I made this to go along with a Go Fund Me campaign to assist in costs for midwifery school. However, we decided it was (a) too long and (b) that I didn’t sound like myself in it. So we’re scratching it. Back to the drawing board!
There are so many reasons that I shouldn’t pursue midwifery. Lots of them are the ones that kept me from so long from admitting that I wanted to be a midwife at all. Like the liability, the on call lifestyle, and the cost to one’s family life.
Right now, trying to discern what the next steps will be in my journey, there are another set of reasons. Like the fact that I have a newborn and three other very young children, the new legislation that requires a route to licensure that I frankly wouldn’t choose and don’t agree with, significant costs that will be incurred in order to go that route, vocational and financial uncertainty in our family, a difficult local scene with conflicted relationships amongst midwives, owning only one car, doubt about the eternal significance of being with women in childbirth, being 36 years old and only now embarking on a significant change in vocation….
There are so many reasons I shouldn’t pursue midwifery. And yet I still want to. Very much. I think about it almost all of the time.
Either I’m obsessive or called. Or maybe some of each.
Today’s deep question: Does wisdom always equate with caution? With logic? With strategy?
If the wise way forward must be cautious, strategic and logical I should turn back now. But what is wisdom is a separate thing, a thing that sometimes looks contrary to all three? And what of calling?
I’ve been spending so much time in my head, here with Maeve and the kids, trying to figure out every possible scenario to get from where I now am to being the sort of midwife I want to be, trying to plot a course that will be financially obtainable, philosophically compatible, and sustainably paced.
But what if becoming a midwife is like becoming a parent, what if it’s like a birth? Meaning, just as when one decides to have a baby, one does not have the privilege of knowing what twists and turns, surprises and curveballs will lie between conception and the launching of that child into the word… And just as when one goes into labor, one does not have the luxury of knowing how many hours it will be, what the contractions will feel like, whether the baby will come easily or by much travail… Yet we don’t let the unknowing keep us from saying yes and setting sail. We say yes because of the great joy that lies before us and then we start walking in that direction, crossing bridges as we come to them, trusting that what’s needed at each juncture will be provided at that time. The sooner we can learn to surrender the better off we’ll be. In birth, in parenting, and in living into one’s calling.
It’s time to take a step.
Since admitting to myself last fall that I want to be a midwife, a new law has been passed in my state. It turns what was previously an a-legal (neither legal nor illegal, and completely unregulated) profession into one that will need to be licensed or face possible legal issues. Licensure was hard fought for by many midwives in the state who desire the [expected] safety of an officially legal status, and a board of governance (composed mostly of midwives) that will set standards and review cases when things go wrong, as well as the possible privilege of prescribing a few key medications without fear of being accused of practicing medicine without a license. I can see the benefits here. I think I can.
And yet I’m not in favor. At least, I don’t THINK I am. That is to say that I want to be teachable. It’s possible that I’m not fully understanding all the implications of and positives in licensure, which is why I’m seeking out conversation with the midwives I’m aware of who championed this bill and pushed it through, so that I can hear their perspectives, being open to the idea that I’ll be otherwise persuaded. This means that what I’m about to share here is my perspective from where I now sit, and it may change with time and further consideration.
I’m pulled to midwifery for many reasons. But one thing that I love about midwives is the feminine. Women tend to have different ways of knowing things, and feminine knowledge originates in body and soul, it’s intuitive and evolving, it’s relational and connective. All the best of what women have to offer to the world is expressed in traditional midwifery. It’s one of the few remaining frontiers in which women’s way of knowing and doing haven’t been usurped by a more masculine and patriarchal structure of logic, reason, linearity, hierarchy and competition. Midwives are women serving women, and until relatively recent history, men didn’t enter into the spaces that they occupied, which were seen as women’s domain. So there’s something really special there, and really sacred, a rarity. The midwifery model of care — though it has of course changed over time in some small and some larger ways — is so completely other than the medical model. It is an entirely different beast, being measured by it’s own standards, reigned over by a different paradigm, and this is why I treasure it, and why I chose it for myself when I had my own babies.
Midwives have traditionally been chosen by their communities, recognized as having a gift and a calling to do the work of being with other women in childbirth, then apprenticed under another older midwife to learn the ancient wisdom of midwifery. Midwifery is not merely science, best practices and didactic education (though all of that has a place). In fact, the way to be a midwife has always been more about calling, and the equipping has come through what you could probably call discipleship — a process of coming along behind a teacher and learning to walk and think and act like she would. Midwifery is of women, for women, and by women. We serve one another in our most vulnerable moments, and we bring to the table not only our skilled hands and sharp, quick minds that have learned how to unstuck a shoulder, revive a baby slow to breath, or sever a cord, but also our spirits. We bring our intuition and our love to the table, we bring our sympathy as other humans who have walked the same road of transformation as the birthing mother who is currently receiving our help. We check our egos at the door, and we hold space so that a mother can find herself, her power and her knowing.
[Notice: I’ve stopped writing about midwives in the third person and have begun to use the pronoun “we.” Interesting.]
SO then, what happens when we take that old “system” of traditional midwifery and subject it to standards, paradigms, and structures that are fundamentally different? What happens to that beautiful and ancient way of walking with another woman through the most ordinary of miracles when we say it needs to meet medical standards and appease government regulations? Will it not inevitably begin to shift in spirit? Will it come to doubt its own wisdom and begin to look more and more — in tiny and at first imperceptible ways — like medicine? Will herbs and homeopathy and other ways of healing that are derived from God’s gifts to us in creation begin to be crowded out with prescription drugs? Will soft hands standing by in trust begin to be replaced by ones that are too busy, trying to actively manage a birth with tools and manipulations? Will research and evidence-based protocols begin to silence the intuition that tells a midwife that in this particular birth a specific and perhaps seemingly illogical action is really what’s needed for this woman and this birth?
Then there’s the question of the path to becoming a midwife that this law now requires to be taken if one is to be a legal/licensed midwife. For all of human history, the only “education” a midwife underwent has been apprenticeship until deemed ready by your teacher to be sent out on your own, or diving in because there’s no one else available to the needed work of helping women have babies. In recent decades, since certification came into the picture (which is different from licensure but a step in that direction), it has thus far been true that one valid pathway to becoming certified is what’s called the PEP process, which is entirely apprenticeship based, but requires specific documentation of births attended and skills mastered, followed by sitting for an exam called the NARM. However, with the new law, the PEP process will no longer be considered valid. The only way now to become certified and therefore also licensed is to obtain a midwifery degree from a college accredited by the MEAC. Apprenticeship no longer has a role (as of January 1, 2020) in the making of midwives. I mourn this! It really troubles me.
I have never believed that a good minister/pastor is made by seminary. It’s not to say that seminary cannot play a part in the making of a good pastor, but seminary alone actually has a tendency to turn out a lot of cerebral, proud, and out-of-touch managers of institutions we call churches, rather than the fatherly shepherds of grace to human souls we would hope that they would be. Similarly, with midwives, a head full of book knowledge and many tests of memorization plus some clinical experience does not make a midwife, as it doesn’t touch her soul or her very way of being. A midwife is made by God’s call on her life, by the sort of woman that she is, by the life experience she has and the wisdom she’s accrued through her life, and by the teacher whom she’s followed and imitated. Why would we do away with apprenticeship? Removing it is another example of making midwives via the avenues through which doctors are made. But a midwife is not a medical professional, just as birth is not (usually) a medical event.
In light of all of this, I have choices to make. Tim and I need to hash things out, discerning what is right for our family’s future. I need to converse with the midwife under whom I plan to apprentice to see if we can be on the same page. Most importantly, I need to hear God’s voice and instruction telling me which way to go. I can tell you what my heart (and spirit?) is inclined to do, but because it flies in the face of law and logic, I am taking a long and prayerful pause before taking a step.
There are my kinds of midwives, each who have taken unique paths to become the sort of midwife that they are. Behind each sort of midwife there is a different philosophy, differences in training, and even more differences in the personality and natural inclinations of each midwife.
Because of my birth photography work, I’ve gotten to witness first hand many unique midwives at work. And they all amaze me. Midwives are incredible women who all have self-sacrifice, passion, and skilled hands as common characteristics, whatever other differences there may be between them. They’re also usually just really soulful, fun, and interesting people to spend time with, and I feel seriously SO lucky to get to be around them as often as I have been! I’m so encouraged to know that even in my mid-size city there’s a pretty good diversity of options for midwifery care. In Grand Rapids we have certified nurse midwives (CNMs) who work in hospitals, birth centers, and even homes. We have certified professional midwives (CPMs) who work in homes and birth suites. We have direct entry midwives (DEM) and lay midwives who work only in homes (and somewhat under the radar). Each one has a specific pregnant mama niche of women who need what she offers, and who will click with who she is. This diversity is awesome, because birthing women are diverse. For the entire community of midwives to be able to celebrate and champion what her sister-midwives bring to the table will only serve the greater good for all.
So as it comes time to make decisions about what sort of midwife I will become, and what path I’ll take toward that end, I want to be clear that I’m in no way making a claim to have found the best or most ideal path, nor chosen an option higher than the other options. I most sincerely do NOT believe that.
Rather, the path and type of midwifery I’m moving toward is “right” only insofar as it authentically lines up with my values/perspective, my personality and orientation to the world (an enneagram type 4, an INFP, a Christian) and the life experiences I’ve had (holistic health lifestyle, home births for all my babies, inner city ministry and community living, etc) and the training I’ve received that may serve me as a midwife also (a master’s degree in counseling, a health coaching certification from an integrative nutrition institute, years working for a naturopath/chiropractor, being a creative entrepreneur and a birth photographer) and even the life situation I am in (married to a pastor, raising 4 very small kiddos, living in the city). My job is to look at all those pieces listed above, plus the guidance of the good Shepherd with resolution toward obedience to it, plus the direction in which my heart leans… and to continue to walk in way that corresponds with all of that.
And here I’m about to get more technical than some will care to attempt tracking with, but my inclination is as such: to pursue a self-directed distance education program designed to adequately intellectually prepare me to sit for the NARM exam for certification as a professional midwife (if I decide to pursue certification at all, which is currently not legally required in MI), while also apprenticing under a second-generation midwife with the CPM credential, receiving my hands-on experience and in-the-moment learning from the wise woman ways she is uniquely prepared to impart to me.
On a deep and intuitive level, apprenticeship-based midwifery training resonates with my core. It makes so much sense to me that elder midwives teach the younger ones through close, life-on-life “discipleship” over a myriad of experiences and across years. I’m excited to gain the kind of learning that only can come from watching and doing alongside someone practiced and passionate in her work, someone who learned her ways from the wise women with whom she herself once apprenticed in a similar fashion. Women have unique ways of knowing, and they possess secret insight into female health and birth that I frankly don’t believe men or science ever will fully “get.” So though I do not want to be dismissive of scientific study or evidence-based practices, I want to get a really healthy dose of the more womanly and intuitive way of transmitting knowledge, skills and wisdom!
Then, because I actually love book learning and research and desire to be fully equipped with vital information, I’m also going to apply for an educational program that will provide guidance and accountability as I wade through all the massive amounts of books and studies and information that there is to know. There will be text books, quizzes, exams, homework and all the trappings of “university study,” minus the degree. This more “traditional” education will be a great counter-balance to the apprenticeship. Between these two pieces, I feel like I’ll be given a beautiful training! It will work with my values, my style of learning, and my limitations and goals (both practical and financial), as well as utilizing existing relationships that I deeply value (as in the one I already have formed with the midwife who will be my preceptor/teacher and other midwives who have shown interest in and invested in my journey thus far).
And so in 5-8 years (??) I imagine emerging on the other side of that with a realization that has gradually sunk into my bones: that I have become in my heart and spirit a wise woman, a midwife… as well as possessing some standardized measurements to prove that I’ve acquired a certain standard of education.
What a feeling of accomplishment and joy it will be to walk forward into the world with those credentials — both tangible and intangible – and to offer it all up as a love offering to women and babies and their families, and to my Jesus.
I can’t wait.
But for now and for a long while yet, there’s the process. God give me patience for and delight in every step.
Typically announcements are made when something practical or tangible has already happened, like “we bought a house” or “our baby has been born” or “i just got a new job” or “we’re engaged!” This doesn’t fall into the practical/tangible category.
And yet, it feels like something worth announcing. Or maybe it’s more like declaring a college major, or setting an intention.
In any case, here it is:
I intend to become a midwife.
If you want to read some long and soul-searching details about how thing have gotten to this point, please read on.
For those who want cliffs notes, here are they are: I’ve been a birth junkie for years, and finally God brought it to the forefront and asked me to own the desire in my heart that I’d been trying to deny. My family and I are trying to sort out the timing and details of what pursuing this will look like. It will involve, I hope, a combination of apprenticeship and self-paced distance education. I haven’t taken a single practical step yet, nor made a single commitment, but I’ve explored options and hope to start SOMETHING within the next year. 🙂
Now, the long version (for those with interest and time to read)….
I have spent the last 4.5 years dismissing the idea of becoming a midwife.
It’s not that midwifery was foreign or unappealing to me. On the contrary: as a long-time holistic and natural health aficionado who holds a holistic health counseling and nutrition certificate, plus 4 years of working for a naturopathic chiropractor, I had long known that a midwife assisted home birth would be my first choice when it was my time to have babies.
It was about 9 months after the long and transformative home birth of my firstborn in 2011 that my established skill as a photographer first led me into another woman’s birth space. I went in to try out something that had recently been added to my bucket list: birth photography. I shot a home birth with my own midwife. It was instantly a peaceful and joyful space for me to occupy. I remember the moment that in my entire body I knew that birth was imminent, though at the time I knew very little about stages of labor and emotional signposts. It was sacred and the air was electric.
I came home on a high. The yes was immediate, intuitive and decided: there MUST be more of this in my life. And so I began seeking it out. My midwife offered me many of my first opportunities, as I rode into home births on her coat tails. I begged my sister-in-law to let me photograph her nurse midwife attended hospital birth. I added birth photography to my list of services on my photography website, along with my tiny portfolio, and set up a very inexpensive birth photography package in my city where I knew only one other birth photographer. Families started to hire me.
Every time I came home on a high and completely energized. No matter how disruptive it had been to my sleep or how long the on-call periods stretched out, I didn’t even care. It was undoubtedly worth it. I attended (and still attend) home and hospital births, attended by CPMs, CNMs, and OBs, with and without doulas, some medicated, some not. At the time of this writing (10/25/16) I have attended 43 births other than my own. I gave birth two more times, at home, in 2013 and 2015.
Meanwhile, I began reading memoirs written by midwives and biographies about them. Many of them, and all the time, to the exclusion of all other genres of books. I started reading many articles and blogs about natural birth, midwifery, evidence based birth practices, holistic remedies and care for pregnancy, birth and postpartum, woman-centered and baby-friendly birth standards. I learned about and began offering mother blessingways to all my expecting friends. I began a Pinterest board on which to save and file away all the interesting things that I was learning, and shared the board with friends who were expecting. I couldn’t shut up about these subjects on social media, so first-time mamas in my extended social circle began privately sending me messages upon learning they were pregnant, asking me questions about how to take care of this or that, who I’d recommend as a doula or midwife, and much more. The area doulas added me to their study group and started referring to me as a “birth worker,” a term I hadn’t heard nor thought to apply to myself as a photographer. I became a self-professed birth junkie.
As a photographer, my mission was to show women their power, to hold up a mirror that would allow them to see them at their most vulnerable and transformative moment. I wanted to also show them the freshness of their new babies, which so quickly disappears, and the love and support that was demonstrated so powerfully between them and their partner. I wanted to be present to pray them through, and to be another face in the room that would smile confidently at her as if to say, “You’ve got this. I’m not the least bit worried about you!” On a wider scale, I became devoted to sharing their stories and images on my blog so that my generation could begin to reimagine birth. I hoped that in letting my followers see natural, empowered, supported birth that we could begin to crowd out the media images of screaming women — who went into labor suddenly with spontaneous rupture of membranes while out in public — writhing in agony on their backs in hospital rooms as they cursed their husbands for “doing this to them.” I wanted the stories women hear at their offices and churches about terrible labors that would have ended in disaster had it not been for the blessed intervention of modern medicine and cesarean section to be replaced with a new narrative, and a new set of beliefs and expectations about their body’s capabilities and their rights as women to be supported and respected through this rite of passage. As a photographer, the best thing I could offer was the SHOWING of these true things. So often I get messages from women approaching their first or subsequent births, and they tell me how they pour over the birth stories on my blog as part of preparing their minds and hearts for labor. This means so much to me.
Sitting at so many births in a necessarily observant role due to the cameras that I carry, I began to watch and take notes. I started to learn the progression of labor, to begin to know approximately how dilated a mother was by her behavior and vocalizations. I could sense the shift into active labor, the moment of transition, and when the moment of birth was imminent. I didn’t just watch the mothers, I watched the midwives and their apprentices and assistants. I watched what tools they carried and noted how they were used. I took note of all the supplies needed, the check-ins and measurements they took throughout, the consults they had between themselves, and when and what they scribbled in their charts. I noticed when they suggested a change in position or when they moved out of the birth space to give a mama some space. I watched their soft hands as they caught the babies, their eyes as they carefully took in and anticipated upcoming needs. And whenever I could, I sat with them in other rooms, asked them questions about what they were doing and what was going on with the laboring mother. I’d test the theories I was developing in my own mind against the actuality of what they told me was transpiring at a birth, and I began to find that I was often pretty close to spot on accuracy.
But as a birth photographer, I got to experience a small taste of the on call lifestyle and the costs of that to my family. I also got to see the toll on midwives’ and doula’s physical health, personal life, and emotions. I saw the liability inherent in being a midwife, the weight they carry in taking on work that is controversial and which takes place somewhere between legal and illegal. From where I sat, perched nearby with my camera, I was safe. I wasn’t in danger of screwing up anyone’s life, of having to feel responsible (whether justly or not) for the death or injury of a woman or her baby. I wasn’t in danger of the criticism or the lawsuits, nor was I in danger of disappointing a mother whose birth didn’t go as she hoped, or who believed that her midwife didn’t do what she ought to have done. Birth photography was a risk-free way to come close to birth.
And so, in spite of clear and abundant evidence that my heart was fully sucked into birth work, every time I was asked — by a midwife or doula also present at a birth, or by a friend watching me read my latest midwifery book, or by my own heart in quiet moments alone — whether I myself would ever consider becoming a midwife, my answer was always no! Or I would make a joke that in Life 2.0 I was going to be a midwife. How quickly I dismissed it, citing reasons like liability and the cost to one’s personal life, or perhaps the fact that I too deeply love taking photographs to consider putting down my camera in order to play a different role. Midwifery is a calling, I emphasized emphatically, and because I wasn’t having any thunderbolts from heaven, I presumed that that calling was not mine. Perhaps, I reasoned, my intense interest in all things birth was merely a function of the season of life I am in (my childbearing years), and the interest would fade after I was done having babies.
And then one day in September 2016 — fully 4.5 years after I attended my first birth — one of my close friends, who has become acquainted with the idea of home birth and midwifery largely because of my passionate influence over the years, signed up as an apprentice with a local doula and began exploring a training program with my beloved midwife. My immediate and unexpectedly intense reaction to her announcement was jealousy and sadness, and later that night when my kids were in bed, I cried heaving sobs for an hour straight. I was so disappointed in myself for responding with jealousy and territorial impulses when I had typically been so quick to use phrases like, “collaboration, not competition” or to agree readily with the idea that strong women empower one another. So, why was I a raging mess of all things the antithesis of those deeply held beliefs?! It took a couple days to move past the feelings themselves and then through the shame and guilt over having those feelings before I could finally see: I was jealous because what she was pursing was something my own heart wanted much more than I was willing to admit to even myself. Her pursuit of it opened my eyes to what had become a much bigger chunk of my identity than I had previously been in touch with.
So I gave myself permission for the first time to move past my initial dismissive response to the pull of midwifery and into dreaming and wondering and dismantling my reservations. In a craze of slightly OCD behavior, I began looking up midwifery education options, reading the stories of midwives’ call and path into midwifery, reaching out to midwife friends for their feedback and advice, and identifying some lies I had been believing about what midwifery would inevitably do to ruin my life and my family’s health. Several days later, I was expansively and glowingly gushing to my husband about all the possibilities and how excited I was becoming, about how I felt so free in admitting to myself that maybe I did in fact want to be a midwife. He stopped me and said, incredulously, “So what’s going on with you right now? Are you…becoming a midwife?” I laughed uncomfortably, feeling that surely I couldn’t declare in that moment — without a bit of training or trial — a yes to such a question. And yet, in those moments, a conversion was beginning in my heart. There may be YEARS between this moment and the fullness of being a practicing midwife, but in my heart, I think I am indeed becoming one.
How vulnerable and tender it feels to confess that. And yes, it feels like a confession. To say that opens up the door to so much potential failure, to the humility of a steep learning curve, and to the possibility of deep disappointment. Working up the nerve to begin a conversation about this with my own midwife — who has become a dear friend and with whom I’ve attended over a dozen births besides my own three — rendered me teary-eyed and heart-pounding with nerves. She knows me well and has seen me around birth often, so HER input would weigh especially heavily to me. I tentatively ventured to ask her simply, “Could we talk sometime about me and midwifery?” She replied with ecstatic, capitalized yeses and tears in her eyes. In a longer conversation, she told me that she has known since before my second child’s birth in 2013 that someday I would be her student and that she has been waiting a long time for the day when I would begin this very conversation with her. How like a midwife to wait so patiently and long for a birth to take place, with no interference or rushing, simply her presence and nurturing (and maybe some under-the-radar teaching). Upon being invited by her to begin apprenticing immediately, I insisted that I was ready to commit only to reading books and praying. She gave me three book titles, and in the months leading up to the birth of my 4th child and in the sweet postpartum period after, I will be studying and wondering and leaving the door open.
I’ll write again soon about the type of midwife I think I may want to be, and the pathway to getting there, as well as some of the experiences/qualifications God has built into my life up until now and which suddenly make more sense in light of how they come together to prepare me for this vocational change.
Thank you for listening, friends!