By Michal Klau-Stevens
I was shocked to learn, on December 29, 2016 when I scrolled through my Facebook feed, that ICEA President Connie Livingston had died suddenly. The post from Barbara Harper caught me off-guard, and left me grappling with the discomfort of processing the loss of a person whom I liked, respected, and felt deep gratitude towards, but had never actually met. Almost all of my interactions with Connie were through social media. I can’t help but think that my life would have been richer if I’d had the opportunity to know her in person too.
Connie was one of the first people to reach out to me through LinkedIn when I started posting my blog posts there. At that time, early in my experience as a blogger, I felt mild panic each time I pushed “publish” on my computer screen, and then it seemed my words went out into the ether and disappeared into nothingness. The kind words in those messages from Connie let me know that my work didn’t disappear – and the fact that the President of ICEA took the time to reach out to connect with me to say that she appreciated my viewpoint meant the world to me. After several months of posting on LinkedIn, Connie asked me, through a private message, if I’d be interested in writing for ICEA. It took a while to make it happen, but her interest inspired me to keep writing and posting on my blog.
Soon we became friends on Facebook, and she regularly commented on my posts, both personal and birth-related. Posts from her frequently showed up on my feed, accompanied by pictures of her smiling face. She was often out with her husband or posting about her children. I remember one tantalizing string of posts she wrote about going out for waffles for breakfast with her daughter, and she and I frequently exchanged posts about guinea pigs. She liked to show off her beloved pet, and I posted her back with the antics of my son’s guinea pig too. Connie posted great birth-related information, and focused on evidence-based care and compassionate treatment for birthing women and their families. I enjoyed reading her blog posts, as I always learned some new and valuable information from her insights.
Earlier in the past year, Connie experimented with another social media platform called Blab, which allowed people to host video chats. Betsy Schwartz, a doula trainer and creator of the board game Down The Canal, was doing chats on Blab and I made of point of joining her in the chat room. Connie came online to watch several chats and interact with us, and before long she was hosting her own Blabs about birth-related topics. I joined in for a couple of her broadcasts, and it was almost like being in the same room, but not quite. I was impressed with Connie’s bravery to quickly organize her plan and put herself out there to the public on a new, glitchy, visual platform. I was struck by the way she charged forward to seize an opportunity to share her knowledge with others and to interact with people who were interested in talking and learning about birth. That was another valuable life lesson she taught me – seize the day!
It can be hard to get a sense of a person when you only interact through social media, yet there were certain things that came through very clearly. She was a devoted wife and mother, a businesswoman, author, leader, and teacher. Knowing her made me want to work harder and do more so I could achieve like she did, and make a difference by helping others too, as she did. She was a true role model.
Reading the comments and posts after her death made me feel the loss of not knowing her in person even more deeply. So many people wrote about the influence she had in their lives. She touched many birth workers and families in her work over the years, and the posts about her warmth, her sense of humor, her compassion, her wisdom, and her caring were overwhelming.
Thinking about the fact that I won’t be seeing more posts from Connie fills me with sadness. As a former leader of a national birth advocacy organization, I can imagine how her sudden absence will send shock waves through ICEA and the larger birth community as people work to come to terms with this loss of a strong leader who was also a wonderful person. I can only guess, based on what I know from her activity on social media, that she would want her colleagues and students to carry on her work of improving the birth experiences of families through high-quality and compassionate childbirth education, birth support, and advocacy work.
I am so grateful to Connie for giving me the opportunity to contribute to the ICEA community through this blog, and I will do my best to remember the way she had confidence in me and saw value in what I have to share with others. Although much of our relationship was “virtual,” the impact she had on my life was very real. Her death is a great loss to many people and her life was an example of much impact one person can make in the world. She will be missed.