A few days after the November election, my head in a universal fog of despair, I packed my doula bag and set out for a postpartum visit. It had taken extraordinary effort to get through the days prior, after months of shrill anti-immigrant rhetoric and a slew of unprovoked attacks on people of color – people like me – by those emboldened to act on long withheld rage. One foot out the door, I was already tired. I was also anxious about everything, from the guy sporting a “Vote Trump” sticker on his bike to leaving the relative safety of my neighborhood, searching – but not finding – a safety pin if I needed help and, worst of all, stepping into a family that might be uncomfortable with the color of my skin.
My clients were fairly typical — exhausted, hungry, slightly tearful, and needlessly grateful — and I eventually squashed all the (arguably irrational) thoughts I left home with that morning. But I was shaken. I grew up in India, for crying out loud, and like every other person who presents as female on the sidewalks of its infamous capital, I have learned to be in a constant state of preparedness. I have also experienced “micro” aggressions in the town I live and love — subtle belittling designed to put my brown body in its place — and I know more blatant forms of aggression can lurk around any Boston street corner. Here and now, this cut deeper.
A few months ago, I pitched a piece on self-care for health activists and providers. I think a lot about self-care. It is hard to not. I work on reproductive and sexual health, which is grueling on the best days, and I know the chips are falling fast and furious. My goal was simple: I was hoping to convince readers that being kind to yourself is neither selfish nor weak and offer some suggestions to help us get back on the track to self-care.
In my pitch, I acknowledged its lack of novelty, hastily explaining why such an article was important nonetheless. I said something about the wheels in motion to roll back hard-won advances on health and human rights and the battles ahead to ensure the most disenfranchised among us are not left hanging out to dry. Would it be helpful to share strategies, so we can pace ourselves for the good and not-so-good fights to come?
As I write, the naiveté of my original goal is abundantly clear. The unease I have carried since November still feels raw. I hear a friend — like me, a perinatal provider and person of color — ask for “real” safety. I share her frustration at platitudes offered by colleagues that will probably never experience (or will experience differently) particular types of stress that are now shaping our reality and that of others marginalized, carte blanche, on some pretext or parameter. I recall numerous conversations on helping our kids recognize and respond to aggression and my distraction at work because I fear my little girl will be a target. I hear another colleague reluctant to parent because… well… what is the point, she asks, given the hate we now see and fail to impugn? So, while I understand it is time to confront the trauma of racism and chuckle at a suggestion we are “post-racial,” for those of us looking over our shoulders, the current state of affairs is devastating.
November, before and after, has fundamentally jolted the conversation around race and community in the United States. It is time to do the same on self-care. Let’s move beyond candles and chamomile tea to acknowledge that despite our common challenges, as activists and providers, other factors at play affect some of us more than others. These factors are shaping the stress we carry to work and bring home to our families and, as the first step, demand a curious, quiet, and non-judgmental engagement with one another’s unique reality. This, rather than the laundry list I originally envisioned, is the self-care I need and want to offer. If you agree to play, let’s hit refresh together.