It has been nine months since I walked across that stage and accepted my master’s degree in midwifery. It has been almost five years since I got the acceptance package in the mail, but I realize this journey has been a lifetime in the making. I was the girl in high school who all of my friends would consult when they wanted factual information about sex, because I researched the subject in depth. I am the same girl who took a parenting class in high school—a course that was designed for teenaged expectant mothers—even though I wasn’t expecting. When the instructor gave push-back on accepting me into the class I reasoned, “Even though I am not pregnant, I plan to be a mother someday … so why shouldn’t I take a parenting class?” and was granted entry. I was the young girl who snuck her mother’s copy of Ina May Gaskin’s Spiritual Midwifery off the shelf and read the birth stories in secret, falling in love with the magic on those pages. I was a midwife. Now I just had to traverse the journey.
I liken my midwifery education to giving birth and raising children: I am the mother of five, but I concede that midwifery school was indeed harder. I was challenged in ways that I never imagined—brought to the brink and back—and I learned more than I could ever have envisioned. In raising a family, I have my husband as a counterpart. In midwifery school, even though I had my cohort, it was very much like giving birth—a bridge you ultimately have to cross alone.
As a student midwife of color, there were unique challenges that I didn’t anticipate. Did I expect the material to be intricate? Sure. Did I foresee difficult exams? Definitely. Anticipate long hours of clinicals and a demanding schedule that needed to be balanced with other aspects of my life? Absolutely. But I honestly did not imagine the trials and tribulations that I would face. I suppose I thought that I would receive a certain level of support in all aspects of the education process: from faculty to preceptors, but unfortunately I was met with much resistance. This is not to say that I didn’t have the honor of working with amazing preceptors and the opportunity to learn under the tutelage of incredible midwives—because I did—but I certainly had to find the sugar in the salt.
But this piece is about the life of a new midwife. I want to write about emerging from the hurt that I experienced, stronger and in a position to heal and help the women I intend to serve. So, let me share how I was able to triumph in the face of adversity and come out on the other side whole and complete.
At my graduation convocation ceremony, I was awarded the Nancy Moley Positivity Award. The award certificate stated: “To the student who, in the judgment of the faculty, shows an extraordinary approach to midwifery, to clinical experience, to learning, and to interpersonal relations.” I read those words and smiled inwardly because I remembered all of the times that I didn’t want to be positive. I recalled the times that I wanted to sulk in the incredibly sordid (and sometimes downright unfair) scenarios that I encountered throughout my midwifery education. The ones that made me realize how challenging a journey midwifery is, but also how exceptionally difficult the road can be for a midwifery student of color. My heart ached as I recounted how incredibly lonely and isolating certain aspects of the process had been, but then my heart beamed as I realized that, in spite of it all, here I was accepting this award. I was graduating and, yes, I had indeed remained positive, even when there were times I simply wanted to crumble.
Many of the students of color who began with me in my class chose different paths, opted to leave the program, and, unfortunately, were not standing by my side receiving their degrees. I can honestly say, “I get it,” but for me, I knew that I had to continue, press on, endure, and remain vigilant. I had to persevere, because that same inquisitive young girl, that same outspoken teenager, the young woman who dreamed of being a midwife, needed to fulfill this karmic passion. Not for me personally, but for all of the women and families that I will serve. So yes, I remained positive.
I won’t go into all of the trials and tribulations that I faced, because I want to share these words from a space of healing and wholeness. A lot can happen in nine months, as we know, so I want to focus on all that has transpired since graduation and all that is still to come.
I hit the ground running as soon as I hung up my graduation gown and tassel. I aligned myself with two experienced homebirth midwives who had graduated from the same midwifery program 18 years prior and have a successful private homebirth practice, JJB Midwifery, in New York City. I would serve as a birth assistant to keep my skills fresh, gain more intimate exposure to homebirths, and, most importantly, soak up all of the knowledge and wisdom that these women were so graciously willing to share with me.
I worked closely with the homebirth midwife who had caught my two middle children and also had graduated from the same midwifery program, because we have a trust and mutual admiration for each other in terms of understanding the passion that we share for women’s health and wellness. The more time I spent among these women, being nurtured and gently coaxed into the field, the more my heart opened up. I realized that not only did they trust me, but they wanted me to succeed because they knew my intention: to provide stellar midwifery care to those whose paths cross mine. I became aware that this was the component that was missing in my education process. I want to take a minute to acknowledge and say their names, because they truly served as a bridge to my healing post-graduation: Martine Jean-Baptiste, Karen Jefferson, Sakina O’Uhuru.
I wrote an article for Midwifery Today when I was in the midst of my midwifery education, which was published in Issue 120 and entitled, “Of the Community.” In that article I boldly wrote down my plans for how I would serve my community and what that would look like. This is the reason that I encourage women to write a birth plan and create a vision board: because our words are power—both spoken and written—and we really and truly speak things into existence.
Three years later I am immersed in my community and I couldn’t be happier. I have been working diligently to activate other birthworkers in my area so that we can turn our neighborhood around from a “birth resource desert” to an environment bursting with options and opportunity—and it’s working. Chocolate Milk Café—which is lactation support specifically geared to address the barriers to breastfeeding experienced by women of color—is about to celebrate its one-year anniversary in Yonkers, New York, next month. We have been able to help improve breastfeeding initiation and continuation rates but, just as important, the experience of the new breastfeeding mother, because she is surrounded in support. “The Art of Birthing,” free childbirth education workshops connecting physiologic birth education and the arts, will enter into its second year of working with expectant mothers and families. I am happy to report that all of the women who attended these workshops in 2018 went on to have natural, vaginal, unmedicated births—as was their desire.
We are in the process of starting a community garden so that we can grow our own foods and have fresh, healthy options that the women, children, and families of the community can not only enjoy, but can take pride in the fact that they helped grow and cultivate with their own hands. We educate on the importance of dark green, leafy vegetables in a pregnant woman’s diet, because when she understands the implications behind anemia in pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, she is more apt to take an active role in her health. And if she grew it, she will eat it!
More women are looking into and choosing homebirth in my community, which truly warms my heart and excites me, because while it might not be the right choice for all women, it should most definitely be a viable, accessible option. Things feel like they are moving at warp speed, and while I can say I am very grateful that I stuck out the tumultuous times during the education portion, I sincerely wish it wasn’t so hard to begin with. I have a deeper understanding, from a personal standpoint, of why we don’t have more midwives of color, because the midwifery students of color are not getting the support that they truly need.
The way that we support women during pregnancy and the birth process as midwives is the same way that we need to support and extend ourselves to all student midwives. As midwives we listen to the women we serve and as directors of midwifery programs, faculty, and preceptors, we also need to be receptive and listen to what the students are saying and indulge their needs. When we do this openly and honestly the outcomes will improve.
I feel confident that the more we are willing to call out what is lacking, but more importantly to be ready to provide what is needed, we will see advancement and progress. For my own journey I can see the fruits of my labor bearing and the buds of the blossoms beginning to bloom. Each new leaf, every branch is an extension of my healing as a new midwife. The roots still hold some of the past trauma and hurt, but what they are holding up is mighty and ancestral. I know we will be triumphant because I speak it in the affirmative every day. I repeat it like a mantra. It will come to pass, because it is written.