Just as we each have a responsibility to birthing women to ensure the future of midwifery, as “mother midwives” we also have a responsibility to educate the next generation of midwives. Midwifery is fairly fragile in the US and we must acknowledge our responsibility to protect it. Educating aspiring and student midwives in how to carry on the motherbaby-centered birth culture that we are creating is critical to protecting motherbaby.
We have learned to stress nutrition, normalcy, joy and physiology in birth, as well as emphasizing the relationship between midwife and family.
Our birth ways and discoveries are not common around the world. The world is full of 50s-style medicalized birth, exported on the waves of imperialism. It is worse in some places, with 50–90% cesarean rates; we also appear to be headed in that direction.
We are warriors fighting these trends, and the aspiring and student midwives are our hope for the future. We need to multiply their numbers while we do the activist work of paving the way to increase the demand for midwives. I imagine a time when more and more pregnant women will demand midwives for their care. We can work to achieve this and prepare our young maiden midwives at the same time.
How can we teach midwifery? To educate sensitive and astute midwives we must “first do no harm.” Education draws out what already exists in the student. We need to make sure that those who become midwives are truly dedicated and not just looking for a way to earn a living. Students should not have to abuse women with dangerous testing, hospital routines or unnecessary and dangerous interventions. This usually is not an issue for direct entry students, who do not work where those routines are thrust on motherbaby. Nurse-midwife students need to be more diligent in choosing a program; some excellent ones are available. I recommend asking students and graduates of the school about their experiences.
As we have gone around the world doing conferences and meeting midwives and student midwives from maybe a hundred different countries, we have seen that no other country is blessed with midwifery education like the US. Instead, most of it is extremely medicalized.
Elizabeth Davis and I have spoken often about how to change midwifery education and birth practices in the different countries we have visited. Midwives in some countries have asked her to bring her student-centered model there.
We have other unique models within the United States. The midwifery model transcends political boundaries and culture. Birth is birth; at its best it is physiology combined with culture, emotions and spirituality. When a woman’s contractions are coming hard and heavy, birth is primal and ideally, mostly hands off with careful watching.
So what is the best midwifery education? I truly believe that the best midwifery education begins with “the call.” I think, if possible, aspiring midwives should attend 5–10 out-of-hospital births before any regular schooling or the didactic part of education. Ideally they should read, exploring books and magazines about birth and midwifery. Once this foundation is set, attending births, along with didactic education—whether self study, attending conferences, completing a formal program or some combination—is key. This combination provides for a better experience and allows for a continuous application of learning to actual practice. The process of becoming the best midwife one can be is never-ending. Every birth and every midwife and mother provide more education. It is the most amazing journey you could ever take.
We are proud to have developed MANA, NARM and MEAC; the world needs this kind of thoughtful, women-centered midwifery education. MANA birthed NARM and MEAC and all were birthed and raised by powerfully dedicated midwives who have worked tirelessly throughout the past three decades. These women have continued unabated through today. I am very thankful for the hard-working, visionary “mother midwives” who have recreated and carried on the soul of midwifery, both direct entry midwifery and nurse-midwifery. Though we have a long way to go toward making midwifery care understood and available to every mother in the world, we have planted some very tenacious seeds and they are growing. With our necessary and continued commitment to students and midwifery education the future will be secure. We are growing both midwifery care and a strong society. As Jeannine Parvati Baker said, “Peace on earth begins with birth.” Thank you for your contributions to peace and birth!
I have begun a regular education series in our Midwifery Today E-News to speak to aspiring and student midwives. If you would like to contribute to this short 3–4 paragraph regular series please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.S.—We’ve been asked whose were the midwife hands receiving Brianna in the cover photo of Issue 1. Those were mine! It was such a delight to celebrate MT’s 20th Anniversary with 20-year-old Brianna, pictured with me on last issue’s cover.