The Few, The Proud, The Midwives…

As I bring information from the ICTC conference and address the need for Black Midwives to work together to find solutions for the disparities in the African American community I want to also let it be known that  Black, White, Purple, Yellow, or Brown … I  AM  A  MIDWIFE.  I am a part of a unique group of women (and some few men) who are passionate about birth and who are working collectively worldwide to give women a choice.   In some countries (like America) the choice may be about WHERE a woman can birth.  In other countries (and sometimes in America) the choice may literally be one of  life or death.  When I think of what I do, what I have done, and what Midwives do worldwide, I say forget the Marines… we are The Few… The Proud… The Midwives… the protectors of birth and life.

I did not always know that Midwifery was my calling, but I came to know it.   Originally published as a part of the Midwifery Week series on RhReality Check, below is my story:  a few of the details on my path from scared nine year old to Midwifery.

My first experience with a laboring woman (my aunt) left me running for my room and making a pact with God. If boys and sex were what caused that pain, I promised I would never have either.  I asked God to protect me from both. I was nine years old.

My next experience with birth came ten years later. I was a junior nursing student at Georgetown University at the beginning of my OB clinical rotation. My classmates and I were being assigned patients and our clinical instructor said:

“There is a patient who is in very early labor; only one centimeter dilated. It is her first baby and the charge nurse does not think she will deliver while we are here. But – she is alone, and nervous, and she really needs someone who can be with her and talk to her.”

Being the loquacious person I am, everyone immediately looked at me and it was unanimously decided that she would be my patient. Lo and behold, four hours later I was the only student to witness the miracle of birth that day and it was an awe-inspiring experience to say the least. The new mother was grateful for my presence and I was delighted. The registered nurse I worked with was fabulous. The entire experience was unforgettable. I knew right then –  I wanted to be a labor and delivery nurse.

In 1995, I began working as a labor and delivery nurse at a public, teaching hospital. We served the highest-risk patients of the city. We were often understaffed and overwhelmed with the number of deliveries. While working there, reality set in.  Maternity care was not always the quiet, comfortable, pleasant experience I witnessed as a Georgetown nursing student.  It could also be tough, rough, gritty, and scary.  It tested my stamina, my sense of humor, my skill set, and my knowledge base. It made me take a close look at my personal prejudices and ideas around birth, race, drug addiction, women, men, sex, and relationships. It forced me to examine the truth of who I was and opened my eyes to a world of joy, heartache, life, death and more.

Because this hospital was a teaching facility, many of the women unfortunately became teaching fodder. Their prenatal care was impersonal. They were simply numbers in a box. Patients were offered no prenatal education, were ill-informed and often arrived not able to tell us if they were a “T” or an “L” patient, each letter representing a different residency program. I was always amazed by this. I would think to myself, “I know these women are not stupid. Why are they unable to remember one letter?” I attempted to raise this concern to coworkers and was given the “Oh you know these young, uneducated, minority, drug addict, etc …” type of comments.  I had my doubts. It didn’t make sense to me. These girls, and women, were not stupid and I knew that. Still, I was confused.

I knew there had to be another way. I knew that laboring women with absolutely no familiarity with their provider was wrong.  I knew all the screaming and yelling, the bright lights, the long pushing, and loud counting was not right. I knew it was not right that doctors had not a clue as to the name of their female patients. I didn’t know how to make things right but I was sure – in my soul, in my spirit, in my gut – that there had to be another way. Something different, something better. Birth was not meant to be this way. Babies were not meant to be brought into the world amidst such chaos.

And then it happened.

In this often chaotic environment, among the many crash cesarean sections, crack-addicted babies and “baby mama dramas,” among the tears and laughter, the joy and the pain I caught my first baby (and my second, and third, and fourth….). It was in this same environment that I witnessed my first midwifery-attended birth.  And again, like the life-changing experience I had when I was a student at Georgetown, I knew immediately that midwifery was my calling. This midwifery delivery was so different from the loud, rushed, impersonal resident deliveries to which I had become accustomed. I had always known there had to be another way and finally I was there to witness it. I was overjoyed.

That was just the beginning.  Fast forward to 1997 and there I sat: the youngest in a class of twelve midwifery students at Emory University in Atlanta.

While studying midwifery, I learned that I had a great-great aunt who had been a community midwife. Midwifery was in my blood. I learned that when treated with respect, as a person and not as a number, women and girls of any race, of all socioeconomic classes and of any age could vocalize their wishes,  and create an empowering birthing experience.  I learned that when women feel respected and genuinely cared for they will keep prenatal appointments and ask questions, and learn about birth –  all of which improves birth outcomes.  I learned that I was not in control. I learned that birth is an intricate interplay between mother, fetus, and the universe which should not be feared but respected. I learned that there was another way. It was called Midwifery.

Because of a number of necessary professional choices, today I sit once again working as a labor and delivery RN while longing to get back to practicing as a midwife. The current climate in my state for practicing midwifery is not the best and opportunities for working as a midwife are few and far between.  I was recently assured of this by a physician who said with venom,

“Nicole you are a midwife?! Well, you know, midwives have a very bad reputation in this city.”

This was in response to me asking her if she needed any help in her office.  For a nurse practitioner, “Yes,” she said. But for a midwife? Absolutely not! I felt like it was 1940 and she was calling me the “N” word. But no. It was the “M” word and her tone was just as negative.

Regardless of the “reputation” of midwives in this city and around the country in many places, I am proud to call myself a midwife. I believe that it is truly a calling and I feel blessed to have received it.  Often, as I work as a labor and delivery RN, I am asked “I heard you used to be a midwife?” I tell them, there is no “used to.” While I continue to temporarily work in the role of an RN, the spirit, the energy, the way of birth that I believe in has never left me.  I continue to be “with women.” I am a midwife and I am proud.


7 responses to “The Few, The Proud, The Midwives…

  1. I love this post! I have been working as a L&D nurse for ten yrs. I am at a crossroad. I have accepted my calling to be a midwife. However, I don’t know which path to take….CNM or CPM? I live in Florida. I work with several CNMs. I have also witnesses firsthand the great work that CPMs are doing. Why did u choose the CNM path? Regrets?

    • I choose CNM route because I am one of those “institution of higher learning ivory tower” type of folk. I went to Emory. Would have chosen a program that was less medical and had the opportunity to attend out of hosptial births during school. Emory did not even have that as an option! And that’s because its not really an option (legally) in GA. Except for the one birth center that is there. I think both routes have their pros and cons and which you choose depends on where and how you want to serve women.

  2. Nicole —
    I am so glad you are a midwife, and I trust that you will find your midwifery niche soon. In the meantime, know that you can still be a midwife to the women you care for in labor and delivery, by just being there for them as you were with that woman in your nursing school clinical rotation.
    There are far too many short-sighted medical professionals out there these days who have no appreciation for the gifts that a midwife can bring to birth. However, I believe there is a slow awakening happening that hopefully will give greater and greater numbers of women the ability to choose a healthy alternative to what is too frequently the “norm”. I am looking forward to seeing healthy alternatives to the societal norms becoming the new normal!
    Blessings on your journey!

  3. Nicole – thank you for sharing this part of your story.

    You were a midwife long before you acquired the credentials, and like you
    said – you aren’t looking back – you are still very much a midwife, and you
    always will be, regardless of the “role” in which you may be working at the
    moment. I pray that the Lord will make a way where there seems to be no
    way – YOU, Nicole, are the gift to the women you serve – that is why your
    midwifery calling shines through no matter what you are doing – you could
    not possibly turn off or hide that light!!

  4. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! Such a great story!!

  5. Beautifully written and a joy to read. May you soon be able to practice the art of Midwifery and, in the mean time, I am sure that the women you care for as a labor and delivery nurse, are blessed by your presence. I have found that most physicians’ opinion of midwives is based on fear and lack of knowledge…the reason for most prejudices. Please know that you are not alone in fighting this battle.

    • Thanks you Taci, Nancy, and Sarah for reading. I am glad you enjoyed it. Initially when I wrote it I thought it was kinda lame…THEN… once it was published and I went back to read it I teared up because it brought me back to every moment that I mention. I was full with emotion realizing the journey we go through to answer the calling. Thanks for reading and commenting!! Blessings to you on your continued journey as you help women bring forth life!

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