This was QUITE a year for Birthwise! Let’s look back at some highlights.
New Status and Operational Structure
- Non-Profit Transition: In January 2020, we officially transitioned to a non-profit with the State of Maine and convened our inaugural board of directors. In October we submitted our paperwork to the IRS for our 501c3 tax exempt status. We should receive confirmation of our status in early 2021, with an effective date in 2020 (this means that donations made in 2020 will be tax deductible).
- New Board of Directors: Heidi Fillmore passed the baton of oversight for Birthwise on to Heather Robinson, CPM, Matt Delamater, Dahlyt Berezin-Bahr, CPM, LM, Aubre Tompkins, CNM, and Latonia Westerfield in January 2020. This group weathered the challenges of their own personal lives, practices, and businesses, while learning about the operations of Birthwise and helping us navigate the pandemic. This group has been working on developing their operating procedures and sustainability planning.
- Reaccreditation: In late 2019 we submitted our application to be reaccredited through the Midwifery Education Accreditation Council (MEAC). Throughout 2020 we’ve worked closely with our accreditation coordinator and MEAC volunteer teams to respond to additional information requests and prepare for and host a virtual site visit to review all of our materials. We are on track to receive reaccreditation in early 2021. This is a normal process that accredited schools undergo every 4-6 years.
Growth and Transition
- Board Growth and Transition: Aubre Tompkins, CNM, left the board in November 2020 as she was selected as the President of the American Association of Birth Centers (AABC) board. We are incredibly proud of her for the accomplishment and wish her well! We will also welcome 4 new board members in January 2021: Toni Hill, DEM, CLC, Kristin Kali, LM, Carrie Murphy, MFA, and Ashley Tarrant, MPH. We’ll be sharing their photos and bios on our website in the new year. We’re so excited to work with each of them!
- Staff Growth and Transition: We said goodbye to Melissa Mayo (Business Manager), Elizabeth McKinnon (Financial Aid and Visa Coordinator), Janessa Thomas (Front Desk Manager and Registrar), and Robin Illian (Clinical Director) this year. Robin has remained on Faculty (we’re so glad!). We welcomed Heather Tetreault (Operations Coordinator and Bursar), Sarah Paul, MA (Financial Aid and Visa Coordinator), Heather Bell (Clinical Program Assistant) and Sarah Schubeck, MSM (Clinical Director) to our team. They have each jumped in with enthusiasm and dedication, and overcame the challenges of remote onboarding. We are thrilled to have each of them on our team and look forward to a time when all 9 of us can be in the same room together. (Fun fact- we still have staff who haven’t met each other in person yet!). These changes have also allowed us to restructure the Academic team, including moving the Clinical Director position to full time, and adding program assistant support. We look forward to continuing to improve our processes in 2021!
- Faculty Growth: We welcomed several new faculty to our community in 2020, including: Lauren Fox, FNP, BC, CCH (Homeopathy, Physical Assessment), Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, RN, CNM (Well Body, Pharmacology), Theresa Small, CNM, APRN (NRP), and Bethany Witten, NHCM, CPM (Overview of the Human Body 1). We’re excited to add some new faces in 2021 as well! Recent Birthwise grad Sydney Jones, CPM will be teaching Postpartum, Aubre Tompkins, CNM will be teaching Transfer of Care/Hospital Birth, and Morgan Miller, CPM will be taking on part of the Professional Midwifery series, and Prenatal Complications.
Fundraising and Grants
- HRSA Grant Application: In late December 2019 we learned that direct entry midwifery schools were eligible to apply for HRSA grant funds for the Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students program. We jumped at the chance to support our students and increase access to our program and put together the full 70 page application in just over two months, submitting our final docs in early March. Most schools that apply spend about 6-9 months on their application and have dedicated staff to support the effort. We were one of 3 MEAC schools to apply, and competed against nurse-midwifery programs for the new funds. Only one of the 3 MEAC schools was funded, but our score was still impressive and we learned a lot from the process. We are currently working with the other MEAC schools, NACPM, and a consulting firm out of DC to learn how we can improve our application for the next round.
- CARES ACT funds: We received CARES ACT stimulus funds as part of the Federal Coronavirus Relief efforts. Checks were distributed to students whose education was impacted by COVID, and the remaining funds have been used to offset the increased operational costs due to COVID response. For more details, see the CARES ACT page on our website.
- Fundraising Efforts: In the Fall of 2020 we launched our new Birthwise Store on Bonfire. Through this effort, we’ve raised a total of $300 that will directly fund student scholarships. We also received $150 in donations from individual donors. If you’re interested in donating, check out the Birthwise store (tips come straight to us!) or email Heather for a link to donate! We’ll be working with the board to expand our fundraising efforts in 2021.
- Spring Start for Campus: Historically, all students began their program in August of each year. In 2020, we began staggering starts and our first Campus cohort was admitted for a Spring start. Despite a shortened recruitment and enrollment period, and an unfortunate alignment of pandemic uncertainty and semester start (a stay at home order was issued in Maine just weeks before our new Campus students were due to arrive), we enrolled 9 students into our campus cohort. We also enrolled 15 students into our 2020 Community cohort.
- Pivot to Online and hybrid learning modalities: In response to State mandates, student, faculty, and staff feedback, and CDC guidelines, we pivoted our entire program to online for the duration of Spring 2020. Part of this process included increased flexibility from the Department of Education to offer distance education, even though we were not previously approved to do so. This pivot to online and hybrid modalities has not been without it’s challenges, both in the immense amount of work from staff and faculty to rework classes, redesign syllabi, and adjust to new technology and in the student experience of learning primarily online and juggling job loss, loss of childcare, managing remote learning for their children, and health challenges. However, we have also been able to add new faculty to our community who are not local to Maine, and retain students who are unable to travel to campus in the pandemic. In Spring 2021, we will seek approval to add the OPTION to offer distance courses permanently. This DOES NOT mean that all classes will be online. This will never be our goal at Birthwise. However, this new approval will allow us to offer select courses online when it best suits faculty availability (expanding our pool of applicants beyond Maine and New England) and student need, and to build this into the program intentionally, instead of in a frantic response to global crisis.
- Return to Campus: In the fall, we welcomed students back to campus for in person learning and successfully kept COVID out of our classrooms. Through the care and attention of students, faculty, and staff, we were able to create a safe learning environment that allowed students to continue their hands on learning. We will continue to offer in person courses in Spring 2021, and hope to bring our Community students back to campus in late 2021.
New and Revitalized Relationships and Collaborations
- Onkwehon:we Midwives Collective (OMC): As an extension of our vision that every person has access to safe and empowering care that is representative of them and their community, we forged a new relationship with the Onkwehon:we Midwives Collective. We welcomed two students in the Onkwehon:we Midwifery Training Program (OMTP) who attended their first classes at Birthwise in Fall 2020. Their coursework at Birthwise will support their completion of the OMTP. In exchange, Birthwise staff, faculty, and preceptors were able to attend a 3 hour virtual training on cultural awareness with the OMC Executive Director. In addition, OMC Faculty have been working with Birthwise Faculty to review curriculum and course materials from a decolonization lens. We are excited to continue this partnership into 2021! To read more about OMC, visit their website.
- Goddard College: One of the unique aspects of Birthwise is that we do not require our applicants to have a bachelor’s or advanced degree, nor do we offer one. We recognize that a 2 or 4 degree (or beyond) is not the best fit for all folks, and is not necessary to become a skilled and compassionate midwife. However, for students who begin the program at Birthwise and realize midwifery is not for them, or for those students who would like to add a degree to their training at Birthwise, we’ve reinvigorated a long-standing partnership with Goddard College this year. Through this partnership, Birthwise students can apply credits earned toward their midwifery certificate toward a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree from Goddard. Our school philosophies are well aligned, and we are excited to offer this benefit to our students! Read more here.
- Breathe Easy Maine – Silver Awardee: We worked with the Portland Department of Public Health to improve our Anti-Tobacco policies and achieved Silver this year in the Breathe Easy Maine program.
- More to come in 2021! We have a few other exciting things in the works for 2021. Stay tuned for more info!
Commitment to Equity and Justice
- Equitable and Transparent Pay for Staff: In 2020 we conducted a review of staff pay and benefits and restructured our compensation to ensure equitable and transparent payment practices. This year we also began posting job level and pay range on all job postings, which is critical in decreasing wage gaps by race and gender. We will begin a similar review process for Faculty compensation in 2021.
- Birthwise Anti-Racism Statement: While no single statement is ever enough to address the history of harm our organization, the profession of midwifery, and our country have caused to Black folks, we drafted a statement to our community to acknowledge our complicity and to re-commit to growth and learning in support of our BIPOC students and BIPOC birthing people. Read it here.
- MEAC Anti-Racism: As part of Birthwise’s commitment to equity and justice, we recognize that we need to push into our sphere of influence and actively engage with other organizations to address the racism in the midwifery profession. Birthwise’s Executive Director serves as Co-Chair of the MEAC Equity and Access Committee, and helped draft MEAC’s Equity Statement which was published in 2020. You can read about the efforts MEAC has taken with the support of the MEAC Equity and Access Committee here.
- Birthwise Equity Committee: In Fall 2020, Birthwise convened it’s first Equity Committee meeting. This group is on hold and will re-launch in 2021. We hope to see more students, faculty, staff and new board members join us to explore what Birthwise has done to address equity in the past (and the mistakes we’ve made), and how we can continue to grow toward a radical birth justice framework in coming years. If you’re interested in supporting this effort, email Katie.
- Commitment to learning and growth: Despite the added challenges, pressures and work due to the pandemic this year, our staff and board have remained committed to centering equity work.
- Weekly discussion: In the spring, staff read the book So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, and set aside time at weekly staff meetings to discuss how the topics in the book related to our work at Birthwise. This fall, we began working through My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem.
- New Student Orientation: The orientation curriculum was updated in 2020 to include significant pre-work for all students to provide context for the equity lens we use at Birthwise. This includes having all students read Me and White Supremacy before they arrive on campus. Our Academic Dean of Students re-wrote our History of the CPM course to be Histories of Midwifery, highlighting the voices of indigenous and traditional midwives throughout history, and situating the current landscape of the CPM credential in the broad historical context that is often overlooked by white midwives and midwifery schools.
- New Staff and Board onboarding: As of 2020, all staff and board members are required to work through a comprehensive list of articles, videos and other resources that address white supremacy, racism, privilege, homophobia, and transphobia in both midwifery and business/work environments.
- Updated Faculty Handbook and Contracts: This fall we also published an updated Faculty Handbook that provides new resources and guidance to support faculty in diversifying their curriculum. Faculty contracts now explicitly ask that faculty indicate they have reviewed their course materials and syllabi to expand the diversity of voices they draw from.
- We know that this work is never done, and we look forward to continuing to learn and grow as a community.
I want to thank each and every one of you for your commitment to Birthwise this year. Thank you for showing up for your peers and your students. For challenging this community to do better. For your vulnerability and openness as you’ve navigated unimaginable challenges this year. It is an honor to work with and for each of you.
Sending you wishes for peace, joy, and renewal in the new year.