody else.
So, as someone who has coped with depression for my entire life, I offer you my solidarity, my support, my witness to your journey.