Some readers have asked me, “If it was all so bad, why did it take you so long to leave?” Although I had tried to answer this question pre-emptively in my paper, I realized that there was a lot more story to tell. This is a personal story, and is not intended to represent the experience of any other midwives. Here is Section 1 of a three-part series:
How I Got In
When I first became pregnant, I knew two things: I was going to have an epidural for my birth, and I was going to breastfeed. My mother had warned me as a little girl that, “Some people think it’s ‘cool’ to have a baby with no pain medicine, but contractions hurt so bad that once I felt them, I knew that there was no way I was going to keep doing that.” I generally try to avoid pain, so I figured that was the best way to go. My mother had also breastfed all four of us, and I remember my father telling us, “You should all be very grateful to your mother for breastfeeding you. It is the best way to feed a baby.” With this in mind, I headed to a local La Leche League (LLL) meeting, hoping to find some female companionship and information about preparing for breastfeeding.
At the LLL meeting I was invited to a Parent Topic Night about doulas. I knew enough to know that doulas had something to do with natural childbirth, something I was definitely not interested in. But I had been urged to go to this free meeting, so I thought, “Why not?” and went. The PTN meeting was interesting, but what happened afterwards really drew me in. As people started to mingle and chat, friendly, warm women were talking to me and seemed genuinely interested in me. At the time, I was pretty lonely: I had moved to the small town where my husband grew up, and I didn’t have any girl friends to speak of. I eagerly soaked up the attention of these women, who all seemed interesting and passionate for me to have a great birth. I started to wonder if maybe my ideas about needing an epidural weren’t correct. These women seemed to think that I could have a natural birth and even enjoy it, and they were experts! I had already read enough in books to believe that natural birth was healthier, and I liked healthy things. Gradually, I came around to the idea of “just trying” to have my baby without any drugs.
When my first daughter was born, healthy and drug-free after a straightforward 6-hour labor, I was ecstatic. Mostly it was because I had a beautiful new baby who was perfect and wonderful, but partly because now I had a whole community of people to belong to, and my natural birth story (with two doulas!) was my proof that I belonged among them. When Gail Tully came to town to do a doula training workshop, I saw an opportunity to get even deeper into this community. I wanted to belong, and besides, I thought it would be pretty cool to get to attend births.
The doula business was hard. There was a lot of competition for clients, and I spent more time marketing myself than actually attending births. It was then that I started thinking about becoming a midwife. I researched midwifery schools online, but I was discouraged. Most of the schools required that you find your own preceptor. I knew there was no way I was going to find a preceptor! I didn’t think anyone would ever want to take me as an apprentice, because I didn’t consider myself “cool,” I had my baby in a hospital, and I figured there were other women that they liked better already waiting for the job. I couldn’t even imagine approaching a midwife to ask because I imagined being so embarrassed when she rejected me! But then I found my answer: a midwifery school in Miami that operated in a birth center. They were prepared to guarantee all the clinical experience I would need, right there at the center! No need to find a preceptor on my own! And this place only charged $100 per month, plus books. This was almost too good to be true. We sold most of our possessions, packed up our car, and moved from Northern Minnesota to Miami. I was 8 months pregnant with our second child.
When I arrived at the International School of Midwifery and met my classmates, I was very excited. I saw nothing remiss. I gave birth in “the Purple Room” with no misgivings about the birth center. The Discovery Health Channel filmed it. I was now a poster girl for water birth! Surely I was on my way to becoming an awesome midwife. I was going to help women have amazing birth experiences, and I couldn’t have been happier or more excited about it. At that point, it had never entered my mind that I could ever put a baby or a mom in harm’s way.