Paige Eastman Dickinson, 53.
I’m a white middle-class American. My parents raised myself and two brothers in a suburban area in New Jersey. I am blessed to have lived abroad, currently in Georgia. I’m a mother of two children, I’m a midwife and I have an amazing supportive husband.
I did a gap year and I met some Irish guys. My grandfather died the same year and he left $2000 to each of his grandchildren. So I used the money to go to his country, which was Belgium, and France, because we had some relatives there, England, and Ireland to meet those guys. I had so much fun and I learned so much that I wanted to find a way to stay there. I didn’t really understand America’s place in the world, I was so sheltered, and this trip was the beginning of learning more about America’s involvement in the world.
Ever since then, I tried to study abroad, to get work permits, I did all of these things. I went to a college where you’re required to study in 2 other cultures than your own. I studied about the conflict in Northern Ireland. As a student of conflict studies I attended a conference and workshops with the Irish, Basques, and Palestinians and was curious about who the Palestinians were (I thought they were Pakistani at first). I saw the Golda Meir story on TV growing up, which denied the existence of the Palestinians…that is all I knew. I was kind of shocked and I wanted to go there and see what was happening.
The next place I went to within the college program was Jerusalem. It’s so beautiful in Israel, the society comes from all these different countries and they all have different opinions. I felt like I couldn’t speak, the whole year, I didn’t have the right… I just listened. People would tell me I didn’t have a right because I wasn’t Jewish to understand. Then I spent more time in the West Bank mostly, I did get to go to Gaza as well. I listened to the Palestinians too and then I realized there was a different problem there. These people don’t have rights and those people have rights. It’s obvious that if you don’t give them equal rights, which they wouldn’t because that would make Israel a multi-culture instead of a Jewish state, then, you know, of course, people would fight for their rights. I totally got it and then I would speak about it and people would get quiet: Ok, she knows what she’s talking about now.
Then I met my husband who’s Palestinian and I spent a lot of time with his beautiful family. I was so lucky to have all those experiences. We came back to the US and we worked and we helped them to build a house outside the refugee camp. Eventually, we got divorced. I would still go back to visit and I would do some work there.
Then I came home and I met my husband and we had children and I didn’t ever go back, which is 20 years now without seeing my family, but thank goodness for evil Facebook which is such a horrible place and a beautiful place too, because I get to talk to my family and see what’s happening and watch their babies grow and vice versa.
During that time period when we were getting divorced, I became a midwife. I became a domiciliary midwife, which means I’m on call 24/7, I don’t have much vacation, so I didn’t do a lot of traveling. But my husband and I always wanted to have our kids live in another culture because America is so ethnocentric. In the educational system, I didn’t really learn about the world, what our place was, and what we supported. I think if Americans knew half of what we do in this world, it would be a different country and a better country. So that was very important to my husband and I.
One day, a recruiter from Vietnam called. We thought we had to do it or we would never do it as our kids were getting older. So we did it.
We loved being in Vietnam for three and a half years. We didn’t want to go home because of the political happenings and the danger of gun violence. We wanted to continue and here we are in Georgia.
I’m applying to emigrate as a midwife to New Zealand. So let’s see what happens.
Knowing myself… One of the biggest teachers was being in the Middle East and getting to know my ex-husband’s family. Their story, their amazing resilience, and loving kindness, in the face of occupation and apartheid. Of course, they taught me so much but to be honest about knowing yourself, really about knowing yourself, you think you’re a good person, you’re going through life, you’re doing your things as an adult… The most humbling experience in my opinion is having children. Because they will really show you, on an intimate level, who you really are as a person and how you deal with adversity.
My children are constantly teaching me and forcing me to evolve, even though I go down screaming sometimes (laughs). I always thought I was a good person and when I became a mother, I was like, I have a lot to work on. And I still do.
We hug each other, we say we’re sorry, we cuddle, we give kisses, there’s so much love…
I really wanted to be a mother, my whole life I just thought that I should be a mother. I thought I should have ten kids. The conservative background I was raised with made me feel that way. I met a wonderful man. Giving birth and becoming a mother kind of rocked my world. I went from wanting to have ten kids to thinking, should we even have another?!
Motherhood is hard, it’s the hardest job ever. It was also really hard because I was so dedicated to my clients. They are everything. I don’t know if they even understand how dedicated I am but to be on call for somebody and to show up for them… You know my biggest fears are that something happens to me and I’m not there for them. Of course, I’m not Goddess and any other midwife can take care of them and they’ll be fine. But they expect you, we build a relationship, and continuity of care is important.
We didn’t have family that lived near us. As a mother, I had to have a list of friends who could take my kids at any moment if I needed to run out to a birth. When they were newborns, I would take them with me because I could nurse them, and my assistant could also nurse them and that was great.
You know, it really takes a village to raise a child. For my kind of work, I really needed to have that support and the support of my husband who knew that if I left in the middle of the night he might be late for work having to go through the list to find someone to watch the kids. He was willing to do that.
I think that midwives have a very high divorce rate for that reason. We are passionate about our clients. I want to get care like this in the healthcare system, I want to spend time with someone, I want someone to educate me about my body and breastfeeding, I want that kind of relationship. I don’t want some arrogant doctor. I want that kind of care and I love my job.
Having kids? It made it a lot harder but still, my husband supported me. I think the most earth-shuttering part of this was realizing how hard it was. You have this huge responsibility to care for entirely and help create these kids and when you feel that way towards your clients as well, it is a “pull” in both directions. But I never had to do that because my husband really supported me, and he’s such a loving father that I never felt like my children were deprived because I wasn’t around this period of time. I think I’m lucky.
What worries me? What makes me happy?
What worries me is my children and my husband being happy. It’s hard to move to a new country. You think you’re giving them a gift by living in other places but when it’s hard for them to move, it’s heartbreaking to see it. I worry about the world that I’m raising them to live in. I worry about people like Donald Trump, I worry about family in Palestine. Those are the things that I think I worry about the most.
When I’m feeling most vulnerable? I love the work that I do as a midwife and I think I’m good at it. But I’m having to apply for immigration, and I don’t want them to say “no” to me. Because my educational background is so different I’m afraid of that kind of rejection when your midwife identity is being judged. Or even more importantly being able to listen to collegial or client feedback about your work is a hugely important and vulnerable place to be in. Listening to your partner and being vulnerable when you know you have made mistakes. It’s so hard but it brings growth and rewards.
Meeting new friends, food, traveling, nature, and being in this cool weather after living in Vietnam - it all makes me happy. People that I get to work with in my job, these amazing women and their power and the miracle of life, and to see them come on to the other side from being pregnant to having a baby. It’s also stressful and a huge responsibility but it’s a gift also. The midwives I get to work with are amazing and bring me great joy.
I’m a guide, a travel guide to motherhood. I know where we’re going on some level and we talk about what kind of trip they want in this journey. It’s fun. It’s the hardest thing that you’ll ever do and it’s also a miracle and the most amazing thing. If you have people who are supporting you and loving you through the process, it’s going to be a completely different experience than if you feel like it’s just something that happened to you.
I truly believe that it’s such a gift because my mom would always say, the best thing to do in life is to help other people. She didn’t meaning the job that I do, she was saying that in general but it’s really true because you get so many gifts back. My gift back is to be able to see how strong people are and how they cope with different situations. To see them empowered by their journey and to know that I helped with that in some small ways. It’s a huge gift.
THE CHALLENGES OF MOTHERS
I think the biggest challenge is that it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do. You need help. Well, you do it if you have to do it but that raises maternal morbidity and mortality. The less help we have, the more we are at risk. We’re left alone postpartum with our babies and we can’t get sleep and nobody’s helping us. Your chance of hemorrhage… of not being well nursed, your body not well rested, you can have an emergency hemorrhage. Postpartum depression, is also deadly, if we don’t have support. Why don’t we have support? We’re not getting paid for maternity leave, or we’re getting very little and we can’t hire someone if we don’t have family. Circumstances are such that we moved and we don’t really have a community to help us. Or our community is just one person and that’s it. Our governments aren’t supporting us in so many cultures that I’ve seen. Especially, in America. I think people do have families in Georgia but there are always people in every culture who can’t be with their family for different reasons.
In every society, we need to identify and help women and have those structures within our communities, and that’s the responsibility of our governments. We’re half of the population and most of our political leaders are men and we don’t have those policies, how does your political structure work?
If we took money out of the campaign funding and gave the same amount to everybody to use, that would be a whole different story, that would be a true democracy. But we don’t have that. We don’t have women supported very well.
One of the most powerful mothers that I’ve seen is my mother-in-law in Palestine. There were times when the father wasn’t around. Everything was her. You speak of her in that way and she’s the most powerful woman in the world. She’s fighting the soldiers who’re beating her to get into the house to get to her kids. She’s so powerful, she’s forced to be. Does she have the capacity to go out and be political? No, because she has to put bread on the table for her seven kids every day. She’s got to just survive. She’s in a refugee camp. A lot of times I think that people you see working in organizations are privileged to be able to do that.
How did it happen in other countries where women have more rights, and have more support and families? How did that happen? It can happen. You have to try and you have to fight for it. We’ve had movements, like The Million Mom March in Washington DC, where people do show up. There are more talks than ever about having a miscarriage, about having a maternal death, about racism and healthcare. It’s happening, it’s a discussion. It’s making change slowly here and there I hope, that is my hope.
We, the midwives, are trying so hard to get licensed so that we can help make the change and meet the need for higher quality healthcare, better outcomes, and support for families. Doctors have that power and how do we flip that the mothers have that power? So that everything is done for the best of the mothers and their health.
What are we fighting against it’s really hard. I had the privilege of having a supportive partner and I would drag my kids to the state house and we would go visit people two or three times a week. My kids were like: Mom, no more. Even if it’s taking this long, people become more aware. Maybe from all the offices we visited, they at least know what a midwife is.
So, maybe, it will work someday. I know it will. Every year I’m like: come on, I’m ready to drink champagne!
I volunteered with the International Solidarity Movement in Palestine. ISM does direct non-violent actions against the occupation. A Couple runs it. He is an American-Jewish and she’s Palestinian. It’s a Palestinian-led movement and they call us for help. Knowing that we’re white, Americans, or Europeans when Jewish soldier sees our faces, we can kind of be a buffer. We did things like standing with an Israeli group of women called Women in Black, to make sure that the soldiers were behaving when they were letting people in and out of the checkpoints.
The Court system is a Jewish Court system. They’ll just take what they want. There’s no justice in the judicial system if you’re not Jewish. All the Israeli, Palestinian, and International human rights organizations have documented this truth.
It was so dangerous the last time I was there. It was when Sharone invaded the West Bank. What I saw then scared me. It didn’t matter that we were white anymore, because people were gonna get killed. After I left, one of our volunteers, young Rachel Corrie, was run over by a bulldozer and crushed to death. There was a little Palestinian boy with our group, who was acting as a translator. He was 12 years old. They shot and killed him in front of our group. Can you imagine living with that, that you brought that boy along to help with the translation? This kind of stuff happens to Palestinians all the time, we just thought it would not happen because we were there.
Doing a direct non-violent action is so risky now. I wasn’t afraid then, I was younger. I didn’t have kids. And it’s so much easier as a white person. But as an indigenous person, trying to stand against your oppressor, or even against your own people who are pressuring you, it’s so dangerous. The bravery, it’s amazing to me. And even if you choose to not do anything because you’re afraid, I understand that too. You know?
I never went back after that as I had kids. Would I do that stuff again? Probably, just it’s so brutal and so depressing.
One of the most important experiences in my life is going to the Middle East and learning about Israel and Palestine and meeting the people that I met, including my ex-husband and his amazing family. Spending time in Balata Camp, which is the largest refugee camp in the West Bank. Amazing people, they really are amazing and resilient, and also sadly tormented and hurt.
I could leave, because I’m American and they couldn’t. My ex-husband could leave and maybe now some of his family can, because he’s American, but it takes years for that to happen. He chose to go home. I don’t blame him at all. At home, he’s just a normal person. He’s got a good status because his family is just so beautiful, they help so many people.
It’s hard being an immigrant in America. If you’re not white and you don’t speak normal American. It’s really racist, and I don’t mean a hatred racism. It’s just so ingrained in white people. People always say that America is so great and there are so many opportunities… Yes, they are opportunities and you can become successful but it’s a lot harder if you have a different skin color and accent. So, I don’t blame him for going home at all. But, the pressure that they live on a daily basis, and in times like this, is horrific and heartbreaking.
I feel stupid even sending messages, like, how are you doing? Of course, they are doing horrible, I feel horrible and helpless. I just could tell them I love them, it’s just so out of control. We have family in Gaza and they call to check in. I don’t know if they’re gonna be able to check in because there’s no electricity or water or food, I don’t know if they lost contact or not, but they said they were just waiting to die because the bombs are falling all around them. That’s what they said when the family checked in on them last time.
Jews have suffered so much. I can never come to any understanding about how it is okay for Israel to do the same to other people. What Hamas did and is doing to hostages, which was horrific and horrible, I am sick about it… but can anyone be surprised that they exist, when you see the way Israel controls and cages Gaza and practices Apartheid and all of the horrors that come with that in Gaza and the West Bank? No no no. When you treat people like this, like caged animals, what do you expect? Every day I eat my food and I have the most beautiful food and I have this nice apartment and my family and every day I’m like: Oh, they can’t get water and food. They can’t have their nice Friday dinner. They can’t live. They just wait to see if they’re going to be killed or not.
And there’s nothing. Thirty years of being actively engaged in the protests and talking to representatives, my country still fully supports Israel no matter what it does. It’s so hopeless and heartbreaking.
The Palestinians, they don’t know any Israeli people, they don’t know any Jewish people, the only people they know who are Jewish are the soldiers coming and killing people, imprisoning, and bombing.
My nephews went to take out the garbage one day, like always. They witnessed a missile attack, right in front of them. The garbage bins are near the cemetery. They watched a bunch of young men near the cemetery get blown up by a missile, meters away. Where does Hamas come from? It doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
Regardless of what it was, whether it was with the Ottoman Empire, The United Nations split countries into kind of two countries, which was false. Think about the Kurdish people. They are divided into different countries. So, it wasn’t a creation of the people who lived there, it was actually the creation of the colonialist powers. But indigenous people still lived there. The Christians, and the Jewish, but the majority were Muslim. And they all lived there. When I was living there back in the 1990s, there were Jewish folks who lived there since 1948 who refused to take Israeli passports. There are a lot of good Israelis but the truth is that it’s a colony, and it’s a colonizer because it doesn’t give equal rights. It controls the borders, and it won’t allow Palestinians to be a part of what is now Israel, because it wouldn’t be a majority Jewish State. You can’t have democracy for Jews only, Israel is not a democracy. So, Israel occupies the land and confiscates the land from the Palestinians, and the Palestinians do not have rights. That’s how you retain the rest of the Jewish state. Now when they take land in the West Bank from Palestinians they give it to Israeli Jewish Settlers. Israel not only gives land for free, like the US did out west with the Native Americans but they incentivize big families so someday they can have all the land and be a majority. It’s ethnic cleansing.
You can’t say that Palestine never existed. It did exist. The British and the European powers outlined all of the Middle East, but it didn’t matter because people still lived there. And you can’t take their land when they’re living. They are an indigenous population. It’s not that they came to the country suddenly. They were there before. Nobody wants to get rid of Israel. Palestinians know Israel is there, they don’t want to get rid of all Jews. They just want to live in freedom and comfort and have equal rights. Just like you and I, don’t they deserve freedom and equity? YES
Palestinians exist and they are always going to exist. And they are there and you can’t treat them like that. Because if they do, then you’re endangering yourself because people will always fight for their rights. If it was you, if someone came to your home and arbitrarily wanted to take it, would you fight?
How does it make sense? In the name of religion? No, that is not the Jewish religion. That’s colonialism. Many people, especially Americans, who don’t really know what’s going on, refuse to believe it because there’s such a good propaganda machine, they just believe the propaganda and they refuse to see that there’s another side, and it’s so sad. Racist Israeli propaganda has made them believe Palestinians are less than deserving, they are animals. It's sooo sad, and so hard to understand.