If you follow my blog you might have felt surprised that I haven’t posted anything since last July, when I typically wrote a monthly or twice monthly post before.
This is because, early in the summer, I experienced a personal and professional crisis of devastating proportions.
A midwife made a complaint against me, a handful of people from my local doula collective made the decision to suspend me, removing me from the local website and online forum. I was also suspended from teaching doula courses.
I know I did something not very clever: I helped a client replace a clamp by a cord tie, and in doing so, I used the hospital scissors to cut the clamp off. This happened whilst the midwife was out of the room. If I could go back in time, I would make sure that the midwife was present in the room, and ensure that an informed consent discussion had taken place and certainly wouldn’t do any cord cutting myself.
But I would have expected the doulas who made the decision to show me support, and have a discussion with me before anything happened, to listen to my side of the story, and involve me in the decision making process.
Instead, I was notified of my suspension by email.
I had no idea this was coming.
To say I was shocked would be an understatement.
I was numb with disbelief.
I have never felt so ostracised and betrayed in my whole life.
Disbelief was the overwhelming emotion, as I really struggled to process how a group of people who belonged to a collective, which I had been an active member of for 7 years, a collective which was supposed to be based on values of support, compassion and non judgement, could cut me off like this, and how someone I thought a life-long friend could do the same, at the same time, whilst knowing this was also happening.
I had thought that this community would rally round to support and protect a member in the face of the vulnerability that a complaint entails.
I was wrong.
This made me feel like I was a rotten apple in a cart, and, at the time I needed it most, I was kicked out of the cart and told to heal on my own.
The emails I was sent made it clear that I was on my own in this process, so I didn’t reach out to anyone. I also mistakenly spent several days believing that the whole community knew, and didn’t care.
Because the email suspending me told me that I might not be welcome in the hospital, I also cancelled clients I was supposed to support through a birth.
I embarked on the process of trying to resolve the complaint with the support of my national organisation, doula UK. This process proved to be long-winded, as it happened during the holiday season. It took 3 weeks for doula UK to receive the complaint, and another 3 for a meeting with the midwife to take place. The meeting proved to be an anticlimax, for I had worked myself into a state of extreme anxiety about it, expecting to be told I could no longer work there. Instead, the midwife accepted my apology and the meeting was over in 20 minutes.
This left me reeling. Everything around the way the complaint had been handled by my community felt so out of proportion.
In the meantime I had to cope with the fact that my whole professional life felt like it had crumbled, that I no longer knew who I could trust, and that everything I believed to be true about my local doula community has been destroyed.
I felt that most of what I had build professionally had been reduced to rubble.
I lost my sense of identity.
I felt like I had been kicked out of the castle, and was alone with the wilderness, surrounded by scary beasts. And, from where I stood, all I could see what my whole life crumbled down to a ruin.
It was a very dark time.
I had suicidal thoughts.
At the end of July, I got diagnosed, for the first time in my life, with severe anxiety and depression. Getting the diagnostic felt like a relief and an embarrassment at the same time. There is still so much stigma around mental health in our culture.
I shared about my depression on social media to help others, because I thought that if I, who many considered a strong person, could be diagnosed with mental health issues and feel some level of embarrassment about it, what chances would more fragile or reserved people stand to get help?
You see, once upon a time, I used to believe depression was for losers. Then a whole bunch of people I loved and admired, including my own husband, got diagnosed with it. This shook my narrow minded beliefs and for this, I am grateful. I hope I might have helped others in the same way by disclosing my situation.
The summer passed in a blur of pain. I have never cried so much in my life. I would drive to a client’s house, cry all the way there, put on a brave face and function whilst with the client, then, as soon as I left, the enormity of what had happened fell back onto my shoulders like a ton of bricks, and I would start crying again.
They say that crises show who you can really count on, and boy, was that a harsh truth.
I soon realised that very few people were truly available for me, beyond a few words of initial support.
I suppose it’s a reality of life that we are all busy with our own lives and problems, but in the face of this situation, it made me feel extremely alone, and added to my feelings of worthlessness.
The local doula collective counts nearly 40 members. I got quite a few messages of sympathy when the news of my suspension was made public, but only a handful who reached out and gave me support (and I am truly grateful to those who gave me their time and support especially when they were facing crises of their own). I now know that many had no idea what had happened, nor were aware of the severity of the impact it had on me. In the very negative mindset I was in for many months, I imagined that they knew and did not care. It lead me to develop a very negative view of the community as a whole.
The whole situation left me quite paranoid, and with very few people I could trust, but I realised that these people were really solid. My husband in particular, who had just finished his training as a counsellor, was a rock. My parents were amazing too and so were a handful of friends, who made the time to listen to me again and again as I struggled to process my feelings.
There is evidence that being ostracised is one of the most painful emotions that a human can experience, and that it causes physical pain. This was true for me. Something about belonging has to do with surviving, so being ostracised threatens this.
There is also evidence around the stages one goes through when grieving, denial, pain, anger and bargaining, depression, acceptance and hope. And god did I grieve. I grieved the loss of a community I had grown to love and that I thought to be amazingly supportive. I grieved the loss of a long term friendship which I never expected to end. I grieved the loss of my sense of identity. I grieved the loss of my professional success.
For the first few weeks I could barely function. I was forced to drop my work to a bare minimum, only working with clients I had already booked, and my income suffered and took a extreme dive. Being self employed, this added to my anxiety and my feelings of not being good enough.
I knew I could only survive during this time, and use my limited energy to resolve the complaint.
I started seeing a counsellor and also had my first experience (I’ve done 3 more since) of the mind blowing transformative process that is a family constellation workshop.
Whilst this happened, and whilst I was in the middle of that really dark place, I also knew that this happened to me for a reason.
In 2007 I was marched out of the biotech company I had been working for 7 years, worked for, under false pretences of redundancy. This really accelerated my professional reconversion from scientist to birthworker. I could feel that the current crisis had the same energetic signature (except this time it was much, much worse, because this was being removed from a place I loved, whereas I was secretly relived to be removed from this toxic biotech company).
I fought very hard against where this process wanted to take me. I even, during the bargaining phase, conned myself in believing that I ought to forgive the people who had broken my trust. I was trying to claw the ground I had lost back. I am very grateful for the friend who called me up on it by saying “be careful, because what you are saying is basically : you shat on me, but it doesn’t matter”.
I’ve been reading a book called “Broken open” by Elizabeth Lesser. The strapline is “how difficult times can help us grow”, and it’s full of awful and amazing inspiring stories about the good that has come from tragic events.
In this book I have found a new metaphor. Elizabeth refers to the process of going through tough experiences as the phoenix process.
” I have my own name for the quest. I call it the Phoenix Process—in honor of the mythic bird with golden plumage whose story has been told throughout the ages. Knowing that a new way could only be found with the death of his worn-out habits, defenses and beliefs, the Phoenix built a pyre of cinnamon and myrrh, sat in the flames and burned to death. Then he rose from the ashes as a new being—a strange amalgam of who he had been before and who he had become. A new bird, yet ever more himself; changed, and at the same time, the eternal Phoenix.”
This metaphor appealed to me a lot. A lot more than the lobster growth analogy I used to use.
I loved it so much I had a phoenix tattooed on my shoulder in October.
Despite a series of powerful insights with the bunch of therapists I was working with, by the time I was getting ready to go on holidays, in the middle of August, I was falling apart.
The 2 weeks holidays, away from my normal life, did me a world of good. During the last 2 days of my holiday I started feeling the dread, the weight, the enormity of the fallout from the complaint I had faced, fall back onto my shoulders. I was really scared that I was going to go back into the abyss.
Except that’s not what happened. When I returned I noticed that I felt a lot stronger.
I realised that the time away had given me one thing: clarity about how I felt about the way the complaint had been handled. I stopped doubting my feelings. I stopped letting other people trying to gaslight me.
In July, I felt like I had been kicked out of the castle, and that I was alone in the wilderness. I felt unlovable, lonely and scared. I stood in a barren land, and everything I had built was broken.
Now, oddly, I felt OK, alone in the wilderness. I was no longer as scared and then, I started to notice new shoots starting to grow on the ground.
Using the analogy I used at the beginning of this post, about the apple in the cart, I realised I didn’t want back in.
Since then, I have kept on feeling a lot stronger.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still recovering from the crisis, and from time to time, I get triggered and forced to revisit the crisis and when I look at the wreckage, it still hurts. Those times are hard, as I catch myself, despite knowing this is neither possible nor desirable, hoping that things could go back to the way they were.
I still get sad and angry.
There is this beautiful analogy about grief, where someone describe it like a shipwreck: when it just happens, you are floating amidst the debris and 100 foot waves hit you relentlessly, and all you can do is float. With times, the waves become less high and less frequent. But they never really stop. Stuff in your life happens that reminds you of the event, and suddenly the grief hits you again. You can read the whole thing here
Another aspect of grief is the permanent change this it brings.
Some parts of me died in this process.
But they made room for new things.
And there have been good things too, that have come from this process.
I’m clear that certain people no longer belong in my life, and I’m mostly at peace with it.
I’ve become aware of toxicity in spaces that I thought to be only good. And I also know that this potential exists everywhere. I’ve become unblinded to the fear and darkness that exists in many communities that claim to be based on “love and light”. In fact, as I’ve discovered talking to a lot of people, these communities are often the worst when the shit hits the fan.
I also went through a cathartic, and still on-going, process of decluttering my home, and letting go of stuff I no longer need, literally, as well as emotionally.
One thing I noticed quite early on, is that I am a lot less affected by people’s opinions of me. You know that phrase “other people’s opinions of me is none of my business?”. Well, I knew this on a mental level, but now, because I’ve survived being rejected and ostracised, I feel I truly embody it. I catch myself thinking about people whose opinion mattered to me, people who were part of this exclusion process, and I realise that I no longer care about what they might think of me.
I no longer feel responsible for other people’s feelings in the way I was in the past. At a birth I attended, a midwife was rather frosty and rather than wondering what I’d done wrong, I realised she was feeling threatened, and that it had nothing to do with me.
I feel a lot clearer about of who I am, and what my values are.
My two top values are authenticity and integrity. I’m not prepared to pretend these don’t matter to me, even if this means the end of some relationships.
It’s difficult to explain fully, because it’s mostly that I keep catching myself not reacting like I used to.
I no longer feel that I need to justify myself, or that it’s my job to explain my opinions to people who don’t want to listen.
I no longer feel the need to enter every fight I’m invited to.
I stay silent in situations where I would have spoken up in the past, and speak up in situations where I would have remained silent.
I feel a restored sense of sovereignty.
It’s very liberating.
To create space and time for this, as well as time to process and reflect, I decided to take a break from working as a doula. My last doula client was in October, and I will wait until the universe gives me a sign that it is time to return.
And, with that space and with the slow lightening of the darkness, new projects have arisen.
I started writing a book on postnatal recovery, which was accepted as a project by Pinter and Martin. My goal is, beyond the book, to create training around supporting the postpartum.
I created a new product, a smokeless smudge called the Sacred Sprace Spray
I started training to become a Reiki Drum teacher, something I should qualify to do in February.
I planned to learn the Arvigo Mayan Abdominal massage training in 2020.
I signed up for one of the most transformative business mentoring programme I have ever come across, Become your own business advisor, with Hiro Boga.
I started doing new things in my personal life too, doing healing with horses, learning to crochet, and discovering the practise of TRE (tension release exercise) and of the 5rhythms dance, which I love. This also led me to meet a lot of new people.
Why did I write this blog? Now that I’m mostly on the other side of the crisis, I wanted to tell my story in the hope that it inspires and helps others.
Whilst I’m not yet at the stage where I can forgive nor feel grateful towards the individuals who caused me so much pain, I feel grateful for the personal growth this crisis has given me.
So, if you’re in the middle of your own phoenix process, I want you to know that you are not alone. I also want you to know that it’s OK to take your time. I want to encourage you to reach for help, often people how now idea how bad you feel, because most people who feel terrible tend to keep to themselves.
I also know that, when you’re in the darkest place, it’s kind of impossible to see what will come from the other side when you finally get out.
And yes when you go through a phoenix process, some part of you will die. It is important to acknowledge that loss, because it is a very significant one. It is also important to take the time to process the hurt, and not rush through the processing. Each of us has their own timing and way to process it, there is no right and wrong. Don’t beat yourself up for the time it takes, and do not listen to people who are telling you to hurry up and be somewhere you are not ready to get to yet.
I also want to give you a message of hope. Because, at the bottom of the abyss, you will find the diamond that has been carved by the darkness and the pressure, and you will rise from your ashes with a renewed sense of self.
Not quite the same, but whole.
There is a poem from Rumi which describes this process so perfectly.
“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”