Birthwise Midwifery School History
Birthwise Midwifery School started our journey without a map, and without a destination. We’ve always been a work in progress, just like our beloved midwifery profession throughout history.
Our path is lit by the knowledge that midwifery care is unique and valuable, and by the promise that a return to our midwifery roots is a solution to our broken birth care system.
History begins in 1994
Heidi Fillmore, CPM, a direct-entry midwife, founded our school in 1994. Heidi had been attending home births in Bridgton, Maine since 1987, and was one of about 15 home birth midwives in Maine at the time.
Home births were a good fit for a rural state like Maine. Hospitals are often over an hour away from some residents. Home births were increasing here and across the country as the demand for natural physiological birth experiences outside the hospital increased.
Professionalizing direct-entry midwifery
Most birth workers were taught the art of midwifery through apprenticeship with midwives in their communities throughout history. The number of midwives who entered the field directly, not from nursing school or other formal training was increasing.
A group of US midwives decided to professionalize direct-entry midwifery through certification and state license. In 1994, the newly founded North American Registry of Midwives issued the first Certified Professional Midwife (CPM) certificate.
Heidi saw the need to expand midwifery in Maine. She designed a curriculum to teach apprentice midwives the theoretical aspects of midwifery training toward the CPM certification.
The first cohort of Birthwise students, 14 of them, met in March 1994 in a small rented office in the historic brick bank building next to Stevens Brook in downtown Bridgton.
Each year, Heidi recruited a new student cohort. She hired midwives and other professionals from Maine and New Hampshire to teach our courses.
We outgrew our rented space in 1999. Heidi purchased a large 1848 brick house at an auction, and our current Birthwise campus came to be.
Having more room let us expand enrollment, and we hired staff to support students for the first time, too.
Accreditation, Title IV and international students
In 1999, Birthwise received pre-accreditation from the Midwifery Education Accreditation Council, which sets standards for midwifery education in the United States. We received full accreditation in 2002.
MEAC was recognized by the US Department of Education in 2001, which made us eligible to receive Title IV funds — student financial aid. We jumped at the opportunity to offer students financial aid because it allowed us to increase access to midwifery education. Welcoming the first students who had Pell grants from the federal government to attend midwifery school was an exciting moment!
Because we’re located close to Canada, in 2004 we applied to the US Department of Homeland Security to be eligible to issue M-1 student visas. These visas let students from other countries enroll at Birthwise. We’ve enrolled dozens of Canadian students since then.
The Community Option
We created the Community Option in 2008 as enrollment continued to grow. This option brings students to our campus for 10 two-week academic sessions. Then, they work with a preceptor — a practicing midwife — at home.
We’ve found that this Community Option, offered alongside our Campus Option, allows us to recruit a more diverse group of students and graduate midwives into communities where they reflect the people they serve.
Increasing commitment to diverse students
We started scholarships for students of color and those from under-served communities in 2014. We continue to expand scholarship opportunities to bring more midwives into BIPOC communities with the goal of improving birth outcomes.
Offering scholarships sparked a deepening commitment to serving the BIPOC community.
We added a Midwifery and Social Justice curriculum. We began anti-racist training for staff and faculty in 2020.
We changed our hiring and admissions processes to be more transparent and equitable, with a focus on social justice early in the process for both students and staff. And w
e continuously review the resources, materials and curriculum we develop and use in our programs.
The Goddard College partnership
In 2012 Birthwise and Goddard College, a low-residency college in nearby Vermont, began partnering to allow Birthwise credits to apply to Goddard’s bachelor’s degrees.
This partnership allows our students who come in without a bachelor’s degree easy access to an accredited program and to have their courses count toward a degree if they decide our curriculum is not right for them.
Midwifery Matters, a peer-reviewed publication
We began publishing Midwifery Matters, a biannual peer-reviewed journal in 2014. This journal shares the outstanding research our staff and others are doing to benefit our profession. Midwifery Matters is distributed across the United States.
We have a commitment to advancing the art and science of midwifery through research.
A new beginning
Heidi actualized her long-time goal of converting Birthwise from a privately held corporation to a nonprofit organization in 2019. Goal completed, she resigned as Birthwise’s executive director. She focuses her time on her midwifery practice, teaching a few courses at Birthwise and tending her garden.
A new board of directors did a nationwide search for a new executive director and hired Katie Krebs, MPH.
We’re so grateful to Heidi for her vision, her incredibly hard work, and her dedication to advancing the field of direct-entry midwifery.