You're a midwifery student. What exactly is midwifery and how do you study it (in other words, how is a midwifery program structured)?
Midwifery is the practice of being a midwife, someone who delivers babies. In the western world there is a bit of a midwifery resurgence going on, which is pretty rad. In Ontario, where I live and will be working, midwifery became legal in 1994, which makes people say that it's a "new and growing profession," but really, midwives have been around for as long as folks have been having babies.
Midwifery is the art and science of caring for pregnant women, delivering babies, and caring for moms and their babies after they are born.
The midwifery program I attend is a four-year university program technically called the Bachelor of Midwifery Sciences. It's very similar to many nursing degrees in that once you graduate, you write entrance exams to the College of Midwives and because a Registered Midwife. In a matter of months, I will become Sydney Davis RM (a fact that is both exhilarating and terrifying).
The program is a combination of in-class learning and lots of placements in hospitals and midwifery clinics. The final year of the program is a year-long placement at one midwifery clinic. By the end of the year, students are functioning as independently as possible, to show that we are capable of being midwives. Again, exhilarating and terrifying.
Committing to the program is a lot of work. My university had each of us sign a contract agreeing that we would not work during placements, we would be willing to move, and we would purchase a car. Helllooooo, student loans. It's a big commitment, but it's a really wonderful line of work, so those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to fit this into our lives do what we can to make it happen.
What sparked your interest in midwifery? Do you remember a pivotal moment early on in your journey here?
The first time I encountered midwifery was when my half-sister was born at home when I was six years old. I remember coming into the room and seeing my brand new sister, a bunch of midwives, and a placenta. I distinctly remember the placenta and midwives asking if my dad wanted to keep it (he didn't). I then promptly forgot about midwives until 13 years later, when I was taking a physiology class in university. We were doing a whole unit on hormone cascades and labour and I remember thinking, Yes! This! For a while, I wanted to become an obstetrician because I thought that's what you had to do in order to deliver babies (completely forgetting about midwives and my sister being born at home). Then, I realized that medical school was wildly expensive and ridiculously competitive (I am not a competitive person), so I gave up on that idea. It was actually my mom who suggested I look into midwifery. My exact response when she mentioned it was, "That's not a real thing that people do!" But, bonus for me, it is! Once I looked into the program, I realized that not only could I get in, but all the values and principles that midwifery is about mirror many of my own. Very serendipitous! Sooo, even though my sister was born at home, that isn't what sparked my interest in becoming a midwife. That honour goes to science. However, I will say that my sister's entrance to the big, bad world shaped my view on birth: that it's normal and that being born at home is not a big deal.
What do you love most about what you do? What delights you when you think about your work?
This is such a great question and I've been thinking about it a lot! After careful consideration, I have decided the thing I like most about what I do is watching people become parents. I get to see it up close. I see people when they are not parents. I talk to them, meet them, help them through labour. Then, in an instant, they're suddenly parents. They go from being who they are to caretakers of a new life. It's this sort of weird human magic. Not everyone is happy about being a parent, not everyone has a partner in their journey, and lots of folks are just plain scared, so I can't say it's always love and oxytocin. But it is a pretty rad part of being a person in this world.
There's a bunch of other stuff I enjoy as well, like talking to people about pregnancy (file that under Weird Interests I Never Suspected I Would Have). I like helping people get to know their bodies; pregnancy is a time for lots of people to really get in touch with their bodies for maybe the first time. Human bodies are totally cool! I enjoy measuring growing bellies and listening to babies' heartbeats.
This one might be obvious, but I like catching babies. [Ed. note: Sydney's first catch is one of my favorite blog posts.] That part is super fun, but it's not the best part. I love, love, love spending time with the babies! I used to be pretty meh about babies; sure, I would hold one and I thought they were cute, but after being in midwifery school, I am that person who demands to hold the baby the second someone carries it into the room. When I do home visits with clients, I spend as long as possible holding the baby, making eye contact with it, getting that amazing baby smell all over my clothes (such a nice departure from blood and amniotic fluid). Babies are totally cool.
I also really like knowing what the heck is going on. Midwives are smart. Like, a lot smarter than people give them credit for. So, when something starts to go wrong in a pregnancy or in a labour, they know what to do. I never fully grasped the whole "knowledge is power" concept until I started watching midwives at work. I'm three-quarters done with my schooling, so I can't say that I'm really at Knowledge with a capital K yet, but I am certainly getting there. That is something that keeps me motivated: always wanting to learn more so that I can help!
Since pursuing midwifery, have you had any doubts about this path for yourself? If so, could you tell us about some of those doubts and how you've worked through them?
I have doubts all the time! Almost all of them center on how young I am. I'm only 25, which, I often tell myself, is a perfectly normal time for someone to be starting her career. However, I often feel inadequate in the life experience part. I don't wish for time to move faster or my life to whir by, but I do know that I will be an increasingly better midwife as I spend more time in the world. I am confident in my "hard skills," things like vaginal exams, IVs, taking blood pressure, etc. But I do doubt my ability to be a Big Grown-Up Midwife. Being a student is fun and I love learning from other midwives, so I'm also a little worried about that part of my midwifery journey changing. But I think that's just how life goes: you get used to something and then it all changes. Then you get used to that, and *blink*, you're onto something new. I just try to remember to take deep breaths and tell myself that, despite what my anxious side would like me to believe, the world will not end and I will be perfectly fine.
I was very worried going into my first placement that nobody would want a student, let alone one so young and obviously inexperienced. There's a very popular saying that all our instructors used to tell us when we would vocalize such worries. It can sometimes be helpful, but sometimes is so infuriating that you just want to scream: Fake It Till You Make It. Frankly, you can't fake midwifery. You can fake confidence, but you can't fake real skills. I read an article shortly before starting my placement and one line in particular stuck with me: "I would stop using my vulnerability as a tool to make myself more likeable, or to ward off criticism." How kick-ass is that? What I ended up doing, to deal with "placement anxiety," was trying my best, faking confidence when I felt it failing me, and not drawing attention to my shortcomings as a way of endearing myself to others. I also asked for feedback constantly. I stopped fearing the moments when a midwife would say, "That was okay, but next time..." I allowed that to be a normal part of my experience.
What happened was that I got better. I got more comfortable doing when I needed to do. I messed up all the time. I'm still far from being close to regularly on the ball, but I sort of realized/admitted to myself: that's learning. But I did get better.
I still think of that article and it gives me resolve to keep going, deal with my own journey, and focus on simply getting better.
Complete the sentence: "My alter ego ______."
...would really like me to quit! Like, now! It’s hard to be in midwifery school, you know? Don’t even get me started on not having a regular schedule, never having opportunities for a social life, and being disrespected constantly by doctors and nurses! I think my alter-ego wants me to go work on a beach in New Zealand and be as unburdened by responsibilities as possible.
Now this one: "I'll be an excellent midwife because ______."
...despite the insane hours, unpredictable schedule, and sometimes feeling like a work-horse: I absolutely flipping love it! I get just as excited about someone’s pregnancy as she does. I love knowing as much as I can about the human body and I love answering people’s weird questions. I will listen to people wax on about breast feeding and baby poops any day. You’re pregnant and can’t sleep, tell me all about it, I’m here for you. I just think it’s the coolest thing: growing another human and then bringing that human out into the world!
Do you have any advice for young women thinking about their career options?
Think about how you want to spend your days when you’re making money. Do you want to be at a computer? Do you want to be out in the world? Do you want to talk to people? Do you want to work with your hands? Do you like building things?
What you end up doing as a career is how you will spend the majority of your days, so look into as many different options as you can. Consider both college and university. Talk to adults that you respect and pick their brains about why they chose their careers. Ask questions, lots of questions. Above all: trust your inner judgement. If something isn’t a good fit, it won’t feel right. If you listen to yourself, you’ll know when you’ve found something good worth pursuing.
What do you wish you knew about work when you were first beginning this career path?
To be quite honest with you, I didn’t have a lot of knowledge or experience with midwifery before starting my program and I think that was one of the best things I had going for me. Going in without expectations is an advantage, even though it didn’t feel like it at the time. Not letting experiences unfold organically, with too many expectations of it happening a certain way, can be detrimental and discouraging.
Having said that, I think it’s helpful to be reminded that midwifery school is a means to an end. Being in midwifery school is a phase of my life, it is not who I am. When I am a midwife that will be part of who I am but I will not be midwifery. I will be Sydney, a midwife. Making that distinction with some other areas of my life could have saved me a lot of emotional turbulence over the years.
If you could try the job of a female friend for one day, who would it be, what does she do, and why? Do you think she would be willing to swap with you, as well?
Oh, fun question! I have a friend who is a civil engineer and assuming that, in doing her job for a day, we could sort of swap brains (just enough so I could get the basics of math, etc.), I think deciding how to best build cities would be totally rad!
I don’t know if she would trade with me. I don’t know if any of my friends would trade with me; they always act intrigued yet repulsed when we talk about what I do. But I do think a lot of people would like to go to a birth! Which, for the sake of this question, we will pretend totally counts as Yes! Let’s swap it up!
What do your "wildest dreams" look like when you think about your career ten years from now?
First and foremost: student debt paid off years ago!
Secondly and more fun: I would love to be living and working in New Zealand. I am obsessed with New Zealand. They were the first country to give women the right to vote. They care passionately about the environment and women's rights. Midwifery has been legal there for decades and they have successful midwife-run, free-standing birth centres! Also, Flight of the Conchords are super awesome. I would love to live close to a beach and work at a birth centre. I would be the smart, quirky, Canadian midwife. Obviously, my best midwifery friend, Tiffany, would come with me, so I wouldn't be alone in my Canadian-ness.
In non-New Zealand wildest dreams, it would be fantastic to open a Well Woman center that provides care to women from pre-conception through to two years! C'mon, who doesn't want that? I would also like to be a midwife who rides a motorcycle, because how bad ass is that?!
A version of this interview first appeared on the website HAPPY AND HEARTWORKING on February 28, 2015.