Three weeks ago I returned from my trip to the startling heat of Arizona and the loving community of my family and friends. Over the past few weeks I have unpacked my suitcase and am learning to sleep in the same bed for more than a handful of nights, appreciating the familiarity of using the same shampoo in the same shower and knowing where to find my hairbrush. I missed routine this summer. And I grew addicted to the wild adventure of arriving at new places and exploring new spaces and connecting with people — only to leave again in a few days.
The whirlwind life thrills, but the time has come to settle again.
This summer shaped me in so many ways. One major change has been the development of my calling for what comes next. I know that I am meant to work in maternal health. This field has given me more life and fervor to contribute than any other discipline I have pursued. I wrestled with what vocation would allow me to have a significant impact. I grappled with becoming an OB/GYN – medical school would be so interesting and as a doctor I would have the skills to save lives and the medical authority to make changes in the US. The more I worked with midwives the more I dreamed about becoming one, realizing that the posture and role of a midwife aligns better with how I want to engage with women. I was very caught up in this idea of what identity should I choose. The words of the first midwife I interviewed have resonated with me all summer: “I am a human first — and I work as a midwife.” It wasn’t until I returned to AZ and quoted this midwife to a friend that I realized my journey didn’t help me figure out what I want to be, it guided me to discover what I want to do.
Here is what I want to do: listen to and support the individuals who are serving women in their local context. This includes facilitating systems of maternal healthcare that provide women with access to quality care that respects their human dignity. I want to increase collaboration between medical professionals including doctors and midwives so that women receive the best care according to the scope of their needs. I want to establish birth clinics that serves women of ethnic minorities. I want to help change the culture surrounding birth in the USA so that more people understand the scope of various providers and feel empowered to make the best choices for them. After I graduate with my bachelors next spring, I plan get my masters in public health with an emphasis on sexual and reproductive healthcare. As I learned this summer, I will set my intentions, remain open, and follow what happens from there.
But my vocational path was only one aspect of how I was shaped this summer. “My Circumnavigation” was not a product of what I made happen, but came together based on the generosity of countless individuals who said yes to a random Arizonian student looking for some answers. People around the world have shared their homes and food, busy schedules, professional connections, their research endeavors and frustrations and vision. Thank you for responding. Thank you for opening yourselves and your lives to me. Thank you for sometimes speaking about really difficult things in a language that wasn’t your first or even second language. Thank you for picking me up from metro stations and carrying my suitcase up four flights of stairs. Thank you for inviting me into the maternity ward to watch infants enter the world. Thank you for allow me to be present as you met your baby for the first time. Thank you for connecting with me in overwhelmingly meaningful ways.
I am so deeply grateful and humbled because I will never be able to repay these gifts in the same way to the same people. Yet I’ve also realized it’s not about me receiving and giving, but about the power of human connection and story-sharing. I feel so honored to have been entrusted with so many raw and honest stories. The gift of gathering these stories around the world compels me to share according to these individuals’ visions for change and for the future.
So, here’s what comes next:
The summer wanderer plants her feet for a spell and writes a book.
I have one more year left for my bachelors degree in Global Health at ASU, and due to frantically pursuing all of the classes over the last three years, I have the space to lower my course load and take a breath and sit with this project that seizes me with urgent excitement. Before my trip I planned to write up my results into my thesis by qualitatively analyzing the interviews according to my survey criteria. But travelling jolted me from the notion that my purpose is to evaluate and define what-is-going-on-in-global-midwifery. Rather, I am called to share the words of the experts, infused with perspectives I gained from what I experienced and saw.
When I’ve mentioned to professors that I want to write a book, they smile encouragingly and respond, “Good for you! But you should do your thesis first, so that you can actually graduate.”
Last week I sat across from my thesis advisor and said, “I can’t wait to write my paper!’ Then more quietly, “and I also want to write a book…” Instead of grimacing at my naïve optimism, he told me, “Why can’t you do both at once?” Then he quoted something he told me two years ago when I sat in his office as a sophomore, musing about my future thesis, and told him that I was interested in research but would prefer to focus on a creative project. He said, “I don’t understand why research isn’t considered creative. Isn’t the process of observing, questioning, investigating, and reflecting one of the most creative things you could do with your interests?”
This world is full of the most truly wonderful people.
My director and I decided that for my thesis I will analyze the interviews according to some of my most important questions: how do you define a midwife, why did you become a midwife, what are barriers to maternal healthcare, and how do we improve collaboration between maternal healthcare providers? I will write up a few chapters in the book with this qualitative research approach. Other chapters with focus on the different countries and related themes through the medium of personal narratives. Like the other professors, my director also wants me to graduate, so he recommended that over the next semesters I write the core chapters and design a plan to finish the book.
I left his office dancing. My director believes in my passion to bridge academia and public knowledge, and is supporting me to throw myself into everything I could have dreamed of for my thesis. I will do the work of connecting and comparing, and I will share the stories.
Usually I only blog during the summers, but this year I hope to continue to write periodically to provide updates about the work of re-engaging all of the conversations I had with the amazing people I met this summer. If you are interested in continuing to follow this journey, I welcome you along. Thank you so much for following and supporting me on this adventure by reading this blog and reaching out and connecting. The comments and conversations that have arisen from people encountering these stories has given me hope for the ways this summer research trip can expand into urgently needed cultural change surrounding maternal health – both in the US and for the world. This change begins with the public knowing what options are available when they bring a child into the world, understanding the actual role of various medical professionals like midwives, and contributing to the movement to make the journey to motherhood more safe, respectful, accessible, and reflective of each woman’s immeasurable value and beauty.
Let us work toward a world where women not only survive childbirth, but flourish into motherhood.
With deep gratitude,