Sometimes Life has Other Plans
Updated: Jul 12, 2021
I’m a collector of quotes and always have been. As a high school student, I kept a notebook of narratives I found interesting and meaningful, even if I didn’t understand the meaning just yet. On some level, I guess I was okay with trusting that it would eventually make sense. My interest in words of wisdom continued into college, especially when studying the humanities, philosophy, and all things talking about thinking about being. I even spent the better part of my freshman year memorizing the poem “Desiderata” (which may or may not have been written by Max Ehrmann) so that I could recite it each night as a sort of mantra or prayer.
Today, quotes are what keep me scanning Instagram. I have more screenshots on my phone of beautifully designed phrases via social media posts than I do people or places, and I have a heckuvalot of those, too. But the quote above strikes a meaningful chord within me, and I can’t help but wonder how it resonates with others.
I come from a family of healers. My father was a physician providing medical care to the homeless, and my mother was a physical therapist working with children in Early Intervention. Our daily dinner conversation consisted of gnarly talk about all things movement, orifices and bodily fluids. It was gross, but my brother and sister and I got used to it after a while. I swore, from a very young age, that I would never work in healthcare. That was my parents’ domain, and by virtue of that fact alone, the very little rebellion I instigated during my teen years was fueled by this principle for principle’s sake, without even in the remotest neuron in my brain willing to fire in consideration of working in the medical field. Just, ew.
And then, as happens in life, I changed my mind. After college, armed with a BA in Psychology and no idea how to use it, I found a job working for a neuropsychology professor researching the effects of solvent encephalopathy. Essentially, she studied what happens to your brain (fatty tissue) when it is exposed to a solvent (chemical absorbed by fatty tissues) as measured by cognitive skill (thinking and doing). I knew a little about the subject from my father, who wrote a paper on the effects of excessive alcohol consumption (a solvent) on the brain that are commonly observed in Korsakoff Syndrome, which is a diagnosis that describes alchohol-induced cognitive changes. Cognitive skills include one's ability to maintain attention, switch attention back-and-forth between tasks (or dual attention), alternating attention (doing one thing, then another, and yet another), all aspects of memory, and the ability to organize, plan and act on that plan, all of which are referred to as “executive functions.”
I had always been interested in behavior, the stories behind why people do what they do, and somehow it never occurred to me that the manner and level at which a person behaved might have something to do with how they think. Big duh for me. By the time I realized I was indeed interested in neuroscience, I had a lot of catching up to do.
From there I became a speech-language pathologist, specifically a medical speech-language pathologist, primarily working with individuals who had experienced changes in their brains. Suddenly hospitals, rehabilitation centers and long-term care programs were my stomping ground. My dad helped me with anatomy and physiology, my mom assisted with all things sensory integration and proprioception. I carried on the tradition of grody dinner talk with my husband, who worked as a paramedic for a very long time, hence the graphic nature of these discussions grew more intense. And if I’m being honest, incredibly interesting.
Eventually I found my way into Integrative Medicine, providing energy healing modalities in a healthcare environment. I worked for the Integrative Medicine Department of a large health system in New Jersey, providing stress relief, pain management, assisting individuals looking to increase their energy levels or improve sleep habits, as well as guide participants in experiencing an overall sense of well-being and calmness that’s hard to find in an acute care environment. My clients were patients and family members scattered throughout the entire hospital system, on every floor, in every unit, from inpatients to outpatients to community centers and even corporate sites. To be able to assist individuals and caregivers, as well as hospital and other employees, in reducing their stress, using tools to navigate difficult situations, and finding some respite, comfort and ease through their transitions and circumstances was an opportunity of a lifetime. That people shared their lives with me so willingly, intimately and with such trust was a remarkable gift which I received with gratitude.
As the IM department grew, so did our scope of practice. Initially the department sent a form to each practitioner, asking us to clarify in which unit we desired to work, where we did not feel comfortable, and where we were willing to provide services. I had always been thrilled to go wherever I was sent…except Labor and Delivery. At the time I was recovering from a hysterectomy. I had taken no issue with having had my uterus removed – my son was grown, I was advancing in age, and I certainly wasn’t cultivating anything in there other than discomfort. In preparation for my surgery, I couldn't help but feel as if I needed to honor my uterus in some way: after all, as a woman with a functioning womb, I was given the opportunity to co-create, incubate and carry a new life into this world. As an Integrative Energy Practitioner, I understood that the uterus was indelibly connected to my third chakra - relating to "creativity" - which Is one of seven energy centers upon which energy medicine modalities, such as Reiki and Yoga, are based. If it was removed, what would happen to my creative energy? What would fill that space? Would I be "losing" my creativity, and what did that mean?
In the end, I settled on planting a tree in honor of my uterus, as it states on the certificate that came with the donation: “In honor of my uterus, and appreciation to the universe for allowing me the gift of co-creation.” Yes, it’s a thing, and absotively, I did it. Thanking my body and the Powers That Be for allowing me to participate in any form to bring life into the world, in this manner, brought me great comfort.
When I found out that I was, indeed, assigned to cover the Labor & Delivery Department, it was quite a surprise. At first I thought it must have been an oversight. Perhaps I wasn't the only practitioner avoiding L&D. Whenever a new unit began providing Integrative Medicine services to its patients in this facility, there was an established pattern of "Send Hayley", and I had always been happy to follow suit. Only this time, I wondered if my supervisors had their own intuitive reasons for assigning me to the unit. Regardless of my apprehension, I chose to give it a try, trusting they would understand and respect my wishes if it was not in my wheelhouse, so to speak. I also handed it over to the universe, again assuming I was where I was meant to be, and that I’d just go along for the ride.
Within the first few days of working in L&D, one of the moms with whom I worked went into active labor with twins. As I tried to excuse myself, she pleaded with me to stay with her during the actual delivery. At my employing facility, all twin deliveries take place in Operating Rooms (ORs), and I didn’t know what the scope and limits of my practice were in this situation: this was not only a new unit in the IM territory, but also a novel circumstance. I looked to the obstetrician, who was already locking eyes with mine, while the mom’s fixated on on the two of us. The doctor said she was okay with it if I was okay. I was, to my great surprise, okay.
During the delivery of my own child, I had NO interest whatsoever in what was going on in my nether-regions. I didn’t want a mirror. I had no desire to take a peek below the equator. It was never a question for me, my answer was definite and I had (and have) no regrets. However, during this patient’s delivery, I was somewhat up in her business in a way in which I wasn’t accustomed. I had never witnessed a birth in real-time, yet alone a back-to-back delivery of twins. But I was committed at this point: there was no going back. I was overcome by the miracle of it all, watching new life swish into the world seemingly from nowhere. TWICE. The reality of it was so, well, real. And yet it felt otherworldly. Remarkable. Unbelievably magical.
After the mom had delivered her second daughter, I gently, and with expression of well wishes, left the room so that she and her family would have the privacy of sharing their joy with one another. On the other hand, I didn’t quite know how to react with myself or with Whatever was behind this turn of events, other than to say a brief, “wow, thank you, that was awesome” muttered under my breath to no one in particular. It was an exciting moment, but more than anything it was humbling and awe-inspiring.
When I came home from work that afternoon, I told my husband about the day’s events without detail, leaving out any and all gory information given his own boundaries of comfort. And I didn’t share the news with my parents either; I was still trying to wrap my head around the enormity of what I’d both witnessed and in which I participated. After dinner, while washing the dishes, an epiphany of sorts boomed in my mind with such force and clarity that I had no choice but to acknowledge its presence: THIS was how I could express the third chakra energy of my womb, my creative energy center, by assisting others in bringing their own co-creation into the world. The profundity of this realization immediately brought me to tears of the oh-my-goodness-I-never-could-have-in-my-wildest-dreams-imagined-this variety. My whole body, mind and soul were rocked to the core, and I felt with every ounce of my being that my life had shifted irrevocably. Now, metaphorically, there was no going back, and I didn’t want to. Long story longer: I spent the next several years in Labor & Delivery.
Today I no longer find it “strange” or “unusual” that I ended up working in the healing arts, as one thread in the tapestry – alongside healthcare providers - that is in and of itself healing into wholeness. Sometimes life has other plans for us, despite what we plan for ourselves. I do sometimes wonder if that stubborn streak of "no medicine for me!" was actually early preparation for entering the world of healing from a different perspective. I understood that I wouldn’t follow in my parents’ footsteps of allopathic medicine; walking a healing path in parallel was never on my radar. As Wild Woman Sisterhood suggests in the quote above, life is most definitely a journey worth the risks and adventure beyond one’s comfort zone or degree of familiarity. Oh, how the world opens up to us when we put aside our expectations and are willing to see with new eyes...just like a newborn baby.