Five years ago today, I experienced a very unexpected and traumatic loss — the kind of life event that takes you away from the innocence and naiveté of youth and forces you to realize that you’re a grown-up now. I knew at the time that I would never be the same person again. Indeed, I am not that same person, and I’ll never see the world through the lens of that person again. However, loss and change are not always bad. In my case, it worked out on the up and up.
I was raised inside a framed picture of Midwestern, wholesome stability. I made it to 27 without anything really bad ever happening to me. The heartaches and disappointments I felt were well within the confines of normal growing pains, the boundaries of trust and disbelief were never really challenged.
We all know that there is a certain architecture of life’s difficulties that are unavoidable: childhood pets can’t live forever and all grandparents will eventually die. Rent costs money and mortgages are a big responsibility. Break-ups suck, and you won’t get every job, award, or publication you try to land.
These experiences, while difficult, are known outcomes of living. When the person who was supposed to travel with me through these predictable challenges evaporated, I was left to face an unfathomable scenario in my own traffic lane. I had no input or control; not even having a vote in the matter was a change from the way I do things.
I remember telling my mom, in my most acute period of crisis, that I wanted to crawl back into her womb and hide. Starting over, becoming a baby again and going as far back in time as possible was the only way I could see offloading the grief. Unfortunately, her womb was closed for business at that point.
So, instead of reverting to infancy, I crawled under a blanket for about three days. When I emerged, on the third day, I made a list of three things I planned to do next: get a tattoo, grow my hair out, and become a midwife. In no particular order.
Obviously, the tattoo was the easiest to cross off the list. I was unable to find a metaphor that says “metamorphosis” better than a butterfly, so I made peace with its trite nature and proceeded proudly. About two weeks later, I enrolled in the first round of many prerequisites that I’d need to convert my liberal arts background into a science degree. And by that summer, I could make a ponytail out of the growing hair. A braid in another six months.
Now, three tattoos and many long hairs later, I’m halfway to midwife, which means I’ve almost killed the whole, arbitrary wishlist! I had to leave behind the life that I had chosen for myself, under an unthinkable set of circumstances. But in the five years since, I have gotten a masters degree, landed my dream job, opened a photography studio, entered into a cooperative business with good friends, produced a long documentary and several short ones, met the premier birth guru, run a half marathon, learned to stand on my head, and fallen in love more than once.
I’m not sure if it’s all those years of Catholic school or many years of literary analysis coursework, but I cannot see past the symbolism of how birth and resurrection have played out in my journey. I found my way to birth through a death — the end of life as I knew it reincarnated into the life of a person who welcomes new babies into the world every day. If not for that ending, this beginning would not be.
It is these babies, these families, these photos and movies and yoga postures, that kept me moving forward until there was no looking back. While I would not wish the ugly parts of my story on anyone, I am lucky to have gotten my butterfly moment. Not everyone gets a chance to start over. I saw my chance and grabbed it. The voices that called me to both midwifery and media were loud, and I listened.