In This Together: Students Find Support in the Birthwise Community
There are many paths to midwifery and not all lead through an academic institution. Apprenticeship alone can be an incredible learning experience, but a strong, supportive community of faculty, staff, students, and alumni is something you only find at a place like Birthwise.
Third year Kara Schamell considered the apprenticeship route to certification in her twenties, but ultimately chose to attend midwifery school specifically because she wanted to learn within a community of other midwives and student midwives.
Kara first learned about Birthwise through members of the midwifery scene in Boston: “I knew of a younger midwife in Boston who was very successful and who other, even older, midwives looked up to. When I found out that she was a Birthwise alumna, that was very compelling.”
The knowledge that she would be joining a tribe of other skilled midwives who had trained at Birthwise strongly influenced Kara’s decision to enroll in the Community Program. For two years, she made the trip up to Maine for periodic two-week long school sessions.
Two weeks booked solid with classes, studying, tests, and clinical work brings people together, whether they want it to or not. “It was essential that we, as students, carved out a sense of community at school so that we all ‘survived’ the intensity of those school sessions!” remembers Kara.
For Kara, being physically on campus was key to establishing intimacy with the Birthwise community. “The tiny campus is just magical,” says Kara. “The heart of the school is an old house, with an attached birth center, and a classroom in the carriage house. That lends a distinct intimacy to the school and creates a unique learning environment.”
The community that Kara and her classmates built during the school sessions didn’t disappear when the students left campus after two weeks: “In between sessions, we turned to our sister students for help with assignments and, definitely, for motivation to continue.”
For many Birthwise students, the community helps maintain their motivation on the, sometimes difficult, path from student midwife to just midwife. At those inevitable moments when a student feels frustrated or wants to quit, the Birthwise community is there to lend its full support.
“The path to midwifery is challenging,” says Kara. “My sister students at Birthwise definitely kept me going with their positivity and encouragement. It felt like we were all in it together.”
The positive group energy at Birthwise is infectious. “Everyone at Birthwise is so motivated,” Kara says.
“That shared sense of motivation and drive creates such a salient bond between women on the path to midwifery.”
Third year Rachel Voigt has had a similar experience: “Everyone’s journey into midwifery and healthcare is different, but the staff and students at Birthwise support one another on these journeys in a really sweet way. From blood draws, to studying, to jumping in lakes together – there are just a lot of things that bring students close together.”
Rachel, who is enrolled in the Campus Program, moved to Bridgton to begin school on her eighteenth birthday. At the time, she didn’t know anyone within a 1,500 miles radius. Luckily, she found immediate acceptance in her campus cohort.
“From day one, the ‘vibe’ was basically that we were all in this together and we were going to help one another along the way – be that fear of needles, trouble with studying, or just making a lot of coffee on class days,” she says.
Rachel also found family in the school’s staff and faculty. She rented a room in the home of Student Affairs Coordinator Yvette McDonnell and quickly grew close to her and her family. “In that one semester, Rachel became a part of our family,” says Yvette.
Rachel was the first person the McDonnell’s entrusted the care of their four-year-old daughter to. Rachel even helped Yvette’s daughter give a talk about midwifery at her talent show themed fifth birthday party. “Rachel will always have a home in Maine at our house,” promises Yvette.
The faculty to student ratio at Birthwise is 6:1, which gives students and teachers the opportunity to form close relationships inside and outside of the classroom. “I think that the teachers really do care about how students are doing personally and academically throughout the program. They take time to check in in group and one-on-one settings,” says Rachel.
Unlike the social structure of traditional academic institutions, there is no hierarchical distinction between faculty and students in the Birthwise community. Every student comes to the school with a unique perspective on birth and a unique set of related experiences. The faculty has a deep respect, then, for what each individual contributes in the classroom.
“I felt like my input and effort were very much appreciated by Birthwise faculty,” says Kara. “I loved that they valued our clinical experience and insight, and integrated that into the classroom. In that way, it was truly an empowering adult learning environment.”
Listening to her classmates share gave Kara a more diverse education than she would have had as an apprentice: “I haven’t personally experienced a number of intrapartum complications, but I almost feel like I have because of the stories of other students and faculty who have witnessed or managed complications firsthand.”
Because many faculty members are also Birthwise alumnae, teachers understand firsthand what its like to be in their students’ shoes. “There’s a shared knowledge and experience of the challenges of being a student midwife,” says Kara. “They have a sense of pride in their education that is apparent in their teaching.”
The mutual respect inherent in student-teacher and student-student relationships at Birthwise lends itself to an open, accepting, and supportive community. “Over the last two and a half years there have been a million times I was supported by the Birthwise community,” says Rachel.
The midwifery community at large is overwhelmingly warm and accepting. Whatever path to certification an individual chooses, she or he is sure to find a place in the sisterhood of midwives. For individuals who want to immerse themselves in that sisterhood even as a student, the Birthwise community is here with open arms.
By: Hannah Fillmore-Patrick