I knew I wanted to be a midwife the day I walked into my friend's mother's home office one day when I was 13. When she opened the door for me I saw first an office and then realized how mesmerized I was with a grownups work environment. I pulled some books off the shelf about herbs, nutrition, women's bodies, and babies all while looking at beautiful pictures of happy families holding joy and new life and love in their arms. Some of those babies still had their umbilical cords leading into their mother’s bodies. It was pre legislation in Quebec. That something I was mesmerized with was the sacred truth of life. I was an extremely rebellious teenager doing all things under the sun that I should not be doing and today I tremble at the sight of innocent youth doing terrible things no child should do. I remember in a moment of teenage angst marching into my living room and begging my family to tell me that there was more to life than the humdrum of dragging yourself to work in a robotic fashion only to come home to a robotic life of watching tv. Unfortunately the answer was a yeah like it or leave it, working class people work to survive and that’s the reality. I wanted to leave it. I thought “oh my gosh what am I going to do with this life of mine...” and then I walked into a midwife’s office. I think it saved my life. I knew that it was difficult to get in to a midwifery program in Canada so I did some research on who my competition was. I called the programs in Ontario and at UBC to find out exactly how many people were applying each year and what the profiles of the people actually being admitted were. It became evident to me that if I wanted to be competitive, I needed to get a university degree prior to my application. I got a degree in women studies and in psychology from Carleton University. I really loved being a student and all that came with it. In retrospect I am glad to have done that since I now know what to expect as a student and what academia is all about.
Today, as I write this blog entry, I sit in my own home office surrounded in books with titles like "plant power, gentle birth choices, heart and hands" and a number of sweetpea baby pics to fall in love with over and over again.
I did not get here by chance. No, I worked for it and created this life for myself. And you can do it too. I really think its fundamentally important to surround yourself with what you value be it buildings if you're into engineering, cookbooks and flowers if you love the home life and babies and women if you want to be a midwife.
The hard part is getting to where you want to be. For the longest time I thought I could just sign up for what I wanted and get it without doing all the baby steps. I learned to come up with meaningful plan B's along the way. Which is something needed to keep yourself sane in the craziness that is competing for a spot in one of Canada's midwifery schools.
There are of course many ways to get involved with those experiences that will help you compete for a spot as a midwifery student. But be prepared for a competition since you can only apply to one of Ontario’s 3 schools plus UBC and trois-riviere if you speak French. That’s a maximum of 3 schools per year. And most programs accept about 20 students per year and have approximately 200-300 applicants. Most other prospective students will have similar experiences and hopefully a passion for midwifery so it's important to gain experience and understand what it is you are applying for as well as bringing something to the table that is worth investing in.
Naturally, you will need the prerequisite courses being OAC biology/chemistry, OAC English, your social science courses and an overall average of 70%.
Those prerequisites are mandatory and a pain in the behind for anyone who studied in Quebec and did not go to CEGEP ie me. Having a liberal arts degree from an English university does not substitute for OAC English regardless of how many 20 page A papers you've accumulated.
I also knew that it was important to get some significant experience in the field of midwifery before applying to the program. In my third year of women studies, I did a practicum with a midwife. I helped her with research assistance, I transcribed video interviews with midwives from around the world including Canada and Afghanistan, I attended clinicals at the midwifery group in town and I did a presentation about midwifery to a captive group of students. It really opened my eyes as to what a midwife's daily life can be like. I had the opportunity to meet many midwives and ask a ton of questions. I also took the liberty to ask the mothers and their families about birth, their expectations and the care they were receiving. I met some truly wonderful people. I even met some midwifery students who answered some tough but truthful questions about financial and family issues as a midwifery student.
On the day that I graduated from University (June 17, 2005) I flew to Vancouver from Ottawa. This was a 5-hour flight across the country, which cost me all of the money I had reserved for emergency through the years-$1000. It was one of the biggest days of my life! I had applied to UBC midwifery program in January and had been invited for an interview. It was the opportunity of a lifetime of hopes and dreams. I flew there because they refused to interview me over the phone and went as far as to say that I was jeopardizing my chances of acceptance to the program by asking for a phone interview. I found it odd. But away I went, completely jeopordizing my financial situation. The interview was awful. I never got a straight answer but I am convinced that they used an interview technique called the 'stress interview'. It was one hour of answering drill style questions, personal ones and difficult ones like why I did a previous degree or to describe how I dealt with stress and to describe a conflict I had had with diversity. There was one man and one woman both in power suits sitting at a small round table with me. They seldom looked at me and offered no opportunity to know how I was doing. I tried to make a joke once or twice just to break the tension in the room but I barely got more than a instinctive smile quickly pulled back into a tight lip.
I had originally made a list of 15 questions to ask them at the end of the interview since I knew they allotted time for this, but when they asked me if I had any questions for them, I was incredibly shocked at what had just happened in the room (the odd reception and intimidation) that I said no and never asked a single question.
When I was excused from that room, I met with 3-4 other students of varying ages and styles of dress. We were brought to a room with the director of the program who gave us a pep talk of sorts. In fact, it was more of a bizarre rendition of how we would be miserable students, poor with no financial potential during 4 years of school, that it was terribly difficult on students with families and that most families end up breaking up. She also mentioned that since the program was still relatively new, we would have to put up with all the disorganization of a new program and all of the wrinkles that needed still to be ironed out.
I immediately knew that I had not been accepted. I could feel it. I was upset to be so far away from any comfort like friends or loved ones. I took a bus to Seattle to go fly a pontoon plane with an old friend who is a pilot. That was the highlight of my trip. I came home to an email stating that I had been rejected. It was a strange relief. I was devastated to have been rejected but I did not get a good vibe from the entire experience so I was pleased not to have to go back.
They offered to do a follow up interview with me and I was certainly not going to fly back there to get some answers as for how I did. Finally, I convinced them to accept a phone interview. But I was only given one 30-minute time slot to place the long distance call. I had to take the afternoon off from my new job in order to be home to place that call. Oddly enough, I discovered that I had done exceptionally well in the interview. I was told that I had one of the best interviews/personal profiles. So I asked why I had not been selected. It turns out that all of the women chosen had grades above 80% and that 5 of the 10 admitted were already nurses. Apparently there was pressure on the program to admit students with a nursing degree so that they may practice as both a nurse and a midwife. Two birds with one stone. In any event, I knew I would apply again the following year-just not to UBC since they told me straight up not to apply again.
Certainly other women must have better experiences with UBC. I can only imagine that I had a bizarre fluke of an experience with this school because I was guarded away from it by the mischievous faeries of the universe. I wasn’t meant to study there.
In my year 'off' between graduating and this upcoming fall, I became a Doula, a volunteer birth companion with Mothercraft, I worked a crap job at a hotel, I got a credit for that prerequisite OAC biology, I worked as a paid research assistant for a midwife and I applied to Laurentian University for the midwifery program.
The story about how I did get accepted into midwifery is half as interesting as how I got rejected. Simply put, I wrote the 5 page paper required for the application, got all of my prerequisites in order and sent the application. Mind you, the night before the deadline, I was at a tumultuous birth for 38 hours. This was a bit of a tragic story in itself since this baby was a crack baby and all sorts of unmentionable words and truths came out that night. I only hope that the mother is in jail and that a kind soul is caring for that child. In any event, I came home exhausted but high on birthrenalin and finished the last 2 pages of my application essay. I was only partly worried about the words I wrote. I worried for typos and the likes. But I felt that I could not be writing the essay from a more personal and birth conscious place. When I arrived at the post office, the quirky man behind the century old heritage counter handed me a tissue and said "I hate to see women cry!" I said to him oh no I'm not sad! I just have not slept in two days, I saw a crack baby make it into the world this morning, I just finished this important paper and it's a bit of a miracle so my eyes are just watery! He didn’t say much more but he promised to send the envelope safely to the university. Also miraculously, he knew the postal code for the university and filled in the address for me. I went home to sleep.
Three days later, the midwifery program contacted me requesting that I apply to the French program. I knew then that they wanted me as a student and quickly agreed to be a French stream student. It was actually my preference to study in French (my maternal language). I figure it the English terminology will always permeate so learning the French stuff will be a benefit to me.
When things are meant to be, they are meant to be.