{Becoming a Midwife} Part Two: Finding the Path

Welcome back to Part 2 of my series on applying to midwifery school. I must confess, I was really hoping that this post would have made its way out to the world several months ago, to be more helpful for those considering applying this year. Alas, school got the better of me and I’m only now mostly recovered from last term, perhaps one of the most stressful academic periods I’ve dealt with in a long time. But that’s a story for another day.

Today I want to write about my discernment process…that period in which I wrestled with the decision about how to pursue my midwifery training. I didn’t have any doubts that I was called to be a midwife…but I was faced with a decision about how to move forward with my training and education, one that would set the course for my future practice. Did I want to be primarily a home birth midwife, trained through a combination of in-person coursework and apprenticeship? Or did I want to be a nurse-midwife, going back to school for both my RN (registered nurse license) and then another two year graduate-level program?

I started by making a list of all the reasons why I wanted to be a midwife and what I experiences I already brought to my calling. I talked to everybody who was willing to humor me: lots of doulas, midwives of all kinds, friends, my husband. I talked about midwifery pretty much non-stop with anybody who could stand it. They asked me a lot of good questions, and then listened carefully.

What they reflected back to me was this: I feel most called to serve as a midwife with those who often have the least access to health care. I am just as excited about the gynecological side of midwifery as I am about the baby-catching part. I am strongly committed to being able to provide abortion care at some point in the future. I am passionate about teaching and can see myself in an academic teaching role at some point in the future.

All of these considerations, along with that intangible thing we call gut instinct led me to the path I’m on today, which includes an accelerated nursing program followed directly by a graduate program in nurse-midwifery. At the end of the day, I felt that pursuing a nurse-midwifery education would give me the greatest amount of flexibility to to work with under-served populations. CNM’s are licensed in all fifty states, and in many states have a fair amount of independence and ability to practice to the full extent of their scope and training. There was definitely a very nitty gritty conversation I had with my husband about the financial aspect of this decision and the income differential between CPM’s and CNM’s. And as much as I love and fully support my home birth midwifery colleagues, I feel more pulled to provide a similar quality of care within the hospital setting. There’s so much work to be done everywhere to expand access to the midwifery model of care. I think that my skills and temperament are well-suited for the clinical setting.

But this decision didn’t come easily or lightly. Because I have so many friends and connections within the home birth community, I do have a sense of what I’m giving up, too, especially in terms of my formation as a midwife. In the end, I trust that my friends will keep me grounded in why I chose the path I did…and with kindness will help keep me grounded in the limitations of my training as well.

Ultimately, I think everyone’s discernment process will look somewhat different. Some people know right from the beginning, others, like me, take years to decide. Whatever your process looks like, I think it’s useful to talk to as many midwives as you can. Read blogs, books, interviews, etc. Shadow midwives if at all possible. Shadowing a CNM in both clinic and on-call was a huge turning point for me in my process. And then…step back and listen. Listen deeply. Give yourself the time and space to sit with the process. Finally, trust that you will make the right decision for yourself.

Reflection Questions for Aspiring Midwives

With each post, I’ll include relevant questions to ponder about each stage of applying to midwifery programs. The following are questions that I considered as I explored what kind of midwifery education I wanted to pursue.

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses around learning?
  • What challenges do you foresee in each potential midwifery path you’re considering? What life experience do you have that will help you meet those challenges?
  • How would you describe your ideal learning environment? What are your priorities for your learning experience?
  • What aspects of midwifery care are most important to you for your future practice?
  • Where do you see yourself living and working once you’re a midwife? What are the laws around midwifery (both out of hospital and in-hospital) in that area?
  • What is your current financial situation as well as your future financial goals? How will you pay for school?
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