Networking 101

This post has been percolating for a while…in part because I know there’s probably a post out there in the world already that is very similar to what I’ve been thinking. But you know, sometimes, it’s just easier to write your own instead of spending hours trying to find that perfect link to share.

Over the past two years that I’ve been writing this blog I’ve connected with students, prospective students, as well as currently practicing midwives and other health professionals. These connections have been both personally and professionally enriching in ways I could not have imagined. I had no idea when I started this blog how many people it might reach. As a student or prospective student, it’s easy to feel like you’re out there all alone on your journey, especially when your politics may veer in a slightly different direction than the mainstream culture of your profession.

I’ve loved connecting with the many prospective students who have reached out, hearing their stories, hopes, and dreams about midwifery, while also sharing my own experiences and bits of insight gleaned along the way. I know when I was in the midst of researching and applying, I was so hungry to hear those stories and use that information to help me decide what my own path to midwifery was going to look like.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that many folks start out their emails in a general, “Hey, I’d love to connect and hear more about your experience!” kind of fashion. While I would love to sit down with each person and have a heart to heart about midwifery, the reality is everyone is super busy. So, in the spirit of encouraging effective communication, I thought I’d share some tips on how to reach out to other students or practicing midwives and get the most out of those “cold calls” or “cold emails.”

Do your research. Before you write that email, that is. While I love helping folks connect with each other and with good resources, I think it’s also just good manners to do your own research before you send that first email. Know the lay of the land, which for prospective midwifery students, means researching the professional organizations, knowing the pathways to midwifery, and having a sense of what appeals to you about those pathways. If there are things that are unclear as you peruse the professional websites (and student blogs, etc!), write those questions down! Which leads me to my next tip:

Get specific. I get a lot of emails from folks asking something along the lines of, “I’m thinking about midwifery school, can you tell me more about your program?” I could tell you a lot, for sure…but realistically, each program is a universe unto itself and I could spend days talking about the ins and outs of my programs and the ones I’m familiar with. So think about what you really need to know. Get really clear on how you think the person you’re reaching out to could help you. Is it that they know something about a specific program, or faculty member and their research, or practice climate in their state? It’s okay to ask several questions, but it sure is helpful to have a concrete list. An email asking me to share my experience and thoughts on my program leaves me feeling overwhelmed about where to even start. An email with two or three bulleted questions is much more manageable.

Think about timing. When you reach out and make an ask, it’s really helpful to have a sense of both your own timeline and that of the person you’re connecting with. Emailing at the beginning and end of terms, for example, may not be ideal…and you should know that those emails may not get the speediest reply (as badly as we students feel about that!). Also, tell us what your timeline is, and if a reply is more urgent, it’s ok to be honest about that. I’d rather know that you’re coming up against a deadline and then I, in turn, can be honest about whether I realistically have the time in that moment to give a thoughtful response…or whether I might need to pass your request on to someone else who might be better situated to answer your question.

Keep it brief. The shorter, the better, really. When I’m sending these kinds of emails, I try to keep it to what can fit on one window without scrolling, in easy to read paragraphs.

Don’t be afraid to reach out. Having said all that…I want to underscore how valuable I think it can be to reach out to someone you may not know personally but suspect could help shed light on your path. My philosophy when I was applying to programs was the more perspectives I could hear, the better. That’s also part of how I make decisions, too…and I would say that knowing your own decision-making process is a really useful insight that you can use to your advantage when considering midwifery and midwifery programs and how you craft those emails.

I think all these points apply to midwifery students networking with other students…and with connecting with midwives in practice, too. I’d love to hear your thoughts, whether you’ve been on the reaching out or responding end. What’s worked well for you, what would you add to this list? What have you learned about networking over the years?

{Becoming a Midwife} Part Three and a Half: The Interview

I know, I know, I’m skipping ahead in my series on applying to midwifery school. In part, this is because it’s Interview Season and I have received numerous emails from folks asking for advice on interviews. There’s definitely some specific things I could offer on my particular program, but what I want to offer here is a general overview of the interview and things to consider when preparing for what most people find to be the most anxiety-inducing part of the process.

So.

You’ve made it through the long nights of writing essays. You’ve agonized over whether you were detailed enough or too detailed; personal enough or too personal, ad nauseum. You’re probably sick of those essays, in fact. But my first piece of advice is this:

Step 1: Take a deep breath.

Step 1 and a half: Re-read your essays.

Spend some time re-reading your essays. This is what the midwifery faculty had to go on when making their decision to extend an invitation to interview, so it’s useful to make sure that you can address and expand upon any aspect of those essays. There’s nothing worse than an interviewer saying, “I read in your essay that…” and you having that moment of disconnect when you try to remember what you wrote. I’d also pick one or two things from the essay that you especially want to be sure to highlight during the interview.

Step 2: Write a list of questions that you imagine a midwifery faculty would want to know about you to help make their decision.

Step in their shoes for a minute. How might you go about evaluating a potential midwife? Make a list of those qualities. Then think about how you might assess for those qualities in a candidate. Generate a list of questions that might help you highlight those qualities. Now answer those questions for yourself, drawing upon examples from your past experiences.

I am lucky to be married to someone in a completely different field than me: my husband is a software engineer, with an undergrad in theater and computer science. He was in business school when we met, and I’ve learned a ton from him about interviewing, personnel assessment, recruiting, management etc. One of the big take-homes I’ve learned from him is that the best predictor of future performance is past performance.

What this means for you as a candidate for midwifery school is that the best way to look for potential midwives is to find people who have demonstrated the qualities of a good midwife in their previous experience, even if it’s completely unrelated to birth or reproductive health. To repeat: The interview is not about seeing how much birth experience you have, but about assessing your capacity to step into the role and responsibility of a midwife.

So spend a good long time thinking about what led you to midwifery and how your experiences have guided you to this path. In particular, be able to talk about:

  • how you have overcome challenges
  • how you handle conflict, both interpersonal and ethical
  • how you work as a member of a collaborative team
  • how you see yourself as a leader
  • the core values that will underlie your practice as a midwife

Keep in mind, none of these things are set in stone. They’re not looking to see that you have the right answers. They’re looking to see how you craft an argument, how to present your ideas, how you maintain flexibility even in the face of ambiguity. A midwife is nothing if they are not flexible and open to change and it will serve you well to have examples of that to share with the interview committee.

Step 3: Practice.

I mean it. It sounds silly, but it’s so worth the effort.

Find someone to do a mock interview with you. This doesn’t have to be a health care professional, just someone you trust and who’s willing to take it seriously. Practice with your language, practice being concise. This is the time to get used to telling your story about what drew you to midwifery. You’re going to have to answer this question a lot. My husband was a great model for this. He would have to do presentations in business school and he would actually rehearse. Like, with note cards. At first I thought it was silly. But I realized what a gift he was giving himself…in his presentations, it was clear he was prepared, confident, and polished.

Now, this is not to say that you should have pat answers memorized. The interview is a conversation. But, practicing helps relieve the anxiety of the unknown…and that’s what makes this such a nerve-wracking experience!

Step 4: Make your list of questions for the faculty.

This is not just a time for you to be grilled by your prospective professors. This is a chance for you to make sure this program is the right fit for you. Not all programs are the same. You should have a solid list of questions about the program and its culture. Many people are afraid to ask questions because they worry it will make them appear unprepared. And yes, there’s a balance. But what you’re trying to suss out is: can you imagine yourself here? do you share the same values? will you find the kinds of support you need as a learner? 

So, you need to understand what your own learning needs are. (Add that to your list of things to consider and be ready to talk about what you anticipate your learning needs to be.)

Step 5: Be Yourself.

I know this sounds cheesy. But it’s true. The most important thing we bring to the work of midwifery is ourselves–our complex, unique, individual ways of being and moving through the world. So as much as experience is helpful to your application, it’s not everything. When posed the question on my FB wall as to what midwives would offer as “advice” or words of encouragement to those applying to midwifery school, the responses included things like this:

I think if you truly have a passion or calling to midwifery, it will resonate in your words and actions…Be clear about your goals as a midwife, and aim high!

Stay on message: your passion for midwifery led you here, let it continue to lead you through your applications/interviews (and beyond).

All of which I think can be summed up as: You’re being is important as your doing.

So, as much as you can, be gentle with yourself. Rest well. Take care of yourself. Surround yourself with positive people who are supportive and encouraging and who remind you of why you love midwifery. And then take another deep breath.

You’ve got this.

{Becoming a Midwife} Part One: Accepting the Calling

Over the past two years as I’ve openly been working towards midwifery school, I’ve had requests from friends and acquaintances for advice on applying to midwifery programs. Each time, I’ve enjoyed reflecting on my own process. I always share the caveat that I haven’t actually started the midwifery-focused portion of my training yet…but especially for those who are strongly considering nurse-midwifery, I think it is essential to fully explore what the nursing portion of nurse-midwifery looks like as well.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to share a series of posts on my path to nurse-midwifery. In the process, I hope that it will offer some support and encouragement to others considering midwifery. In the spirit of transparency, I hope that it also serves as a re-grounding for myself in my own intentions and vision for pursuing this path. Nursing school is not an easy journey and it’s helpful to periodically revisit my intentions.

With that in mind, I offer my own slow accepting of the call to midwifery.

~

Forest Park

My husband and I like to joke that 2009 was the Year of Chaos. In January, we decided to get married. In May we closed on a house and moved in. Two weeks later, I traveled from our home in the Pacific Northwest back to Minnesota to finish my third of three summers of Montessori elementary teacher training. In late July, during my oral exams, I interviewed by phone for a teaching position back home, which I was offered the following week. In August, I finished unpacking my new home and prepared my new classroom (so. many. boxes!). The first week of September was my first week of teaching…and that first weekend, we got married in our backyard. On Monday, I was back at school, ready (sort of) for week two of teaching.

That fall, I had a slow, but inevitable breakdown.

I realized, with growing discomfort, that I was not meant to be teaching in a classroom. The following nine months were some of the most painful, difficult months of my life, but the falling apart created a space for new possibilities. I can now look back on that period of my life with gratitude for that opening and for the generous, supportive people who gave me permission to speak my truth, which was this: my heart was drawn to birth work.

Once I could speak it out loud, things quickly fell into place. I took a doula training and started my own doula practice. I took trainings in pregnancy options counseling and started volunteering as a patient advocate at Planned Parenthood, accompanying women through their abortions. I read every book on birth and reproductive health I could get my hands on. Over a period of three years, I became a strong advocate and leader within my community for full spectrum doula care.

However, I didn’t let myself consider midwifery as a calling. Truth be told, I was terrified: of the medical responsibility, the heavy burden on relationships of an on-call lifestyle, the intense training and my lack of strong science background…all of it. I had several friends who were in various stages of midwifery training and at times their stories just seemed so overwhelming.

But then I experienced a birth that totally changed my world and I knew instantly that my life had been a preparation for the calling to midwifery. The birth story isn’t mine to share, but suffice to say, it was a powerful experience. Everyone in the room was changed because of it and we still marvel about it two years later. At one point, as the nurse-midwife looked deeply into the eyes of the laboring mama and reassured her that she could push out her baby wherever she felt most comfortable (even if it was on the toilet!), my heart burst open. I realized that I had been letting my fears of inadequacy guide my decisions about my life work, rather than a trust in my capacity for growth and learning. That midwife, in a simple moment of connection, not only reassured that laboring mama, but also a doula who couldn’t yet claim her heart’s desire.

There were some long, long conversations that happened with my husband during the fall of 2011 as I started laying the ground work for returning back to school to start my pre-nursing classes. It wasn’t easy at times to explain why it was so important for me to pursue this calling to midwifery. On one level, it was a purely gut instinct: that if I didn’t move forward, I would regret it for the rest of my life. But the more I talked, the more I was able to articulate how midwifery is an integration of all of my passions: for teaching, for healthy families, for holistic reproductive health, for empowered women, for a better health care system.

So, with a healthy dose of trepidation, I began my discernment process. I had accepted the calling. Now I needed to figure out the path to get there.

Reflection Questions for Aspiring Midwives

With each future 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 began thinking about whether I could truly accept the calling to midwifery.

• What is it about midwifery that makes you excited?
• What is it about midwifery that scares you?
• What personal qualities do you think are essential for a midwife to have?
• How do your life experiences so far feed into your desire to serve as a midwife?
• What are other ways that you potentially serve the reproductive health needs of women and their families without becoming a midwife? Could you be a “midwife” without being a midwife?

Coming Soon…Part 2: Finding the Path