When I started as a doula, I had no interest in midwifery. Too much responsibility, too much pressure. Midwife friends just smiled to themselves, knowing it was only a matter of time. I attended a birth about four years ago that shifted my thinking. A student from one of my HypnoBirthing classes hired me as her doula. She was birthing with nurse midwives at a prominent Boston hospital with a good reputation. Her labor was straightforward and her baby was doing well. When it came time to push, however, her plans to follow her own body went out the window as the attending midwife shouted at her to hold her breath and bear down forcefully. After about 45 minutes, well below the average length of pushing time for a first time mother, the midwife threatened her, saying “by now we’d expect your baby to be born. If it’s not birthed in the next five minutes, we’re going to use the vacuum.” The mother frantically pushed her baby out, sustaining a nasty tear.
I was shocked. We both were, actually.
Home birth is a world away from that experience, and many others that I’ve had working in hospitals, and witnessing–not always, but sometimes–mothers threatened, or chastised, or ignored, or recommendations or procedures hastily performed without full explanation or clear informed consent. I don’t need to go into it. What I took away from that first experience, however, was a deep sense of knowing that I would have listened, would know to listen, would value listening, to that woman. That I could attend to her with patience and compassion. That I would see her and her partner as individuals. That what her body was doing it; it didn’t need to be frightened into working. That the relationship we’d cultivated over her pregnancy and into her postpartum could mean something about how we related to one another in her birth. Whatever it was, I felt it.
I decided to find out whether there was something to midwifery. At this point, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to work in hospitals as a nurse midwife, or in homes or birth centers, or even if midwifery was right for me at all. I found a program in Amherst, MA, that was inexpensive and which over eight months would give me a taste of the very basics of the craft. At that point, I myself could not have imagined birthing at home–which is a little funny, all things considered–but maybe a hospital birth center would be okay.
The whole program was kind of magical. Taught by a certified professional midwife (CPM) in a yurt in her backyard, around which her vegetables grew and her chickens scratched, the eight in-person weekends covered normal pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, birth complications, lab work, pelvic exams, breastfeeding, and so on (not to mention a ton of reading and writing at home). We practiced on one another, shakily drawing blood from each others’ arms for the first time and nervously, then sort of joyfully, learning how to locate each others’ cervix. By the spring of our last weekend together, I was pregnant and couldn’t imagine not giving birth at home.
By this point, I’d started attending births. My first was with a doula client who switched to a home birth late in pregnancy, and birthed her babe kneeling by the side of her bed. Over the past four years, I went on to attend about two dozen more with that midwife, who became not only a mentor and friend, but watched me in my bathtub as I birthed my own baby. When my daughter was around six months I began accompanying her once again to births, once attending a repeat client with my own baby in a carrier on my back.
Last year, I officially enrolled in a midwifery program and started seeking an apprenticeship that would allow me to meet the requirements for national certification for out of hospital birth, and for licensure in New Hampshire. I have mixed feelings about the politics of it, but for me, it’s right. Next month I’ll begin that apprenticeship, working alongside midwives and another student at a busy birth center in Concord. The opportunities for learning are enormous, and the pace will be challenging, but that experience will reinforce my didactic learning in a way that I know I need. I expect that it will take at least a year to complete the practical requirements for certification. At the same time I’ll be plodding away at the bookwork and developing my own practice guidelines.
I have two doula clients left before beginning this new labor in the service of women and birthing parents and their partners. It feels a little tremendous.
I want to end this by recognizing the equally tremendous privilege that has brought me to this place. As a white woman, I have greater access to midwifery training and apprenticeships than women of color, in a field that is overwhelmingly dominated by white women and which predominantly serves white women, in a nation where racism is literally killing black women and their babies. I am paying attention to what people are saying about what it’s like to be a person of color in America, to be a student, to be a midwife, and to be a mother. I want that to shape who I am and who I can be and who I can teach and who I can move over and consciously make space for because white women take up a lot of space.
Anyways. I won’t be taking doula clients from here on out, and I won’t be teaching childbirth education, but God willing I’ll be back in practice in 2018-2019 with a great deal more to offer.