by Angelique Chelton
MAP launched the new Midwives’ Alliance of Pennsylvania’s Assistants and Students’ Training (M.A.S.T)
Program in December 2014. The reasoning why such a program is necessary can be demonstrated in my own journey into midwifery.
In July of 2010, I realized that I was feeling a call to midwifery. Having just completed doula training in February of that year and not being part of the natural health/birth community, my first goal was to speak to some midwives about how to become a midwife. I was vaguely aware that some midwives were nurses (I wasn’t interested in nursing at all) and some weren’t. I wanted to speak to the midwives who weren’t nurses to see how they moved into their profession.
I did a Google search and came up with two names from prominent local midwifery practices. I emailed both and anticipated setting up a time to go visit with them individually, to drink tea and chat about what becoming a midwife entails.
I received no response from the first midwife and the second suggested I set up a pot-luck lunch with other aspiring midwives in the area so she could answer all our questions at once. Ummm, other aspiring midwives? I had no clue where to find these other women and didn’t get the feeling that the busy midwife would have patience to help me connect with them.
Time passed and I pursued complementary training in breastfeeding and childbirth education. Somehow, I connected with an aspiring midwife who lived about two hours north of me- we agreed to meet for dessert at a central restaurant and spent several lovely hours discussing the needs of students in Pennsylvania. Neither of us had been able to find a place to have questions answered, neither of us had been able to discover how we could locate a preceptor to eventually train us to be midwives… There were so many questions and so many needs and we just didn’t know how to get access to the midwifery community. My companion shared that she had a meeting with the Midwives Alliance of Pennsylvania in a couple of weeks and she would bring our needs to their group. This eventually led to the creation of the Aspiring Midwife Representative position within MAP and to my companion being the first to fill that role.
Through doula work, I eventually connected with some other student/aspirant midwives in the far south east of PA. We agreed to meet together to discuss beginning a study group- a study group!!- and during our first meeting we agreed to work through the course work of the National College of Midwifery together. Naïvely, I thought a plan and a schedule was absolute.
If you know anything about birth work, midwifery or midwives, you know that their schedules are a loose concept completely at the mercy of babies and mothers who they serve. At the following meeting, three students were unable to make it, leaving two of us to awkwardly ‘study’. We scheduled a second and a third meeting, only to have both cancelled. (An aside: every one of us is still involved in birth work-two have gone on to become midwives already and two have moved across country.)
In March of 2012, I was approached to consider taking on the position of Aspiring Midwife Representative for MAP. I was truly honored and, although I felt I had little experience in the midwifery community, I was very willing to pitch in to the team effort of furthering the art of midwifery within the Commonwealth. I still felt that PA aspiring and student midwives needed a place to gather and to study, to ask questions and to find some connection with practicing, experienced midwives. I struggled to figure out a way for students and aspirants to gather that would remove the concerns about schedules, births and other commitments.
In the spring of 2013, I began the Hearthside Online Midwifery Study Group as a forum for aspirant and student midwives to gather, discuss, and question with input from experienced, practicing midwives. This has proven to be a successful method to assist beginners of many backgrounds to access assistance in genesis of their midwifery journey.
Also in the spring of 2013, MAP began an intense restructuring phase. A search was begun to identify and connect passionate, active members of PA’s midwifery community and to build a new leadership team for the organization. MAP refocused its vision of service for midwives and students in the state and the new leadership team was excited to begin meeting the needs of Pennsylvania midwives.
Many of the Regional Representatives reported that they are experiencing a dearth of trained assistants to accompany them to births. For some, this is due to geographic isolation, for others, they simply cannot find a way to get interested parties trained while continuing to meet their own clients’ needs.
There also remained an essential element missing for students in Pennsylvania. Online study is useful to gain academic, theoretical knowledge, and the Hearthside Group helped with this, but online study/discussion doesn’t help the student midwife’s need for hands-on skills, for finding a place within their local body of midwives or for identifying potential preceptors.
Between the fall of 2013 and the spring of 2014, a small committee within MAP organized what is now the M.A.S.T. Program. M.A.S.T. was submitted to the full leadership team and was approved to be presented to the general membership at our Annual Meeting in April of 2014. The proposed Program was met enthusiastically by our membership and several student midwives expressed an interest in reviewing the Program before it was finalized. The M.A.S.T. Program was finally born in December of 2014 approximately a year after it was first conceived and after a healthy and productive gestation.
In its current form, the M.A.S.T. Program is a four-phase midwifery orientation program appropriate to create entry-level midwifery assistants or apprentices. In Phase I, students are oriented to the Program and to midwifery in Pennsylvania. Their goals are examined and they are introduced to their Regional Representative. Phase II is academic in nature and the students gain basic knowledge about midwifery, birth, breastfeeding, charting, HIPAA, blood borne pathogens, etc. Phase III is hands-on practice of a specific set of introductory midwifery skills. Phase IV is the professional development phase where students become certified in CRP/BLS and NRP/HBB. They also attend Peer Reviews or complete case studies with their Regional Representative.
I am really proud of the M.A.S.T. Program. I feel it perfectly meets midwives’ needs in that it will help produce a pool of trained, entry-level birth assistants in Pennsylvania AND it meets students’ needs to have a place they can go to have questions answered, to gain an introduction into PA midwifery, to begin creating a place within their local birth community and to identify potential local preceptors.
The M.A.S.T. Program is exactly what I wish I’d had access to when I was beginning to answer my own call to midwifery. No longer will students have to struggle to understand the concepts behind national, state and local midwifery. No longer will students have to wonder which midwives practice in their area.
No longer will students have to wonder if they are all alone in the learning process. I’m excited to see where M.A.S.T. students go in their careers.
Additionally, PA midwives have a place to refer aspirants who contact them to talk about midwifery training. Midwives will now be able to identify a potential apprentice or assistant because her colleagues, via MAP, have done some basic training on her behalf. She can have confidence that this apprentice/assistant is not starting at zero. This potential apprentice/assistant has MAP vouching for her experiences and exposure.
M.A.S.T. is the very first program MAP’s new leadership team has launched, but it is by no means our only program. In the coming months, keep an eye out for news about local MAP Friends and Family Picnics, a new consumer education campaign called “Know Your Local Midwife”, MAP representing PA midwives at annual events like Improving Birth Rallies and the Big Latch On, an awesome Fall Annual Meeting Conference and more!
And please contact us if you want to be a part of ‘putting midwives on the MAP’- we love volunteers and there is a place for you here!