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I’ve been working in global reproductive health for almost 20 years — gulp — and I thought I had a pretty good sense of the parts that are hard for me, where my emotional boundaries lie. The In Her Shoes challenge was so much harder for me than I thought it was going to be, and hurt in ways that I didn’t anticipate it would. 

This work is hard on our bodies + our hearts. I’ve had dysentery more times that I care to count, and I had a baby (by cesarean section) while in a country not my own. I have colleagues with dengue, malaria, and TB acquired while in the field. We know it is hard in those ways. The ways that is hard on our hearts is different for each of us, and after a while, become just a part of our maintenance plans. I know that I need to go see my trauma-specialist therapist immediately upon return from field work, and on average, every 2-3 weeks for regular emotional tune ups. I know I should stay away from Whole Foods and Target for at least five days upon returning to the US. 

What I learned about myself during this challenge is that I have other strategies to protect myself in my “global” approach to the hard parts of this work. The most dominant strategy that I’ve adopted is to think about the numbers of rapes, the numbers of mothers that die, the locations of babies that are hungry all in aggregate. What this challenge required me to do was to think of Her, just one woman, for three full days. It rocked me. And that part, I was totally unprepared for. 

It was a three day mediation for me in how one woman lives, every day, without what she needs to keep her babies and herself safe. That was really heartbreaking. Thinking of it now makes me want to cry. And that my blood sugar was low while I was doing it, well, that made it all the harder. 

Imagine if everyday you showed up to do your job without what you needed to succeed. How hard that would be? That is what mothers all around the world do everyday. They don’t have the water, the food, the electricity, the transportation, the education, the protections, that I do every damn day. Every day. 

I am so grateful for this challenge, that I did it. I forget why I write emails until midnight, while I spend my days talking, writing about how we have to do more to care for the women of the world, who are infinitely braver than I am. I need to do this work, it is what makes the atrocities of the world a bit easier to stomach. 

I know her, I do. And she knows me. Together we are doing everything that we can to ensure that moms have what they need to do the most important work any of us will ever do-- raise up our kids.