Elder Student Project, Part 1: Interview with Debbie*
For my interview with a Phase One student, I was lucky enough to chat with someone I know personally. I first met Debbie last year; we both began at Midwives College of Utah around the same time and connected in-person while she was living nearby. We had a lot in common and I was sad to see her go when she moved for a clinical placement. I was excited to reconnect for this project to hear how clinic was going thus far. For a little background, Debbie is a mother to one and she and her partner are separated geographically at present. She is in a clinical placement with three midwives and other students at various stages.
I dove into questions, inquiring about the expectations her preceptors have for their student midwives in the observe phase. She shared that showing up and staying as long as necessary were her responsibilities. Debbie personally believes that being open to saying yes to new experiences is also a key component of her role as an observer at a birth. She provided a couple examples wherein she got to do more than expected at a birth because she was present and open to it. She encourages other student midwives to jump in and ask “I need to learn, may I?” as often as they feel comfortable doing. This is how she ended up taking her first blood pressure reading!
Since Debbie was not a doula prior to entering midwifery school, she feels fortunate that her preceptors accepted her into their practice despite the risk associated with inviting an “untested” person to births. One challenge she has faced thus far because of this, though, was anxiety leading up to her first birth. She recalled toying with the medical profession for many years but ultimately shying away from the intense nature of the work and had concerns that attending births might feel too intense. Instead, what rushed through her mind at that first birth was “I can do this. That could be me catching that baby. I can see myself doing this work.”
When asked what she was enjoying about clinic thus far, she shared that she is feeling like she is in a funk already; that surprised us both. Debbie acknowledged the benefits of working with multiple midwives as it has allowed her to get a solid overview of the practice and different personality types. She’s also been enjoying leaning into conversations with midwifery clients and even had a positive experience with local hospital staff recently that aided in her understanding transfer policies and communication techniques in labor. However, she has had a couple sticky situations concerning preceptors in the practice who default to passive aggressiveness when issues arise. Debbie shared a specific example of a long labor and problems that occurred that truly provided insight I will take forward.
In their practice, home birth transfers mean the midwives automatically act as doulas in the hospital, so the midwife and Debbie accompanied the family while the primary student/assistant stayed back to clean up the home. The birth progressed slowly and eventually ended in an urgent cesarean birth 40+ hours after it began. Debbie had set up 30 hours of continual childcare for her son and let the preceptor attending know this was the case at the start of labor, which is when Debbie was called to attend. She then reminded the preceptor several hours prior to the cut off time that she would need to leave the birth and transport her son to a secondary childcare provider if she was to continue attending the birth. The midwife communicated in a way that let Debbie know she felt offended that a student midwife would try to leave the birth for any reason and bluntly told her not coming back was not an option and that she needed to figure out her situation at home or not be in midwifery school.
Considering the amount of time and money already invested in attending this one birth, Debbie felt disheartened at the harsh nature of this preceptor interaction. She confessed that this was one of many microaggressions she had experienced in her apprenticeship that had dashed her expectations going into midwifery. Whereas she expected to be in an elated state as an observer, what she is experiencing is a lot of dread and external pressure from the midwives that feels hypocritical and unduly challenging for student midwives with children. This conversation led to Debbie providing some much-needed advice: “Don’t get sloppy about advocating for yourself.” This is the area I worry about most as I head toward apprenticeship myself. I am concerned that I will bend to the point of breaking in order to move through and get my numbers in a timely manner. I have already heard many stories from other students about how long and challenging the road was, whether because of missed births, preceptors refusing to sign off on paperwork, or personal life circumstances.
With that in mind, I know I may push myself, and therefore be more willing to let others push me, beyond my healthy limits. However, Debbie also suggested that this might just be part of the journey and a helpful time to explore how I show up for myself. She made it clear that this is the primary way that she has had to shift thus far; she walked into midwifery with bias around the types of people who become midwives, believing that preceptors would be nurturing and soft above all else. She now realizes that each midwife has their own unique style and comes to this work for different reasons, just as students who enter the field do. Debbie closed the conversation with a gentle reminder to be mindful of these differences and my own ultimate reason for becoming an Orange County midwife so that I might keep focus on what drives me even through challenging periods.
*Name changed for privacy. This interview occurred live via FaceTime in the Summer of 2019.
Amanda Cagle is a professional doula, educator, and student midwife located in Orange County, CA who offers comprehensive services to growing families and birth professionals alike. Amanda can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through www.yourbirthteam.com.