One of the things I am conscious of, as I train to be a midwife, is how I can make sure I am taking care of myself. So that this process is sustainable, and so I can have the energy to care for other people.
I have taken a few big steps to take better care of myself since starting my training. I have moved into a house with a fellow student midwife where together we have created a little sanctuary of calm to study and retreat after placement. I left a relationship that with hindsight was somewhat toxic, to instead focus on a relationship that is nurturing, loving and fulfilling. And then there are all the little steps. The taking time to relax, making time for interests outside of midwifery, the eating well but still treating myself, the women-only swimming sessions when my timetable permits. The strong friendships built up over years and the newer friendships since starting my training, all of which allow me to feel heard, cared for and supported. The radical midwives meetings I go to once a month to spend time around the table with other likeminded midwives and remind myself why I am doing this.
Last week was my final week of teaching before we begin our eight week hospital placement, and it included an exam. I had been revising steadily, but really concentrated my efforts in the week leading up to it. I gave myself the night off on Monday, as one of my friends is a medical herbalist who runs these monthly experiential herb tasting sessions. The aim is to allow us to really get to know herbs, so we can begin to use them to look after ourselves and those we care about as an alternative to the industrial-capitalist framework healthcare has been built up around. (I should perhaps add: this use of herbs is something I am interested in in my personal life, not my professional life)
In these sessions we explore a herb through our senses, without initially knowing which herb is is. We start the session by doing some exercises to help us really feel like we were in our bodies, and then a pot of tea is brewed up using the herb. And then we smell it and taste it, all the while thinking about what it makes us think of, how it affects us, if we like it, what we think it might be useful for. After this exploration, the herb is revealed, and then we try it in other forms (like a tincture) and read up about it. The herb was skullcap (pictured), and when I had tasted it I felt like I had taken a step back from the situation, without losing my focus, which is fitting as skullcap is useful for calming the nervous system without sedating. I realised that this evening, after all the studying I had been doing, was the first time in a while I had really felt like I was in my body and it was a very welcome feeling.
On Tuesday morning, the day before the exam, I got hit by a car as I was biking into university. I was waiting at the top of a hill on a side street, indicating that I wanted to turn right, when a car came from my left and turned across my side of the road and straight into me. The middle of the bumper hit my front wheel (buckling on impact) and hit my left thigh, and I fell off – luckily falling away from the car. The driver stopped, and alternated between saying that she didn’t see me, and that I was on her side of the road. We swapped details and I carried my bike the 15 minute walk home, as the wheel would no longer turn. I got home, put arnica on my injuries, and my housemate made me a huge mug of sugary tea. I tried to study but it became apparent I would need to take the day off.
On the morning of the exam I realised that despite the point of impact being my thigh, I must have braced my arms as I held on to the handlebars as the car hit me, as my shoulders and collarbones were achingly sore, with bruises forming despite the lack of contact. I took painkillers, did some final revision and then sat the exam. Then I went for drinks with the other student midwives and talked about anything but the exam.
The next morning was the first time in many weeks that I felt like the pressure was off, so I went for a full body massage. I had originally booked this in before the collision, thinking it would be a relaxing treat, but it ended up being more than that. It became a way of helping to physically work the trauma, the tension of the collision out of my body. I have read that after deers experience a trauma, like a run-in with a predator, they go back to their families and they shake shake shake and discharge the trauma from their bodies. This felt like that. It is maybe going a little far to suggest that cars are the predators and cyclists are the prey, but when you have been caught in the headlights it certainly seems that way. We finished off the massage with some reiki, and I was encouraged not to think, to quieten my mind and just accept the healing energy.
And it worked. As I sit here on the eve of my hospital placement, despite the events of last week, I feel ready for this next challenge.