Ok, so I’m going to try to make this as not personal as possible, but this story is too outlandish and ripe with incredible lessons to not share with the wider midwifery world.
Once upon a time, we had an Indie Birth Midwifery School student who decided that she actually didn’t need an apprenticeship before she went out on her own offering midwifery services (there were actually two of them but that’s for another day).
She had been to about 8 home births as an apprentice, not even enough to constitute the observed phase of an apprenticeship by most standards. I think it needs to be stated for the record that a person has to be an actual sociopath and/or narcissist to think that attending less than 10 births qualifies them as an “experience midwife” (according to her own website).
And on top of that, she was putting herself forth as an experienced midwife, and was not being transparent with potential clients about her level of (in)experience. That lack of integrity was perhaps the worst part of all, since people can do what they want, and can hire who they want, but dishonesty, intentional or otherwise, has no place in a midwife/client relationship.
So Maryn, myself and our lovely team member Julie had a perhaps way too nice intervention of sorts. What she was doing was against school policy, but more importantly we really wanted to understand why she thought this was a good idea, and to very clearly and strongly warn her to please NOT do this as her mentors and elders on the midwifery path.
I attended a stillbirth in early 2020 that has shaped me in very big ways ever since. This was the first time I experienced the death of a client’s baby at term, and in labor, and the way it happened was particularly shocking and unexpected. I’ve done my own work (and will continue to) to make sure that the fear of that experience repeating itself does not alter the way I midwife or teach midwifery in ways that I don’t want it to. In other words, I’m trying to not let fear and grief run the show, but I do want to let them teach and guide me in ways that are healthy. I think it has made me a better midwife in so many ways, and has taught me so many much more subtle lessons that I can now pass on to student midwives.
And when I was sitting on Zoom with this student, I felt called to share some of that vulnerability of mine. I told her that I was truly wanting her to have more apprenticeship experience because I know that having the solid foundation and knowing that I really DID know what I was doing was one of the only things I could hold onto in those early weeks and months after catching this sweet lifeless baby and not being able to successfully resuscitate him.
I had been to NRP training countless times. We did it flawlessly. I listened to the heart tones “correctly” in labor (and yes, I know this is a can of worms and likely is useless, more than ever now, but still). I was able to accurately assess labor progress and pushing progress, and made solid judgement calls alongside the family. And still, a baby died and I nearly quit being a midwife (and heck, maybe I still will).
I told her that it was of course unlikely that this would happen to her, but that if it did, or if some other really adrenaline pumping, grief inducing complication happened at one of her births, I was worried that she wouldn’t have that solid base, and it would simply be too much for her to bear.
I believe the exact words I use were something close to – “I’m concerned about your longevity as a midwife. We need more midwives, and part of that is having midwives that are resilient and confident and can withstand the really tough things that we do sometimes see as part of this work.”
She told me she didn’t really want to hear about my fear, and felt like she could call in or manifest the right kind of births for her.
So when I heard through the midwife grapevine that this woman who was midwifing without an apprenticeship did indeed have not one, but two babies die in labor/at birth this year, I was so sad for everyone involved, including this not-midwife. I have so much compassion for birth workers that are involved in a baby’s death. I cannot overstate what an impact my own experience midwifing an unexpected stillbirth has had on me. And I will never get into a conversation about whose “fault” a baby’s death is. It is no one’s fault, ever. Life and death around incredibly powerful and mysterious forces that we do not control. Nobody wants this outcome. So this post is not to insinuate that these babies died because of this woman or her choices.
What this post is about is that this woman wrote a blog post, sent out a newsletter (that someone forwarded me) and posted publicly on social media about how she is now “no longer going to be a midwife” after having these experiences and doing some ‘shrooms to meditate on it.
What I want to assert is that she did not have the apprenticeship experience needed in order to weather these events, and so, as I predicted, her longevity was cut down to a short 6 months of terrible “midwifing”. I think if her mind was right, and she had done a real apprenticeship, she could have been a real asset to her community. Instead she has flamed out, and also made a bad name for autonomous midwives in the process.
Apprenticeship is not optional. It is not just about numbers of births, but it also IS about seeing lots of births. This not-midwife had no idea at all what was normal or not, and midwives are supposed to be experts in normal. Without that context, seeing not normal things can be really scary, especially without an experienced and grounded midwife to anchor the experience alongside you.
So what would I like to say to this woman if we were on speaking terms?
On the one hand, all of this is perfectly part of your path and journey of course. And on another, I told ya so. Oh, and you were never a midwife.