Put Your Big Girl Panties On

Do you all remember my t-shirt slogans from months and months past… or is it years?  I’ve come up with another slogan: “Put your Big Girl Panties On.” Let me back track. A year ago, I started writing a series for the Where’s My Midwife? blog. My series was about potential slogans for t-shirts. I came up with “Don’t Hate Me Because I Had a Beautiful Birth” (one of our most popular blog entries ever—thanks readers!) When I wrote that blog, I was feeling positive and upbeat. Then personal tragedy hit.

My sister, Elena, had been diagnosed with a highly metastatic form of cancer only a month after our midwives were fired from a local practice. If my sister could (and was!) battling, and seemed to be kicking cancer’s ass, well, I would battle right along with her. While I would continue to fight against the injustices that I witnessed daily in my community, not only about access to midwives, but also to woman-centered care locally and nationwide, I would try to spend as much time with my sister as possible.

About a year after Elena’s diagnosis, she lost her battle, and she suddenly passed away.  I was with her as she took those last difficult breaths. There were moments that I thought as I slept next to her on the hard cot in her hospital room, and as I kept certain forces at bay (unwelcomed visitors, etc.) that this was actually the culmination of my work as a doula. I will always hold those moments with my sister close, as difficult and painful as they were.

This was the second year that we experienced the holidays without my sister. It was harder this year for me than last year. Last week I sat across from my friend and midwife, Suzanne, one of the two midwives who was dismissed from our local practice. As I wept, wailed, and screamed (unfortunately my grief has recently manifested as anger towards people who I dearly love), Suzanne gently suggested that I contact a therapist. She chose her words carefully, “Sylvia, I want you to consider if you might benefit from medication, therapy, or both.” It is one of the things that I appreciate about the way that midwives practice. They are at their core “with woman,” and they are trained to care for the total person. I appreciate that Suzanne recommended that I seek help not only as my friend, but also as a health care practitioner.

The last two years were for me the intersection of a personal fight (dealing with my sister’s illness and death) and of a more public battle (increasing access to midwives.) It’s been a tough couple of years. For me “put your big girl panties on” has meant that I got up every day and not only take care of myself and of my children, but it has also meant that I continued to work to make change in my community and beyond. As we become “big girls,”(i.e. women) we face major life changes and tragedies. “Putting my girl panties on” means that I need to prepare myself mentally and physically for this next stage in my life. I am facing life without my big sister, and I am also squarely in the middle of middle age. (Did you know, by the way, that midwives provide continuity of care throughout women’s lives?) I have made an appointment with a therapist to help me navigate these unchartered waters. Thank you, Suzanne, midwife and friend, for reminding me that it’s necessary to take care of this aspect of my health.

So, I leave you with this. When I say, “put your big girl panties on” I mean that we all have our personal and public battles to fight. For me it’s one of the mantras that have helped me through the past couple of years. Join me in putting ‘em on and in fighting your own fight: whatever this may be.


9 thoughts on “Put Your Big Girl Panties On

  1. Oh Sylvia, your words brought back my memories of my big brother as he died two years ago this July from pancreatic cancer. The hole in my heart is still very big.

    I too have had to put on my big girl panties on several occasions, each time feeling stronger in the end that the last. I leave you with this thought; yes at times we need to get our big girl panties on and fight; it is so good to know sometimes when we are too weak to pull them up we have the support of women around us to help us pull them back up!
    Thank you for being on my team of pantie lifters.

  2. Sylvia, this is the first time I have seen your blog but I believe that there is a reason I found it on this particular day. Just this week, I am searching for my big girl panties in order to help someone very dear to me in their fight against cancer. You have inspired me to find them and step up to the fight. Will be thinking of you.

    • Debbie, keeping you in my thoughts on this journey. I’m glad that you found this today (yesterday now as I’m up a tad late…)

  3. I’m glad you shared your story, Sylvia. I have also felt that the dying deserve the same support and sensitivity as the laboring mother-baby. It did used to be that way… midwives did the labor watch and the death watch, and they often were the ones to prepare the recently departed for burial. I am so sorry for your loss, but also am so proud of you for what you could give your sister as she took her last breaths. Birth and death are both sacred moments. You have gained a lot of wisdom as you learned to “put on your big girl panties”. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you, Karen. Your thoughtful words brought tears to my eyes. I have a friend who is a midwife. She no longer does birth work, but now works hospice in her mature years. I believe as you do, that death, like birth, is a sacred time. While my sister was transitioning, I experienced the beauty of kirtan for the first time. She practiced yoga. It was a moment when I felt the vise around my heart lift.

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