Vulnerability is an area of expertise I prided myself on. To see people at their most vulnerable and meet them with a compassionate, steady gaze. To hold my own truths far enough outside of myself for others to see them. When it came to being vulnerable, my story was that I had it on lock. Inside, outside, I knew the space of being vulnerable.
It turns out I had it half right. I was totally comfortable with other people's vulnerability. You want to go to hard, exposed spaces and cry the tears your 3 year old self never got to cry? I am so in. I will walk beside you, holding space and holding your hand if it would help. I had the honor of sitting in hundreds of birth rooms, thousands of prenatal and postpartum rooms, holding space for women to dig down deep into their fears and then decide to walk through them. It takes so much vulnerability to give birth.
And it takes just as much vulnerability to rebirth yourself. Exposed and looking at the real you in the mirror. Guiding a new life forth that you already have so much love for and so many fears for. The vulnerable spaces that transition ask us to enter are powerful enough that we often avoid them at all costs. Years can go by as we come up with complicated coping skills to avoid the most raw place inside.
It wasn't until I had the profoundly moving experience of being truly vulnerable with my husband that I could clearly see how I had been curating my vulnerability for years. With a careful gauge on how much was enough to create connection, but not too much to overwhelm the other person, I found my comfortable place in the middle. To speak of hard situations in past tense with all the wisdom gained and neatly put in place. To work incredibly hard to find the silver lining to every situation, lest anyone think I was still in a place of hurt. To quickly circle around to asking them questions and taking the spotlight off my raw and vulnerable place that had been touched.
My years as a midwife helped me hone the skill of deferring to the others person's experience. I midwifed during my traumatic divorce, the death of my mother, the death of my grandmother, during my own immediate postpartums when I returned to work 2 weeks after the birth. Did my client's know the heavy waters I was swimming in? I worked hard to make sure they didn't. I hid my own vulnerability to ensure they only felt theirs in the room. Was it honest? No. But did I feel like I had control of situations that felt out of control? Absolutely.
By holding myself to this unhealthy standard though, I never learned to let the small, vulnerable inner child be heard. I saw her messy emotions, her messy self, and I turned the other way. I viewed her from a distance and ran her feelings through a filter of logic and understanding. I connected the dots, rather than sit in discomfort. She was unpredictable in that way small children are. Who knew what she would say if given the chance.
So there I was, sobbing, with snot running down my face, saying the words I never wanted anyone to hear from me... ever. "What if they don't like me?" It was the voice of my 5 year old self and it contained all the heartbreaking emotion she felt at that time. The tears I cried were ones that had been waiting to come out for 34 years. It was so raw, so intense to feel, and I was so scared to let that voice come out of my throat. This felt like 10 layers down where I usually went in vulnerable spaces. My habit is to explain my pain to other people in a very curated, tidy, easily understood way, that has ready resolution at hand. This was totally out of control as my deep fear suddenly was given voice and now existed in the room. My husband met me in that place with a deep hug and "that sounds really scary."
Was it ever. Now I had to acknowledge this deep fear. She brought it out into the world and I had to do something with it. "What if they don't like me?" Ugh, cringe, absolutely horrifying to consider that I had said it out loud. That someone other than my deep dark closet knew this fear existed. Except... saying it out loud also brought a new compassion out in me. I let that messy 5 year old speak and so now? I could hear her. I wasn't holding her at arms length ignoring her as hard as I could.
My husband had put in the time and effort to prove to that small person inside of me that he was a safe space to receive her pain. So she leapt and trusted he would catch her. That he would see her pain and not recoil or laugh, but turn it carefully in his hands and look at it with her. One day I might be able to do that for myself. But for now, I am so thankful that my vulnerability got real and deepened. That I let the voice I feared most to come into the light and be seen.