By Carolyn Hecken
March’s Über Moms Newsletter features the passions that inspire, motivate and drive us.
This month, I’d like to share my personal story of how life’s unexpected twists and turns led me to rediscover my own true passion – helping others – as well as discover a fulfilling career path that transforms this passion into meaningful action, all while having a positive impact on the well-being of others.
Thank you for reading along.
In those last few days and weeks of pregnancy, spent waiting and wondering with eager anticipation, I didn’t – no, I couldn’t – even begin to fathom just how fundamentally the transformation of giving birth was about to affect me and forever change my perspective on life. While it was a change that I would welcome with gratitude, it did not come without hardship.
Few other transitions in life so profoundly and acutely inform one’s personal priorities and perspective than being a part of the emergence of life (birth), or a compassionate heart bearing witness to its departure (death), let alone unexpectedly confronting the prospect of one’s own worldly departure.
Sometimes, these powerful events converge in time and space, approaching near simultaneity or occurring in short succession. That’s how it happened for me.
In the three days immediately following the birth of our first child, I found myself throttled into confrontation with the terrifying prospect of death as profuse bleeding, having no identifiable source, required immediate surgery under general anesthesia.
The sheer number of thoughts that can contemporaneously be processed by the mind in such a remarkably narrow stretch of time is bafflingly fascinating. ‘Stretch’ – that’s what time seems to do in these intensely disorienting and surreal moments. It stretches pliably, to weave in various and innumerable threads of contemplation, worry, fear.
It ranges from the immediate whirlwind of thoughts swirling about pre-surgery – What if I don’t wake up? Who will take care of my son and my husband? How will my son ever know me? How will he cope, growing up without his mother? – to those occupying the mind post-surgery – What if I had waited even longer before dialing 112? What if the ambulance had been further delayed? Or the Notarzt? How much more blood could I have still lost and survived?
This kind of experience draws you back to the core of who you truly are and who you aspire to be. It returns you to your fundamental set of beliefs about the world. It invites you to reevaluate your role in life and your ultimate contribution to society. It inspires you to reconcile these differences. It spurs your true passions to resurface from the very depths of your being.
And, again, that’s how it happened for me.
When I was teenager, I knew my passion lay in contributing to the well-being of others in a clear and tangible way. At the time, this passion manifested itself in the aspiration to become a microbiologist. And, of course, as is congruent with the wonderfully erratic and unpredictable nature of life, studying at university indeed led to an unexpected and valuable detour into the field of linguistics.
My interest in sociolinguistics animated me to reevaluate previously held beliefs about language and its use as a tool for expressing identity, navigating social interaction, negotiating power dynamics, etc. This fascination drove me to delve even further into the field, first obtaining a Master’s in European Linguistics, followed by the pursuit of a doctoral degree in child language acquisition: specifically, the acquisition and use of spatial words such as ‘here’ and ‘there’ in conjunction with pointing or indicating gestures during parent-child interaction.
Clearly, at some point down the road, the implications of my research, had I continued it, would have eventually offered a positive, if only indirect, impact on academia and society.
After the experience of giving birth, followed by a perceived brush with death, I struggled to resume my life as it had been. While my passion and enthusiasm for my work in linguistics were not diminished by these experiences, the value of the work I sought to create was.
At that point in my life, I was undeniably overwhelmed and struggled with being away from my son and my family, knowing that I had come so close to having lost it all.
I made the decision to focus on my family. It was during this hiatus that I was introduced to the concept of a doula and the invaluable role a doula fills as a source of non-judgmental support, acknowledgement and validation for expecting families.
Thinking back to my own pregnancy, birth and the days afterward, there emerges, in my mind, a timeline marked with a series of different events that had the potential to minutely, or even significantly, change the trajectory of my life.
As I shared in an article in the February 2018 Über Moms Newsletter, “[A]ctions – no matter how seemingly small or insignificant – hold the power and potential to ripple infinitely outward, affecting our lives and those of others in subtle and incredibly meaningful ways.”
Even if no intervening action or change in trajectory had substantively altered the fickle finger of fate, the mere presence of a kind, supportive person bearing witness to this difficult time and validating the range of emotions that accompanied it, had the potential to positively effect the way in which I processed these experiences and ultimately came to terms with them.
As I repeatedly mulled it over – and over again – in my head, my resolve to pursue this path crystallized, resulting in a coalescence of passion and profession.
Few transitions in life have the power to so significantly transform and redefine us as does the act of childbirth. And it is during this most vulnerable, intimate and sacred rite of passage into motherhood that connections play such a critically central role to our well-being.
The nature and quality of the bonds we nurture or forge with ourselves, babies, partners, families, communities, healthcare providers, birth professionals, etc., influence how we perceive and process our birth stories, the transition to motherhood, and our relationships with family, friends and coworkers.
As a doula, childbirth educator and breastfeeding counsellor, I recognize and hold in high regard the essential role connection plays in facilitating and promoting love, contentment, security, confidence, and overall well-being.
And, it is in this capacity that I have found not just incredible fulfillment and value, but a rewarding outlet for my passion.
It is truly an honor to contribute to and to hold space for all the various elements that culminate in the stunningly beautiful and powerful act of transformation that is becoming a mother.
If you would like to learn more about the support a doula offers during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum, please feel free to read a more in-depth explanation on my website: https://www.bb-doula.com/about_doulas/
Carolyn Hecken is an avid learner of life, mother of four vibrant, spirited children, doula (D.A.M.E., June 2013), childbirth educator (HypnoBirthing®, June 2016) and breastfeeding counselor (EISL, September 2017). She holds a BA in Linguistics from the University of Washington and a MA in European Linguistics from the University of Freiburg. Home is wherever she’s surrounded by the laughter and shenanigans of her children, the zany humor of her husband and the company of compassionate friends. Admittedly, sunny weather and an exceptionally good cup of coffee don’t hurt either. In August 2017, this ÜberMoms writer’s nomadic family travels landed her for a two-year stint in Hamburg. Carolyn is passionate about supporting mothers, babies and their families during the one of the most memorable and momentous experiences in life – pregnancy, the birth of baby and familyhood.