On the Edge

Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

One would think that the most daunting part of facing a new path is knowing you will face obstacles along the way. Not for me. I know there are aspects of my training that will be difficult and draining. I know I will be over my head at first, having no formal medical training besides six years of life guarding. I know I will still feel over my head in moments when “the unexpected” – the only true universal of childbirth – occurs. I know I will have to take statistics.

I don't know why her anus is almost protruding or why she has a julienned pointer finger, but this is how I feel.

And that’s just fine with me. I prefer to face a challenge in the moment rather than queasily anticipate it for months. What really gets my stomach somersaulting is the initial decisions of where to start. I feel like I am looking over a cliff and below me is not just one deep plunge, but a thousand crevices of varying depths and darkness. They are all connected at the bottom, to some miraculous crystal cave full of fertility fairies and sage inscriptions from midwives past, but HOW DO I GET THERE???

There are about, oh, an endless number of paths to becoming a midwife, and costs range from a few thousand dollars to upwards of $80,000. Apprenticeship. Nursing school. Distance learning combined with clinical labs. Clinical labs combined with apprenticeship. A master’s degree. A professional license. A certification, or two. Revolutionary free form underground anarchist radical service. Knocking on the door at The Farm and asking to watch.

I’m aiming for nurse-midwifery, which combines traditional nurse licensure with specialization in maternal and women’s health. Typically, it means getting a Master’s degree (read = $$$). Thanks in part to my fickle college years (I didn’t declare my anthropology major until the beginning of Junior year), I have very few of the pre-reqs for any of the more formal programs. I’m talking a bare minimum of 20 credits. I love science (chemical formulas and mitosis are sexy), and I’m excited at the prospect of learning anatomy and nutrition, so I’m actually looking forward to it…but this means finding classes that jive with my 8-to-5 work schedule (or having to quit), days of paperwork and program comparisons, and at least another $10,000 in tuition (it will appear in my savings account, miraculously, of course). There goes life as I know it. Evening workouts? Nixed. Romantic evenings with my honey? Rare. Maintaining my new and improved 7-hours-of-sleep schedule? Fuggetaboudit.

But hey, as a wise man who I happen to be in love with once said, “Ya gotta do whatcha gotta do.” He’s right – the only way I’m gonna get to the magical cave of womby wisdom is if I take the plunge. If I can find the fastest, cheapest way of doing it, bombastic! If not, well, prospects for nursing in general are great, and growing, so hopefully I won’t be swamped in debt for all eternity. Midwifery, although still controversial in the U.S., is practiced worldwide and is increasingly recognized as a low-cost, high-value alternative to modern obstetric care for low-risk women, and so the practice is growing, albeit slowly.* Most importantly, when I finally do attain enough experience to help women deliver their babies, to have my own clients, and even have my own practice, I know that every nail-biting, bank account-shaking, sleep-depriving moment will have been worth it.

For now, I’m starting with the basics. I know that taking this moment by moment is the only way I will not completely and utterly freak out. That means taking the pre-reqs I need to make all of these options viable. I may have to stop working full-time, which is a little scary considering that my San Francisco cost of living isn’t exactly modest. But it’s also elating to think that I am finally throwing myself off the cliff. Ok, maybe scaling down the side with a safety harness. But to be approaching the depth of what I LOVE and DESIRE so strongly? That’s a ride I’ll take.



*I will get more deeply into this at a later post- I promise.

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4 Responses to On the Edge

  1. Ash says:


    My advice, take the pre-reqs and get into a nursing program. This will open so many doors for you, and having the background clinical experience will bring you peace of mind when dealing with unexpected situations, I’m talking about the 1 in 5 chances that the mother will develop pre-eclampsia, or the baby’s heart rate slows during labor, or the mother hemorrhages. Especially with the profound rate of hypertension and diabetes among women of ALL races and ages these days, it’s important to feel comfortable dealing with co-morbitities, poor lifestyle habits (i.e. nutritional deficits, drug addictions, stress) as well as emergencies. The only way you will get that is through uncomfortable, stressful clinical experience. Another point is that you have to be familiar with both the adult physiology, as well as a newborn. Remember you are dealing with TWO “clients” instead of just one. It’s a lot of responsibility, and the mother and baby are both relying on you to be fairly proficient at your trade. With that background, you will have more control of the direction you want to take thereafter. Just my advice. Now that I’ve scared you, I just want to you to know that you are the most motherly, loving woman I know, not to mention the most intelligent woman that I know, and this journey for you will be full of pleasure and contentment. Good luck, my young grasshopper 😉

    • Jessalyn says:

      Thanks Ash- Yeah, I have pretty much settled on CNM as opposed to non-nursing options. I think the clinical experience is SUPER important, and being a nurse-midwife also allows me more freedom in terms of having my own clients/practice. I’m sure there will be uncomfortable moments, but those are often my best 😉 ;)…Also, while it’s easy to continue training in addition to my RN, like exploring indigenous practices in South America, it is much more difficult to add institutional training to conventional practice. As a Certified Nurse Midwife I can continue learning and get the best of both worlds! 🙂

  2. Alyssa says:

    This is the most refreshing thing I’ve exposed my eyes to in a while. I can most certainly relate to the daunting task of going back to school and getting the fundamental sciences out of the way (and the associated price tag). I’ve been toying with the idea of going back for Physical Therapy, and am taking anatomy and physiology this summa, (CANNOT contain my excitement). However I’ve also been struggling with the decision to follow a more yogic-based path, somatic movement programs, corporal awareness, etc. I’m facing so many choices right now (oh this oyster of a world), I was delighted to see this chronicle of your Path. I wish you nothing but the best in your endeavors, and I am always down to dialogue about our Incredible Bodies! (Taking Bio II now, evolution = blowing my mindddd!).

    much love,

    • Jessalyn says:

      Hi Alyssa- thanks for the commiseration! It’s important to remind ourselves that these things have been done before and we are not alone. It sounds like you are on track for your stuff- good luck and keep me updated! ❤

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