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  • Writer's pictureTara V.

Sacred (Inside) Spaces

Bright sunshine and the aroma of fresh-cut grass pour in the windows today, inspiring a curious mixture of hope and despair. My household of five adults feels energized by the arrival of spring, yet discouraged by the restrictions on our outdoor enjoyment of it.

I have noticed social media posts have stopped marking the number of days on lockdown, though just for sake of context I will note that it is Day 45 for me, with at least a month to go. My husband and I returned from a trip to Prague on March 14, right when Coronavirus was starting to gain a strong foothold in the US. No social distancing restrictions were in effect yet, but during our self-imposed two weeks of quarantine, our kids’ high school and college were shut down, everyone moved home, and our state went into full shelter-in-place mode.

And here we still are. In the last weeks we have perfected our videoconferencing skills, developed a deep aversion to grocery stores, eaten everything from the deepest recesses of our pantries, and experienced a full cycle of the stages of grief from shock and denial to a kind of acceptance that feels more like resignation.

Of all the disappointments, the loss of social gatherings seems the most profound. We’ve all watched occasions melt off our personal calendars one by one: birthdays, dinner parties, Easter, fundraisers, book club, whole sports seasons, senior prom, mother’s day, high school graduation, college graduation, and oh thank goodness, that Spartan race I was training for! But with each canceled event, our understanding of what matters grows stronger. Is home holding us captive or sharpening our focus?

We paced restlessly in the earliest days and weeks of quarantine, watching out windows and monitoring news updates. Over time, we have grown more comfortable staying settled in our usual spots on the couch. We have cleaned out closets, taken turns cooking, and created our own church service. We give each other space and privacy for online classes and meetings. We make each other cups of tea. As outings have become less exhilarating and more stressful in the unfamiliar landscape of empty streets and masked neighbors, home has become our universe, our ecosystem, our safe and sacred refuge.

But what of work? Along with most people who have seen major disruptions to their professional lives, work is where I have struggled most to adapt. My job as a birth doula is by nature very high touch and my goal is always to build relationships and create connections. My long-held dream of creating a space for community gathering came to fruition in the past year, with a grand opening of my office and classroom in February 2020. On March 20 our state’s stay at home order took effect, which shut down all possibility of group classes in my new space. Soon after that, many area hospitals enacted a 1-visitor-only policy for labor and delivery, separating families from their planned doula support.

My brain buzzed endlessly in the early days of lockdown with ideas about how to completely reframe my role with new families. How would I calm their anxieties about giving birth during a pandemic? How could I help them feel safe and guide them through the new obstacles to the birth they imagined? How best to connect when we couldn’t meet in person? I researched video conferencing options and joined the hordes of new Zoom subscribers. Signed up for online trainings on how to be an online doula. Conferred with local doulas, midwives, and other birth professionals. Revamped my handouts and resource pages to make them more accessible to clients. Created brand-new service options created for virtual platforms, designed to add extra support for families cut off from their usual support circles. And I sometimes sat alone in my beautiful office space trying to picture it full of expectant new parents.

Light filters gently through my large office windows. My impractical blue velvet couch still gives me joy. The potted plants and empty chairs don’t look lonely to me, they stand ready. Ready right now as a calming backdrop for my virtual meetings, and ready in the future as a welcoming space for client meetings, classes, and doula meetups.

My business tagline was “In this together” long before the Coronavirus crisis used the phrase as a unifying hashtag. The first decoration nailed to the wall in my new office space was a custom made steel sign declaring We Are In This Together. It is the cornerstone message of my company, With U Parenting, because the deepest human need is to be seen, heard, understood, and loved by other humans. And when we are at our most vulnerable time as we are growing and raising a family, we need encouragement and support more than ever. And though my gathering space is quiet and empty, my support remains active and available. My safe and sacred spaces often now appear on screen, me curled up on my blue velvet couch leaning closer to my laptop camera to say hello to a pajama-clad couple as they introduce me to their dog. We build trust and familiarity from a distance, creating a shared space in between us.

Though I look forward to seeing and hugging my friends and clients in person, there is something special that happens in the times of waiting, grieving, and longing. I am grateful for the renewal and inspiration I am finding in my indoor spaces. Apart or together, we don’t have to do this alone.

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