I was lucky enough to do most of my midwifery training alongside Jen Holland, a CPM, prenatal yoga instructor and craniosacral therapist.
Do yourself a favor and look her up if you're in the Salem, Oregon area. You can find her at www.jenhollandwellness.com
I started my journey to midwifery as an office manager at a birth center. During that time, I saw many apprentices come and go. These students had all signed a contract requiring them to be on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for the entirety of their 18-24 month apprenticeships. Almost across the board, these women struggled to balance their apprenticeships with their personal lives; they weren't allowed to travel more than an hour away from the birth center, weren't allowed to be away from their phone, and weren't able to make any solid plans at all, because they knew they might be called away for a birth. I had little sympathy, because I thought, "Well, that's what midwifery is, and they knew what they were signing up for."
When I started my own apprenticeship, I felt like I was ready for the commitment. Of course, I had never been on call before, so I couldn't possibly have known what a burden 24/7 call would be. The midwives in the practice weren't very sympathetic, having lived on call lives themselves for many years. "That's what midwifery is." It actually wasn't what it was for them, as this practice shared call between the midwives, but not between the students, so the midwives had every other week off call. My friend Madeline, and fellow apprentice, had a different vision for what an apprenticeship, and midwifery in general, could look like. What if clients met two assistants instead of one, and knew that whoever was on call and "fresh" would be the one attending their birth? She pitched it to the birth center management, and they were willing to try out a new system. Madeline crafted a schedule that would allow each apprentice some off call time each month, during which she would be able to put her phone away and focus on herself and her personal relationships.
I didn't realize the depth of what I had been missing until I started having some time off call. I was able to fully commit to my family and friends during those times. I was able to turn my phone off at night, go on hikes out of cell phone range, drive to events in the same car as my family, and go to yoga class or get a massage without my phone next to me. I realized that I couldn't possibly commit to a whole career as a 100% on call midwife.
I went to a lot of births for women who weren't sure exactly who was going to be there, and I feel like I connected with each and every one of them. Midwifery is a calling, and if you have it, you know how to be with a woman during her birth, regardless of how well you know her.
As a new CPM, it has become a huge priority for me to find my partners, so that I am not working in a solo practice as the homebirth midwives before me have done. I think it is so important to tell the women that hire us that the responsibility of midwifery is hard and constant, and in order to be our best and offer quality care to families, we have to have some time to ourselves, away from constant responsibility.
I'm so grateful to Madeline and the work she is doing with Believe in Midwifery to help midwives see that they can better serve women if they share the load. Out of hospital midwifery has been stuck in a paradigm of 1 midwife for 1 woman, which limits the number of women who are willing and able to become midwives, and ultimately limits birth choices for families. Women don't need the presence of a specific midwife in order to have a satisfying and empowering birth experience; they need education, confidence, and support, and I believe that midwives are more able to offer these things when they work in a team.
As I was preparing my talk for the MANA conference in 2016, I was inspired by the story of midwifery development at The Farm in Tennessee.