New Apprentice

Dear New Apprentice,

The path towards midwifery can be a very long and lonely path. Being a midwifery student/apprentice can isolate you from your family and the friends you used to spend time with. It isn’t easy for someone who has never led an on-call lifestyle to understand how interruptible your life must now be. It isn’t easy for people to understand that you can never fully commit to anything while on-call and that backup plans are a way of life for you now.

Your life is no longer your own. You must come and go based on someone else’s schedule – not only the schedules of the pregnant women who hire your preceptor, but also your preceptor’s schedule and the almost always completely unpredictable schedules of the babies you will help care for. Your schedule and convenience are the least important factors in the equation and, because of this, you cannot simply fit midwifery or an apprenticeship into your life. You must instead fit your life in around your apprenticeship.

In addition to the long hours spent at prenatals, births, and postpartums; you must also somehow fit in your academics. Hours upon hours spent with Helen Varney, Anne Frye, Myles, Ina May Gaskin, Michel Odent, Elizabeth Davis, Oxorn and Foote, and the Practical Skills Guide, among others. Whether you attend an accredited school or choose to pursue a less formal course of study, bookwork is an integral part of your training and has to be squeezed in sometime or other.

It doesn’t matter how little you feel like you “fit in” with the other apprentices in your area. It doesn’t matter how much of a kindred spirit your preceptor is. If you choose to shun the only group of people who are currently experiencing this peculiar lifestyle along with you then you will, almost certainly, be missing out on a huge amount of vital support.

You may be in your early 20’s, just a few weeks into your apprenticeship,  and believe that you know much more than you actually do. You may truly believe that you are set apart and different from all of your peers and colleagues, but when the going gets rough, even you might benefit from a little bit of comfort knowing that you aren’t the only one who is experiencing the intensity of birth from a caregiver’s perspective for the first, or nearly the first, time.

Doubts, even fears, may creep in as you see and assist with potentially life-threatening complications. Questions that you cannot ask your preceptor (as unthinkable as that might seem to some – especially at first) may pop into your head. Maybe you will wonder how the other local preceptors handle certain situations, either with clients or with their apprentices.

But, you may say, I really am different and I really don’t think I need the other apprentices’ support. I just don’t fit in, you continue, and I don’t need any support other than the support I find from my closest friends, family, and my own preceptor.

That’s all well and good and might even possibly be true, but cutting oneself off from the only people who are able to currently and personally understand your situation is not the answer. Refusing to listen to those who have so recently been in your shoes is not a wise path to take. Be open to learning from those who are farther along and traveling the same road you are.

If perhaps, someday, you come across this post and any of it seems to fit, please read it in the loving and concerned tone it was meant to be read in and consider seeking out the support of your peers and colleagues in order to help maximize your chances of success. We would all love to see you succeed.

Whether or not you’re the specific apprentice I was thinking of when I began this post, please – seek out your fellow apprentices for support and don’t burn those bridges without a damn good reason.

~B.

Talking With the Children About Racism

“Racism doesn’t require the presence of malice, only the presence of bias and ignorance, willful or otherwise.”

~Charles M. Blow, The Perfect Victim Pitfall

It’s well past time to discuss the issues of race and racism with our children. Especially for those of us who are white and have largely had the privilege of being able to ignore issues like this for a very long time — possibly even our entire lives. There’s solid research available now about how all of us – even babies – have intrinsic biases against people who are a different race than we are. The recent events in Ferguson, MO; Columbia, SC; Staten Island, NY; Phoenix, AZ; and Cleveland, OH; along with the continued failure of there to be any sort of consequences at all for the white police officers involved in any of these cases are scathing indictments of the way our society, particularly white society, has chosen to handle race by largely ignoring it.

I’ve talked openly with my children about skin color for around a year now. At first it was awkward, even painful, and I had no idea how to even go about doing it, but it has gradually gotten easier the more we’ve talked about it. We were almost done reading our Addy Story Collection book when I asked a good friend of mine, who’s from a very colorful family, to help. She suggested that we use foods to describe skin colors to help even my youngest children better understand skin colors and their differences. I love that idea because there’s not a dichotomy, there’s no opposite to “coffee color,” “almond color,” “sugar cookie color,” “molasses cookie color,” or “cream of wheat color” like there is with black and white.

With that idea to help make the concept of different skin colors more accessible, even to my preschooler, we began to talk more in depth about the history of racism and slavery in America. We had started reading Addy together at the beginning of this year and through our many conversations they have learned that there is still a dichotomy and prejudice in a lot of people’s minds and that there has been a great deal of prejudice in our country’s past as well as our present. Along with that they also know that it’s not as simple as “white” and “black.” Really, to my children, people are food-colored, multi-colored, there are SO many more colors than just two or three or four, and everyone’s skin colors don’t make any difference in anyone’s worth or in anything else that’s inherent. Even within our own family, all white, there are varying shades – some darker than others.

Among all of that, I have wanted to make sure that they understand that skin color *does* make a difference in how people experience life. Someone’s skin color makes a difference in how they are treated and how they may have to react to certain situations in order to stay safe. This year, unfortunately, there has been no shortage of examples about how certain people groups are treated differently in our country than we are. 

We talked at some length a few months ago about several of the #IfTheyGunnedMeDown photos on Twitter and about how the media often chooses to portray people as heroes or villains. When I talked to the two oldest about the events in Ferguson back in August, it was as though lightbulbs went off in their heads, “You mean that some people still treat people differently because of their color?” 

To which I had to reply that, yes. Yes they still do. Why? Because it’s apparently inborn in all of us, but that doesn’t make it right or okay or excuse those biases. The knowledge that biases are present  in everyone’s thinking is vital, in my opinion, because only then can we learn to recognize our biases and to not be bound to the concept of “color-blindness,” which is not only impossible to achieve in the light of those studies, but that mindset also serves to ignore the very real experiences that black people in our society experience in their everyday lives – regardless of their socioeconomic status.

*Side note: For more information about the biases and discrimination black people experience, please see the Twitter hashtag #LivingWhileBlack and really try to listen and hear and understand the experiences posted there. You can also contrast those stories with the stories at #CrimingWhileWhite, if you really want to see a clear dichotomy.

But how did we begin these conversations with the children? How do you even talk to children about these kinds of horrifying current events? I was asked on Facebook a few days ago whether these discussions had come up naturally or whether we had needed to be more purposeful about it and honestly, it was a little of both.

My children had begun verbalizing the fact that they were noticing people’s skin color at some point towards the end of last year. So I had been agonizing about how to go about talking about these issues for a while before we began to read Addy out loud in January of this year.

I believe that Addy was a great introduction because it brought up extremely serious issues and opened the door to further discussions about them, but the issues were brought up in what I think was an age-appropriate way.

Ever since reading Addy, which was a purposeful – albeit an ultimately child-led – decision by simply having it around and presenting it as an option for a read-aloud, race issues have come up naturally as my children have seen things firsthand and as they have brought up questions of their own. We have also continued our discussions with the oldest two, in particular, about current events and the very real discrimination and racism that people who don’t look like we do still face today.

Ultimately, what these current events and recent scientific studies have taught me personally is that everyone has biases – that’s just human nature – the important thing, in my opinion, is that we recognize that fact – stop denying that these biases exist – and try not to act on our biases, especially where they’re irrational and built on centuries of oppression/privilege and/or where they’re constructed by the media to perpetuate the status quo.

But in order to begin recognizing these biases and in order for our children to recognize these biases, we have to talk about it. We have to talk to our children and start conversations within our communities about race and racism and our country’s abysmal history with regards to race. This is not a one-time conversation any more than the “sex talk” should be a one-time conversation. Noticing and checking our biases has to be an ongoing and conscious effort lest we find ourselves slipping into those inborn biases and getting comfortable with our unearned privileges yet again.

 

Links for parents: 

You can’t effectively teach what you aren’t familiar with yourself.

Are you poor and not sure how you’re privileged? Check this out: Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person

Do you prefer comics to articles? White Privilege, Explained in One Simple Comic

Worried about what it might mean about you to admit that you’re privileged? My White Privilege

Would you like to see a list outlining many of the invisible ways white people are privileged in American society? White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

Do you think that well-to-do black families are immune from the effects of white privilege/black oppression? I taught my black kids that their elite upbringing would protect them from discrimination. I was wrong.

Would you like to read about someone else’s journey towards realizing their white privilege? How I Discovered I am White

The words we use to describe people and their actions really do matter: Maybe I’m a Racist and I Didn’t Even Know It

Do you still think you and others can be “color-blind” successfully? Babies aren’t even “color-blind” according to several studies.

Three-month-olds, but not newborns, prefer own-race faces. 

Nine-Month Olds Show Racial Bias When Looking at Faces

Babies Show a Bias Towards Own Race

Do you take exception to the way black people expressed their feelings in the wake of the failure to indict Darren Wilson? On Ferguson Protests, the Destruction of Things, and What Violence Really Is (and Isn’t)

For a long, but excellent, read about why we really should consider Reparations to the black community for how they continue to be treated, even today, please check this out: The Case For Reparations

“Better than Co-op”

So, it would appear that my children prefer being unschooled in a kind of Charlotte Mason-y way to belonging to a co-op. Even a fun co-op with their friends. They had been pretty upset about not being able to be in co-op this year and I was worried about how they’d do once the school year started more officially for other children, but my fears were apparently unfounded.

We were at the park last week, learning about leaves, when one of my daughters piped up, “This is better than co-op!” I said, “Really?” Apparently co-op had been “too much like school.” Upon further questioning more things just tumbled out of all three girls, things like, “We only got five minutes of break to play.” and “They didn’t let you teach enough and we loved it when you taught music!” (unexpected ego boost there!) and finally: “We didn’t get to choose what we learned. The teachers got to choose and that’s not fair!”

Oh. Well. They have a good point there. After all, I have always encouraged my children to find what they’re interested in and then I help facilitate that learning by making sure they have the resources available to learn about whatever it is. I read to them, we watch documentaries, they read, explore, create, and play-act things out.

When there are things that I believe are important enough for them to really need to learn, it’s part of my job to make that topic interesting and exciting to my children. I love to read so transferring that love to them hasn’t been very difficult. We found a math curriculum that I love, so again, they love it (I’ve questioned them several times about it). I found a history curriculum that I enjoy reading to them, so they enjoy hearing it (in moderation – not every day).

To my mind, if it’s worth learning, it’s worth being excited about. People don’t tend to retain information that isn’t relevant or exciting or interesting to them in some way. It’s often more of a challenge to help a child find a passion for a topic than to simply feed them information they aren’t interested in, but it’s infinitely more rewarding in the long run because they are much more likely to actually retain the information.

We’ve been so much more relaxed this year without having to worry about getting to co-op on time and trying to teach something that the other parents don’t seem to appreciate (or care to help their children appreciate). It’s been much nicer since my children have been able to take turns choosing the topics of interest that we’re currently studying and if a topic ends up *not* being interesting for whatever reason, we can just switch topics as easily as not.

We’re just over a quarter of the way through the school year and I’m greatly looking forward to whatever the next three quarters bring us!

Currently we are studying: Vincent VanGogh, John Philip Sousa, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Leaves in addition to Life of Fred math, Story of the World history (in moderation), cooking, painting, computer programming, and whatever else we fancy to learn more about.

Lies and the Myth of the Uneducated Midwife

There seems to be a pervasive myth in American society that midwives are uneducated. This is unfortunately perpetuated since the myth is not only that midwives are uneducated, but often even that it’s acceptable for midwives to be uneducated. The very term “lay midwife” insinuates that all midwives who train through the traditional apprenticeship model are uneducated and have little training at all.

lay – adjective [not gradable] (NOT TRAINED)

not trained in or not having a detailed knowledge of a particular subject:
“To a lay audience, the mathematics would be difficult.”

Putting aside the question of whether or not this is true in some cases — in my experience, this perception can lead to non-midwife birthworkers, particularly doulas and apprentice midwives who don’t have much knowledge or experience yet, thinking that they know enough to attend births as “lay midwives.” After all, being a midwife is easily assumed, by the very terminology used, to be a largely untrained profession and it’s all too easy for doulas and student midwives to believe the also pervasive (in the natural birth community) myth that all or nearly all birth complications are caused by interventions.

The truth of the matter is that it takes a great deal of time, studying, and experience to become a good midwife. Not all complications are caused by the overuse of interventions. Some complications happen in even the most tranquil and supportive birthing environments and these sometimes require the use of judicious interventions in order to ensure the mother’s and baby’s safety. In my experience, most women who are looking for a midwife are looking for someone who’s experienced enough to understand when to intervene and when to leave well enough alone and these women are not looking for someone to be present for an unassisted birth. Generally speaking, if a woman wants an unassisted birth (a completely different topic), she’s usually not looking for a midwife to hire – hands-off or otherwise.

There’s a saying in the midwifery community about how, for a time during training or their time working with birthing mothers, most apprentice midwives and many doulas know “just enough to be dangerous.” Basically, that means that the student or doula in question has been to some amazing births and read some medical textbooks and thinks that they have a really good handle on this baby-catching thing, when really, they don’t know enough yet to realize how much they don’t know.

The saying, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” is particularly applicable here and the vast majority of apprentices move past the point of knowing “just enough to be dangerous” and go on to learn and gain experience and become amazing midwives. This is a stage of development that’s healthy to move through, but can potentially be very dangerous if someone gets stuck there.

One of the most dangerous things about being stuck in the not knowing how much you don’t know phase is that you don’t realize you’re there until you’re out of it and look back with some horror at how much you used to think you knew. I’ve been to some truly terrifying births with a woman who sincerely believed that she was ready to take on her own clients and attend births as a primary midwife. I look back and realize that she not only lied to her clients and to me about various important things, but – far more dangerous – she lied to herself.

How can potential clients tell whether their midwife is experienced and knowledgeable, given the state of midwifery in many areas of the country? You, as a client, can and should ask questions, get solid references, see if a midwife is a member of her state’s midwifery association, and talk to the other midwives and birthworkers in the area to get an idea of whether your midwife has as much experience as you believe she has.

Watch for red flags, such as being reluctant to tell you their statistics – how many births/prenatals/postpartums they’ve been to – or not letting you know with what midwife they apprenticed and/or school they attended. The information about where your midwife trained, with whom, and for how long really shouldn’t be a secret and, in the absence of state licensure, is one of the best ways to check on and know whether or not your prospective midwife is telling you the truth about her background and experience levels and that you are comfortable with those levels.

Even with state licensure and a professional certification, find out your midwife’s experience and education levels. Be an informed consumer and ask around before choosing a doula or midwife. Don’t just interview one doula or one midwife – interview at least a couple so that you can find someone you feel comfortable with.

If you’re hiring a doula or midwife, please, for the love of all that is good and holy, check what they tell you about their history and experience. With a doula, your birth experience could be at stake; and with a midwife, your birth, your life, and your baby’s life could be on the line. If your prospective doula or midwife is anything other than completely forthcoming about names and phone numbers of references or about how many births she’s been to or about her training or education, check with their state midwifery organization or the doula organization she claims to be certified with and with any midwives she claims to have worked with.

Your birth, your comfort, and your safety is worth the trouble of double-checking and asking questions.

A Lovely Aspect of Homeschooling

One of the absolute best aspects of homeschooling for me, personally, is discovering new interests right alongside my children.

We’re trying something new this year. Last year we were part of a local Charlotte Mason co-op, which won’t work this year due to scheduling conflicts, and we learned about different composers and their music, artists and their art, poets and their poetry, and we did nature study outside using nature notebooks to record findings.

Those subjects of study may seem peripheral to most people and even to the public school system, from what I can tell, but I believe that they form a foundation for an appreciation of the finer things of life, as well as for a greater understanding of the world and culture we live in, and I can’t imagine ignoring these subjects, despite the fact that the co-op isn’t going to work for us right now.

We were able to base nearly all of our minor subjects on the lives of musicians, artists, and poets last year. Geography, social studies, some musical math, a bit of science, and even some history have all been brought alive by the music, art, and poetry of various countries, time periods, and individuals. I can turn on classical music and my children can tell me what instruments are being used, what type of music it likely is, and sometimes which composer wrote it. My children can immediately recognize the style of Impressionism when faced with an unfamiliar painting and I look forward to introducing them to many more styles as we continue throughout the years.

Anyhow, this year, given the situation and also to help my children handle the disappointment of not being able to see their friends for co-op, I had my oldest (8yo) choose our first subjects of study. She has chosen Degas for our artist, Tchaikovsky for our composer, Rose Fyleman for our poet, and to begin with leaves for nature study. Her next younger sister will get to choose the next set of topics once we have thoroughly examined this first set :-)

Throughout the process of gathering books and information on Degas, I’m apparently developing a great appreciation for art. I’ve always been more musically inclined, but I suddenly have found an appreciation where there wasn’t any before. It’s invigorating to find good sources, books about his life and works, and documentaries to fill our days that aren’t going to be quite as productive due to various factors.

This year is looking far more promising than I had previously expected it to be and all the children are thrilled to be so involved in the choosing of our poet, composer, and artist. I, also, am looking forward to continuing to develop more of an appreciation for art and poetry alongside my children and for my children to continue developing a great appreciation for the great composers, which has been my greatest pleasure to share with them <3

Nursing in Public

I read an excellent article yesterday about all of the public places/situations where it is inappropriate to breastfeed. Amazingly enough, as a strong breastfeeding proponent, I agreed with it!

Five Places Where Breastfeeding is Certainly Inappropriate

A friend of mine reposted the article and one of her friends commented about the “courtesy” of breastfeeding women not “drawing undue attention to their exposed anatomy” and of being modest. In my somewhat limited experience, those are some of the most common reasons given by people who seek to restrict where a woman is able to feed her baby in the biologically normal way. Given that our society still has a great many social biases towards *artificial baby-milk feeding, I believe that it is of extreme importance to address those biases whenever I see them.

This was my response:

It’s also courteous to look away if someone is nursing and showing too much skin for your comfort. I would ask you, very respectfully, to consider the following:

Perhaps the hypothetical woman who is “drawing undue attention” to the act of feeding her baby is just starting out with nursing. Perhaps her baby won’t nurse with a cover (most babies I know personally refuse to nurse while covered up). Perhaps she wore something that (in retrospect and to her great embarrassment) wasn’t the most practical nursing attire. Or perhaps her baby needed to nurse immediately due to hunger or injury, leaving no time for the mother to be overly concerned with the opinions or even sensibilities of adult strangers who can easily avert their eyes if their sensibilities are offended.

Perhaps the fact that the mother could have very valid, non-exhibitionist, reasons for not being as modest as some might prefer could help you see that (rare, in my experience) occurrence in a different and more positive light than as, negatively stated above, a purposeful drawing of attention or lack of modesty.

 

Babies need to be fed. If a baby is hungry, then they should be fed as quickly as possible. Preferably with breastmilk, but with formula where necessary for whatever reason. If someone can bottle-feed in a location or situation, then mothers should be able to also breastfeed in that same location or situation. Feeding a baby is not a sexual act. Breasts are primarily organs for feeding babies, not for titillating the males in our species.

*I am not anti-formula and I fully understand that it is necessary to feed babies artificial baby-milk under several circumstances. The first rule of feeding babies is “Feed the baby” and many babies thrive on formula. However, I also believe that we do a disservice to both babies and mothers, as well as society as a whole, when we pretend that artificial baby-milk is in any way comparable to breastmilk or ignore the fact that there are very real disadvantages, and even dangers, to feeding babies formula when compared to breastfeeding directly or feeding babies breastmilk from a bottle.

Assigning Positive Intent

flowers in the yard

I believe that learning how to assign and even to assume the positive intent of others is one of the most important things I’ve learned how to do over the past several years.

I first remember hearing about this concept from my father as he taught an adult Sunday School class that I was attending. He explained that, when someone seems to be angry with you, they very well may not be at all. They might be dealing with a difficult personal or family issue or they could even be experiencing chronic pain – nobody, my father explained that Sunday morning, has an easy time being nice to other people when they have chronic back pain.

Well, that made and still makes perfect sense to me. In addition to the point that people always have other things going on in their lives that we can’t possibly know about, another point is that none of us is the center of anyone’s universe except possibly (probably?) our own. The idea that I would do something purposefully to make a friend or family member of mine upset or to offend them utterly baffles me. I don’t know why I would spend any time trying to do such a thing.

And if I wouldn’t spend my time doing something like that, then why would I assume that anyone else would do such a thing to me?

That was enough to convince me and over the years I’ve gotten much better at assigning positive intent to others and not taking personally any differences of opinion or belief.

The assumption of positive intent has made a huge difference in my life and has been very freeing. I’m free to believe that I’m not the center of anyone else’s world and that nobody is messing with me by just living their lives.

One of the most important places to assume positive intent these days, in my opinion, is online, but it’s also one of the more difficult situations to assume positive intent. We are now exposed to so many more of our friends’ and family members’ beliefs and actions than we were before social media came around that it’s bound to be a rough transition. Family members interacting with high school friends and college friends and parenting friends… it can be a mess sometimes.

It can also seem, occasionally, as though people are posting negative things that are directed right at us and at our choices or beliefs. In reality, the people posting them probably just saw something that lined up with their own beliefs and posted it because they liked it – not because they’re thinking about how you do or believe the opposite and they want to send you some sort of cryptic negative message.

I’ve mostly avoided that sort of thinking, especially after spending several years on a gentle parenting board where we are expected to always assume positive intent with our children as well as with other mothers on the board, and am normally very adept at simply scrolling past most things that I find to be potentially offensive or divisive, but I’ve found that I sometimes get very defensive or even offended responses from my friends when I post something that has been helpful to me personally with parenting or living.

It’s even possible that this post will ruffle someone’s feathers somewhere, although I can’t imagine whose and it’s not intended in that way either… it’s just a helpful topic I have on my mind and that I wanted to share with anyone who reads this <3

So what are some examples of positive intent, as I see it?

Positive intent (as I see it) says that parents who make different decisions than you do are just doing the best they can with their unique situation and the information they have, even if you think you’d never make those decisions yourself. Positive intent says that those parents also have the best interest of their children in mind, even if you vehemently disagree with how they go about showing it.

Positive intent says that people who generalize about specific parties in politics and denigrate those who support them are just frustrated with the state of politics right now (aren’t we all?) and possibly lack the capacity to express their extreme frustration without also casting aspersions on everyone who supports the party they’re frustrated with. Positive intent also says that those aspersions are not about you or me, but rather tells you a bit more about the frustrations and beliefs of the person making them.

Positive intent says that people are trying their hardest and doing their best to live their lives in a difficult and fallen world, even if you look at them and think that they seem like abject failures by your own definition. Nobody is perfect and everyone falls short in one way or another. Some of us struggle more than others do and none of us have walked in anyone else’s shoes, figuratively speaking, so it really does behoove everyone to assign positive intent.

Positive intent says that we treat others the way that we would want to be treated by assuming that there’s a good explanation for behavior that we could easily take personally or poorly.

If I ever appear to be a jerk to someone then I want to know about it and have a chance to make things right. It only makes sense to me to give that chance to anyone who seems to be acting like a jerk to me. Maybe they thought  I was a jerk first or maybe their mom just died or they just found out they have cancer or they simply woke up late and have been scrambling to catch up all day long… you’ll almost certainly never know for sure unless you assume the best and ask them nicely.

Positive intent says that it’s not all about us and that we should strive not to take things personally unless we have asked for clarification and the person clarifies that it is, specifically, about us.

Almost always though, there’s another explanation; one that doesn’t involve cryptic or indirect personal attacks because, really, who has time for that kind of thing?

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