Everyday I absorb content about how I can find all the answers within myself. If I could just eat healthy food, practice the right mindfulness and offer myself enough self care, maybe I’ll finally feel whole, happy, at peace. Maybe if I achieve these things, I will feel the lack within me disappear. This pursuit has launched me on a journey to do extensive research, seek advice, apply what I've learned by altering the way I eat and think and move and hopefully after all this I will arrive at a place where I am satiated. No more anxiety, no more symptoms, just manifesting the serene ideal version of myself I desire to be.
The only problem is that this isn’t possible.
In the context of reproductive health, it’s important to consider the idea of wholeness, of becoming healthy or arriving at a goal, and the danger of this pursuit. Wholeness implies there is a lack, and that I need to do something different to fulfill it. I need to not any have hormonal symptoms, be able to conceive quickly, have an empowering birth, become the parent I’ve envisioned becoming. Something is missing, and these experiences (and the objects that come with them) will finally be the thing which perfectly fills the lack inside of me.
Lack and desire was an idea introduced by french psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, who said that, “man’s desire is the desire of the Other”. The other in psychoanalysis is usually defined as the mother or primary caretaker, but can also be that of the uppercase “O”. Another person, the virtues and morality of society, or some omnipotent Other. Desire is a constant questioning and seeking out of what the Other has or desires to have. Lacan said that, “Desire full stop is always the desire of the Other. We are always asking the Other what they desire”.
I’ve experienced this consistently within the realm of social media. I see another (Other) living the life that I desire, seemingly grounded and having arrived at some important conclusions that I need help arriving at myself, which produces in me a sense of lack. So I sign up for the course (or the doula training…) and consume the product and to my dismay discover that in the end, I’m still left lacking. I’ve been given the keys (tools, meditations, protocols) to open the door of my own satisfaction, and I've discovered that nothing is behind the door.
The world of postpartum is a good example of the tension this can create. As more parents are sharing the realities of the hardship they experience, the anger and grief and disappointment of postpartum not often represented in public, the more I believe we are peeling back a layer and taking an honest look at our desires and consequently our lack. To feel only joy and satisfaction in the role of the parent is an illusion and it’s projection onto other new parents can be incredibly harmful, when inevitably all parents will feel the complexities of love and hate, joy and sorrow that comes with postpartum. To expect otherwise is in line with this pursuit of wholeness, or perfection.
In seeking to discover and satisfy my own desires I have instead discovered my lack. I’ve circled back to learn that the lack within me was there to begin, and that in getting the thing I wanted (my desires) I’ve actually just reminded myself that I am still wanting more. There will always be another expert, another training, another protocol to follow. Eventually I’m fatigued and disappointed with this pattern playing out over and over, a pattern which reinforces the sense of lack within me.
I’ve experienced this my entire life with relationships, with being raised in Evangelical Christianity, with the ideals that I cling to everyday. I’ve seen other people experience it, my friends and clients who didn’t know that having a baby wasn’t going to fulfill that lack. I see people I care about learning the hard way, and while I would want to spare them the experience of confronting their lack (especially in postpartum with the added layer of sleep deprivation), discovering that void is unavoidable.
Where the representation of birth and postpartum online is beginning to offer some better content about the realities of confronting lack (thank goodness), I’m finding a huge gap in the health and wellness community that caters to those of us interested in fertility health and preconception care. Diet culture saturates this “hormonal health” market. I can’t imagine a more perfect example of capitalism preying on our desire to satiate the lack than the hormonal protocols marketed by eager influencers who were once “just like you”. Periods riddled with unwanted symptoms, always anxious and ungrounded, at war with food and their bodies.
I’ve struggled with consuming this content, and navigating how to avoid creating more content like it myself. I want to help people live in harmony with their hormones, and at the same time, I don’t actually believe there is any such thing as finding that harmony. To say otherwise would be selling an illusion catering to capitalism and lead you to believe that I've got the keys. I don't have them, and I never will. What I do have is the capacity to sit with you in your lack, acknowledge your needs and desires, those things which you most deeply crave, and as Lacan would say, help you to organize your menu.
In an attempt to root this post, I’d like to point towards the idea of seeking out the sublime. The sublime is when you experience something in the world that blows your mind. Something in the natural world that so completely saturates you, it opens up this space between what exists, and the transcendent. For philosopher Kant, the sublime does not give you the transcendent. Rather, when you encounter something awe inspiring, it is reminding you that what you are experiencing is not the transcendent. It helps you experience that there might be something beyond the phenomenal realm, something you cannot grasp. Lacan calls this “Jouissance” or the experience of both pain and pleasure.
Lack enlivens us, creates the opportunity to recognize that life is experienced in the in-between, and we should stay wary of anyone who says they have all the answers. I can’t think of any better way to sum up the realm of birthwork and the role of the doula other than someone who supports moments that exist in the in-between, and reminds you to simultaneously take stock of your lack and your desires, with imagination for the sublime that awaits you.