When I was 22 years old, I sat in the overgrown grassy field just opposite the two-story house on Brown Street that I shared with my seven roommates at The University of Dayton. I was looking for some space and a little bit of privacy to hang out with my boyfriend, Jerehmy. We were only eight weeks into our new, but oh-so-serious, romance. I was one week shy of graduation. He was just a baby—a sophomore.
"So, what are you planning on doing with the rest of your life?" he asked with a grin.
We'd already kicked back a couple of tallboys, so I was feeling a little buzzed and willing to take the bait.
"I'm going to write a book someday. I'm going to start a revolution!" I answered, only half-joking.
"Oh yeah?" He smiled and punched me lightly on the arm. "And what's this revolutionary book going to be about?"
There was a long pause before I answered. "I have no idea, but it's going to change people's lives—forever!" We both laughed.
After I graduated, I moved 2,263 miles away to Portland, Oregon for what was supposed to be a one-year commitment to the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, but by the time I returned home to Indiana for Christmas, I knew that Portland had become my forever home. When I called Jerehmy to tell him that I was thinking about signing up for another year of volunteer service, he didn't beg me to return. I arrived at orientation that second year ready to meet my new housemates. As a six-foot-three, blond-haired, blue-eyed young man introduced himself to me, he registered the confusion on my face and adopted a thick Spanish accent. Grabbing my hand, he said, "Oh—you thought I would have dark skin, dark hair, dark eyes and I would say, 'Hell-low, my name is Roberrrrrrto Suárrrrrrez! Let me make love to you!'"
That was a lifetime ago.
Now, almost 25 years later, I sit typing on the laptop in my "office," the kitchen table. Jerehmy is long gone, that day in the grass and our two years together a lovely—but distant—memory. Roberto and I will soon celebrate our 20th anniversary and I've worked as a childbirth educator for nearly as long.
Helping people navigate the incredible transition from couple to family is my passion. But if asked in my youth if this would ever be my career choice, I'd probably have fallen over laughing.
Post JVC, I worked a series of alternately exhausting and boring jobs, then my best friend, Liesl, asked me to be at her baby's birth. In preparation, I attended a Doula training program in Seattle, 300 miles north of home. Everyone—including Liesl—thought I was going a little bit overboard, but only a couple of hours into the training I realized that I'd finally figured it out.
"I know what I want to do with my life," I told my husband over the phone later that day.
I'd never once considered pregnancy or birth to be anything more than something I'd like to have happen to me someday. But as I sat in that darkened room, Tracy Chapman’s The Promise perfectly linked to the images on the screen, I watched a woman dig deep to find an inner strength that she hadn't known was possible. I was amazed as her body opened up to bring a brand new human being into this world, and I knew that I needed to be a part of that work. I wanted more than anything to help women, and their partners, discover the wonder and awe that I felt in that moment.
Witnessing Liesl give birth to her daughter was all that it took for me to become hooked on birth forever. The only question that remained was how to strike a balance between work and the family I hoped to have someday. When I realized that "Certified Childbirth Educator" was a profession, with family-friendly hours, I enthusiastically began training for what has become my lifelong career.
In the beginning, I held a full-time day job and taught in the evenings and then three years after we said "I do" we were joyfully pregnant. Over the next ten years I moved from being the rookie childless educator, to someone who had a lot of clout in the classroom, by virtue of having pushed four little ones out myself. I'm now considered a veteran educator: I present at international conferences and I mentor and train new educators.
I. Love. My. Job. I am one of those lucky people who can say, sincerely, that I'm doing what I came into this world to do. I would—and do—teach classes and attend births without getting paid a dime. I'd like to tell you it's because I'm a good and moral person, but that's not the whole story. When I'm in front of a group of expectant mamas and their partners, I'm on fire. I'm in the flow. I'm a rock star.
And yet . . .
I've always had this longing, this desire to put pen to paper, to see if I had something worth saying to people who would want to read, to hear, to listen to what I have to say, to possibly be changed in some significant way, just from reading my words. I've wanted to write a book for a very, very long time. If I think back to the conversation with my ex-boyfriend in that grassy field so many years ago, this dream has been at least 24 years in the making. It's just that I had no idea what it was that I wanted to write about.
But now I do.
After more than 17 years of teaching thousands of couples, I know that I want to translate what I'm doing in my classroom onto the page. I want to take what I do for a local audience and put it out there on a global stage.
I'm going to say it—I want to start a revolution.
I want birthing families to find their own voices, to make decisions for themselves that make sense. I want them to stop making plans and lists of how they will act as pregnant people, as birthing people, and as parents, and just be. Open, raw, vulnerable, changeable—present. I want them to participate fully in this experience of birth so that the transformation of expectant parent to family can occur. I want them to make the best decisions they can, and celebrate their baby's birth in all its complex, messy splendor and beauty. I want them to realize that birth refuses to be tamed. That it's just too big to be planned out and written down on an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper. That it just might be the unexpected that provides them with the most reward.
Realizing that I want to be a writer has meant recognizing that while I might be an "expert" about birth, I'm an absolute amateur when it comes to writing. And while this revelation has been refreshing, it's also been super challenging to figure out what steps to take in moving forward with my book idea.
I started off with a private online journal, and for about a year I jotted down thoughts, linked up articles of interest for research, and basically pissed around. I refined my thoughts about the book and then (gulp!) started telling people, "Did you know that I'm writing a book?" Not just close friends, either. I started telling complete strangers! That's when I knew there was no turning back. But what to do with all of my scraps of paper and random thoughts on my book?
I found Jeffrey Davis of Tracking Wonder and the "Your Captivating Book" program in April of 2013 and then—I got serious. I met with my pack of fellow writers (all of them way more experienced than me!), I had one-on-one meetings with my "book whisperer," and I established a writing practice. Three days a week I sat down in front of the computer, turned on some music, opened up my file, and wrote, damn it!
Establishing a writing practice meant coming home after my early morning exercise class to take all four kids to school, and then, still reeking of sweat, walk straight past the piles of laundry, the breakfast dishes in the sink, the vacuum glaring at me in the hallway—a daily reminder of how long ago it was last put to use—to sit my butt down in the chair to write.
I only get a couple of hours in to write on those three days—and that's if nothing else decides to happen that might upend this fragile and tentative schedule. I will not lie to you. It was hard in the beginning—not the writing, but the discipline!
It's still hard.
My biggest challenge overall, though, and the one that surprised me the most, was granting permission to consider myself a writer. The tug at first was to remain in my primary role of "mom." The thought that I might not be giving my family all that they needed, whenever they needed it, really pulled at me.
About midway through my six-month writing mentorship program, I finally understood something that seems so obvious to me now. I am a much better mom when I show my kids that I am more than just their mom.
In February of last year, I left my family, carpool driving schedule, field trips, and job responsibilities and spent ten days at a writing and yoga workshop presented by my writing mentor—in the Bahamas! This is how I celebrated my 45th birthday—by telling the world through my actions that I was serious about writing this book.
I am Barb Buckner Suárez—mom, wife, childbirth educator, and a writer who has something worthy of sharing with the world.
Once I acknowledged this and allowed myself to take on the title of "writer," it no longer felt selfish. I no longer felt guilty when it was my time to write.
And then—the words began to flow.