Now that I’m here, I’ve jumped through the hurdles of getting my degree, passing boards, getting licensed, and becoming employed, I thought it would be nice to reflect on how I got here. It’s easy to take for granted sometimes, now that I just wake up and go to work every day. But I’m doing what I set out to do! I’m midwifing! So…how did that happen?
Back in the day…
My background is in languages and literature. I studied English and Spanish in undergrad. Like many undergrads, I had no idea what I would do when I grew up…Like many women, I thought I was “bad” at science and hadn’t really taken myself seriously in that regard. When the nursing shortage blew up in the mid-2000s, my mom suggested I look into nursing. I didn’t really think it was for me. I had the old-school pre-feminist movement (and very middle class) idea about nurses as doctor’s handmaidens and couldn’t see myself doing it. But then I started looking into it, and taking my prerequisites for nursing school (adventures to tell of another day), and more and more found it seemed like the right next step for me. Hands + heart + science + possible unionism + healthcare activism…that I could get into.
I originally planned to be a WHNP. When I started nursing school, I had never attended a birth, and I really didn’t know much about midwifery. I liked the idea of working with women, but I didn’t want to try to get into a program/field that I wasn’t as passionate about. I knew folks who were planning to be midwives, and they were excited about Ina Mae Gaskin and doulas and home birth. But I was in my mid-twenties, and no one I was close with had had a baby yet, and these topics were remote from my experience. The abortion world was more my bag, and I knew that as a WHNP, I could possibly train to provide early aspiration abortion or at least do lots of cool family planning work.
Then, I fell in love with birth and also realized that, as I later saw expressed beautifully in the documentary After Tiller, trusting women and being pro-woman/pro-abortion was midwifery. The issues of birth and family planning and abortion are inextricably linked. And, from a practical standpoint, I realized that it made sense for me to provide pregnancy and birth care as well as the other family planning and gyne care I would do as a WHNP. Why hand off patients to another provider to attend the birth, when I could actually be the one to be there for the whole lifespan? So, during nursing school I asked the women’s health department if I could switch to midwifery. They OK’d me.
An Alternative Route
For a variety of reasons, my path to practicing midwifery has not been traditional, at least how it’s done “typically” by CNMs. According to tradition, an RN works in labor and delivery, then goes to midwifery school, then works as a CNM. When I finished my nursing program, nursing jobs in labor and delivery were hard to come by. I got one interview on a hospital unit but did not get the position. I applied to dozens of others. I also had put out my feelers for work in abortion care and managed to get a position through a student colleague connection, at the abortion service in the county hospital.
My first nursing position was a nightmare, but it paid the bills for my first semester of midwifery school and gave me valuable insight into the lives of women seeking abortion in fairly desperate situations. I then got a scholarship so I didn’t have to continue working as a nurse during my program, but it required me to complete it in two years. I babysat for a wonderful family and watched their family grow throughout my graduate studies. Then, as I was completing my final semester of my masters program, I landed another position in abortion care, which eventually turned into a broader family planning nursing role. That is the last job I held until beginning this current job.
After I passed my boards (got certified by the American Midwifery Certification Board), I again looked for jobs around my city. This time around, I had more interviews and got a lot more interest, but still, employers and even my mentors questioned if I could work as a full-scope (meaning: catching babies, not just working in the office) CNM without having worked as a nurse in labor and delivery. Some suggested that I should swallow my pride and try to get such a position and then try again in a year or two for a full scope job. It was a full six months between my initial interview and my start date for the position I landed, and there were times that I considered this option. Luckily, this position came through, and I got to do things the way I originally thought I could (more or less).
What is midwifery? Is it only possible to be a midwife if you’ve been a nurse during hundreds of births, many of which were probably complicated or high risk? I don’t think so.
It’s hard being one of the handful of people who graduated from programs like mine, that allow you to graduate without having to work labor and delivery, having to prove that you belong and that you can hang with the more experienced nurses. But I am not alone, and I’m grateful for others who blazed the trail before me — whether they intended to or not.
Midwifery is a whole lot of things.* True, the only births I’ve attended are the ones where I was doing the baby-catching (or doing labor support in a few instances). I haven’t seen a ton yet. My career is young. I am humbled by all I have to learn. But I have also worked in women’s health for over six years, and have learned compassion and to not judge women’s lives and choices. Midwifery is trusting women, it’s listening to women, and it’s being present with women. You can’t learn that from a textbook or demonstrate that on a board exam, but you can show it in the type of care you give. I am confident that, as one quarter of women in the United States will have an abortion before the age of 40, my background in abortion provides a ton of useful clinical and emotional skills to be a good midwife. Good midwifery care has to include all phases of the reproductive lifespan, including abortion. (And hopefully one day CNMs will be legally allowed to provide spontaneous and elective abortion care in all states!)
Tomorrow will mark three months as a practicing CNM, but I think I’ve been practicing the midwifery model of care for more than that. I respect that other midwives took other paths — and they may have done so out of their own necessities. I hope that as I enter the birth setting again in a few months, when I get my hospital privileges, I can continue to safely develop my labor and birth skills and humbly continue my journey with new mentors and teachers.
*There are, of course, other paths to midwifery outside of nursing. I respect direct-entry or certified midwives, but I don’t claim to know much about their paths. I can only speak as someone that went the CNM route, and know that non-nurse midwives have their own contributions to women’s healthcare that may differ from where CNMs might be coming from (e.g. Ina Mae Gaskin).