I Am A Midwife

Nicole SistaMidwife Deggins

I did not start out to become a midwife. But my journey through nursing school led me first to be a labor and delivery nurse, and then a midwife.  I will always be a midwife.

This post is one in a series of pieces Rewire is publishing to highlight National Midwifery Week 2010 (Oct 3- 9).

My first experience with a laboring woman (my aunt) left me running for my room and making a pact with God. If boys and sex were what caused that pain, I promised I would never have either.  I asked God to protect me from both. I was nine years old.

My next experience with birth came ten years later. I was a junior nursing student at Georgetown University at the beginning of my OB clinical rotation. My classmates and I were being assigned patients and our clinical instructor said:

“There is a patient who is in very early labor; only one centimeter dilated. It is her first baby and the charge nurse does not think she will deliver while we are here. But – she is alone, and nervous, and she really needs someone who can be with her and talk to her.” 

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Being the loquacious person I am, everyone immediately looked at me and it was unanimously decided that she would be my patient. Lo and behold, four hours later I was the only student to witness the miracle of birth that day and it was an awe-inspiring experience to say the least. The new mother was grateful for my presence and I was delighted. The registered nurse I worked with was fabulous. The entire experience was unforgettable. I knew right then –  I wanted to be a labor and delivery nurse.

In 1995, I began working as a labor and delivery nurse at a public, teaching hospital. We served the highest-risk patients of the city. We were often understaffed and overwhelmed with the number of deliveries. While working there, reality set in.  Maternity care was not always the quiet, comfortable, pleasant experience I witnessed as a Georgetown nursing student.  It could also be tough, rough, gritty, and scary.  It tested my stamina, my sense of humor, my skill set, and my knowledge base. It made me take a close look at my personal prejudices and ideas around birth, race, drug addiction, women, men, sex, and relationships. It forced me to examine the truth of who I was and opened my eyes to a world of joy, heartache, life, death and more.

Because this hospital was a teaching facility, many of the women unfortunately became teaching fodder. Their prenatal care was impersonal. They were simply numbers in a box. Patients were offered no prenatal education, were ill-informed and often arrived not able to tell us if they were a “T” or an “L” patient, each letter representing a different residency program. I was always amazed by this. I would think to myself, “I know these women are not stupid. Why are they unable to remember one letter?” I attempted to raise this concern to coworkers and was given the “Oh you know these young, uneducated, minority, drug addict, etc …” type of comments.  I had my doubts. It didn’t make sense to me. These girls, and women, were not stupid and I knew that. Still, I was confused.

I knew there had to be another way. I knew that laboring women with absolutely no familiarity with their provider was wrong.  I knew all the screaming and yelling, the bright lights, the long pushing, and loud counting was not right. I knew it was not right that doctors had not a clue as to the name of their female patients. I didn’t know how to make things right but I was sure – in my soul, in my spirit, in my gut – that there had to be another way. Something different, something better. Birth was not meant to be this way. Babies were not meant to be brought into the world amidst such chaos. 

And then it happened. 

In this often chaotic environment, among the many crash cesarean sections, crack-addicted babies and “baby mama dramas,” among the tears and laughter, the joy and the pain I caught my first baby (and my second, and third, and fourth….). It was in this same environment that I witnessed my first midwifery-attended birth.  And again, like the life-changing experience I had when I was a student at Georgetown, I knew immediately that midwifery was my calling. This midwifery delivery was so different from the loud, rushed, impersonal resident deliveries to which I had become accustomed. I had always known there had to be another way and finally I was there to witness it. I was overjoyed.

That was just the beginning.  Fast forward to 1997 and there I sat: the youngest in a class of twelve midwifery students at Emory University in Atlanta. 

While studying midwifery, I learned that I had a great-great aunt who had been a community midwife. Midwifery was in my blood. I learned that when treated with respect, as a person and not as a number, women and girls of any race, of all socioeconomic classes and of any age could vocalize their wishes,  and create an empowering birthing experience.  I learned that when women feel respected and genuinely cared for they will keep prenatal appointments and ask questions, and learn about birth –  all of which improves birth outcomes.  I learned that I was not in control. I learned that birth is an intricate interplay between mother, fetus, and the universe which should not be feared but respected. I learned that there was another way. It was called Midwifery.

Because of a number of necessary professional choices, today I sit once again working as a labor and delivery RN while longing to get back to practicing as a midwife. The current climate in my state for practicing midwifery is not the best and opportunities for working as a midwife are few and far between.  I was recently assured of this by a physician who said with venom,

“Nicole you are a midwife?! Well, you know, midwives have a very bad reputation in this city.”

This was in response to me asking her if she needed any help in her office.  For a nurse practitioner, “Yes,” she said. But for a midwife? Absolutely not! I felt like it was 1940 and she was calling me the “N” word. But no. It was the “M” word and her tone was just as negative.

Regardless of the “reputation” of midwives in this city and around the country in many places, I am proud to call myself a midwife. I believe that it is truly a calling and I feel blessed to have received it.  Often, as I work as a labor and delivery RN, I am asked “I heard you used to be a midwife?” I tell them, there is no “used to.” While I continue to temporarily work in the role of an RN, the spirit, the energy, the way of birth that I believe in has never left me.  I continue to be “with women.” I am a midwife and I am proud.

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.