Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Can You Do Hard Things?

When I started working as a doula, 9 years ago, I had a whole duffel bag of goodies I took with me to labors. As I grew in security, ability and confidence, I found I needed less and less. Two weeks ago, I attended a birth and took in nothing with me but a piece of paper and a cup of coffee. All I really needed were my hands and my voice. It helps that I have clients who are educated and confident about their birth choices. But even the most confident, educated, determined women face a moment or two of doubt during labor.

In my work as a doula, I regularly try to convince women that they are capable of hard things. I'm not just talking about unmedicated birth. I believe that if we are serious about women making choices, then it must apply to all aspects of pregnancy and labor. (For that matter, it applies to where and how women choose to work, for those women who have the luxury of choice in the matter). From when and how conceived to where and how delivered. But this is not about how you decide to give birth.

Sometimes, a hard thing is asking the doctor a question that might sound stupid. For others, it's coming to grips with a loss of modesty during labor. For some, it's overcoming a negative birth experience. Some women have to face birth without a partner or an unexpected, unfortunate birth outcome. Most of the time, though, the hard thing is finding that place in themselves to conquer the one hard part of labor that knocks them off the confidence horse.

It's that little voice that says, "I can't." It's just the barest hint of a voice, but it seems like the echo of planets crashing against one another as it bounces through a brain. I've written about the voice of fear before, but I don't mean that one. I mean the voice of discouragement that tries to take your educated choices and slam them to the ground. Sometimes we can swat it away like a fly. Sometimes that fly grows into a swarm.

When my clients say, "I can't" (and they almost all say something like that at one point), here is what I say: "You can do it. I know that because you ARE doing it. And you will continue to do it."

When I hear that voice in my own head, telling me I can't do something, all it does is flick a switch of action. I say right back to it: "Oh, yeah? Watch me."

You can do hard things.

Thinking through the list of amazing women I know, here is a mere sampling of the hard things they have done, just in the past few months:
survived an ugly divorce, raised children alone with very little resources, ended unhealthy relationships, kicked the crap out of cancer, let go of children in an effort to help them, run marathons, confronted depression, put loved ones in nursing care, worked more than two jobs simultaneously, quit jobs to start businesses, started running, Lived with an unemployed spouse, tried IVF, with varied success, been in chemo, or been through chemo with children, watched family members die.

Can you do hard things? Heck yeah. You ARE doing them—right now. What is the hard thing you face? How do you handle the voice of discouragement? What does the voice of reason sound like to you?


  1. Love this, Jen! And I needed to read it TODAY. So, thanks! :)

  2. First, I just want to say how much I wish you were by my side as I gave birth to my girls. I don't let my less-than-perfect birth stories get in the way of my joy of being a parent (and my experiences certainly weren't as awful as they could have been), but I definitely reached that "I can't" moment, and no one was there saying "Yes you can. I know you can." And that "I can't" attitude definitely took over, ruling the situation.

    I still need more of that "Oh yeah? I'll show you!" attitude in my life. Thanks for the pep talk!

  3. I really like your blog. I was introduced to it by Abby Greenbaum Hnes. In the past 3 years I have been through at least 5 of the issues you listed that prove that I can do this. Many times I have thought that I couldn't make it. But I have. Im still here. Thank you

  4. Cheryl, you're welcome and thanks. I wish I could say this to every woman I meet.

    Kristin, you are not alone in that feeling of "I can't." It's almost universal. And how amazing when you discovered that the opposite was true. You could do it, you did do it and you completely rocked it.

    Janice, I'm happy to meet you. Abby and I were college mates. I'm sorry that you've been through so much. And I'm thankful that you made it through. What I love about that is you recognize how hard it was and that it's over. And what's even cooler is that now you have a message of hope to give another woman doing hard things. Thank you for persevering.

    You guys warm my heart.

  5. My dear FrenJen:

    I have so often said to my tender middle son, "You can do hard things. You just don't know it yet." So I push him to strive and to reach for a goal higher than one he believes he can attain. He accepts but does not like the pushing. In quiet moments of self-doubt I mull whether some day he will interpret my pushing as suggesting he is not good enough. Tonight I told him "I push because I believe in you." I hope he will remember that.