It has been a weird ass week.
On the good list of surprises was a really amazing, really fast, really easy birth (no really, this mama looked at me within minutes of the birth and said “That was so easy!”). After a quick check in to drop off a birth pool in what I thought was this mom’s early labor, I offered to head home and give them some space. She very sweetly said, “No, you’re fine!” and then she had her (FIRST!) baby less than 10 minutes later. WHAT?! I have never seen anything like it, probably since those are the births we miss! It was dumb luck on my part that I hadn’t brought her the birth pool yet so I just happened to be there dropping it off when the fetal ejection reflex kicked in like I have never quite seen before. It was amazing, and like all births I have the honor of witnessing, made me feel even more blessed to call myself a midwife.
On the bad list of surprises, we have had to deal with some really gnarly gossip, speculation and accusations about Indie Birth re: our Indie Birth Midwifery School, and I wanted to take the time to set the record straight about some things in writing.
I want to start with a little bit of background. Our school is in its infancy (haha), having started our first class in July 2017. We are enrolling our second year of students starting this July (2018) and plan to continue enrolling new classes every year. Somehow, like a game of telephone, someone read an email we sent out saying that we only had five spots left before we closed enrollment for this year’s class, and then passed along completely incorrect information until we have now seen in several places around the internet that people think we are “closing the school”. How this bizarre conclusion was come to, we will never know (unless it is actually a ploy by people who know full well that it isn’t true, but would love to see us fail). Not only are we not closing, we will have 2-3 times as many students enrolled come July, and likely will continue an upward curve of growth well into the future if our interest levels indicate anything. So myth #1 is that our school is closing. The truth is it is most definitely not.
Myth #2 is that “quite a few students have quit” the program. Here is the truth! We are heading into our 4th of 8 quarters with our first cohort of students, and I/we will be the first to admit that we have had our ups and downs so far as we all adjust to our school platform, teaching these classes, working with students in this intensive but not always intimate way (since we are completely online), and communicating about issues as they come up. Without airing every detail, I can say that it has been a huge learning experience for Maryn and I about how to hold space for these students, other teachers, ourselves and this larger vision we have of autonomous birth and midwifery. We are getting better at it every day. Like in birth, we, as directors of the school, cannot want this more than the student does, though, and so yes, we have had students leave the program (like every midwifery school does, just ask around!). We actually seem to have a pretty above average retention rate from the sounds of it after talking to teachers and students in other programs (including several MEAC accredited ones). We started with 24 students and currently have 15 left at the almost halfway mark. I just saw a post of another programs’ skills workshop a few years ago where there were 10 students in the picture, and of the 10, only one is actually attending births anymore. A best friend of mine was one of 4 that graduated from yet another program’s cohort (not sure exactly how many started out), and of those 4 she is also the only one who is now a midwife. ANOTHER midwife friend told me the exact same story yesterday – she said she was one of 4 that graduated from her MEAC program (started with 16) and she is the only one actually serving as a midwife. So, there. Many programs graduate 25%-33% of the students who began the program, and we expect to be closer to 50%. Midwifery is hard, and midwifery school is no exception.
Myth #3, a variation of the #2 is that “most of the students are about to fail and be kicked out of the program” which couldn’t be further from the truth. We have had one single student actually fail enough classes to be asked to leave, after many extensions, opportunities to course correct and get support above and beyond what any midwifery school directors could reasonably be expected to do. The other students who have left the program have done so for a variety of unexpected life circumstances, or the realization that they simply didn’t have enough time or energy to dedicate to the program. No one is on the verge of being kicked out for failing. We allow students to fail 3 classes and still graduate, with the understanding that they will demonstrate their understanding of the topic another way then. In fact, most of our students have amazing GPAs, and they are growing in ways that are exciting to watch. We recently did a Walk and Talk podcast about this very topic that will be released soon.
Myth #4 is that our teachers are “all burned out” and that some have left. Not a single teacher has left and we are bringing on at least 6 more in the coming year that I can think of off the top of my head. We plan to continue growing our staff each year. Our teachers are asking to come back and teach again, and we are paying them a living wage. All for $2500 a year per student, which is LESS THAN A QUARTER of the price of some of the cheapest other midwifery schools. How do we do it? I don’t know – maybe magic?
Myth #5 is that the “leader of the school tells students to leave rather than compromising or working out problems”. Maryn and I have both said that if our program is not the right program for you, you are free to leave – that is true, and is a normal and sane thing to say, so I’m not sure how that could be construed as problematic. The second part is not true though. We are MORE THAN HAPPY to address issues, and talk individually with students for as long as it takes to find resolutions to problems that come up, which all have been incredibly minor when put into perspective. What has been most fascinating in the last week is that we are being accused of things, behind our backs, that the aggrieved never brought forward to us in the first place, despite being incredibly available personally to our students. I have said to our students that if they are unhappy with a course, we will make it right, however we need to, even if that means creating new content and resources, or taking time to teach more material to fill in the gaps they feel like they have as a result of a less than stellar course. We want our students to be happy, love our program, and leave as exceptionally smart midwives, and will do anything in our power to make that a reality.
Myth #6 This is the most disturbing of all of them, for reasons I will mention momentarily. “The director of the school has a habit of stealing the students ideas and using them to make money without even crediting the student – and they have documents saying they can do that”. Where to even start? Let’s jump to the contract documents part and circle back to the larger issue of stealing in a moment. Our documents actually PROTECT students work, and our work from being shared outside of our private association. You would think someone would read things over if they were confused, and ask us about it if they were concerned, not give their incorrect reading of the material to the internet acting like it is fact.
The larger issue is the idea that we have ever, or would ever steal anyone’s ideas. And the most confusing part of all of this for me is that a student would WANT to continue to be in our program when they thought we were stealing their ideas to make money, or that we would even need to! If we were so lame that we needed to steal other people’s ideas why would a student want to learn from us or the program we created? If anything, our problem here at Indie Birth is that we have TOO MANY IDEAS and too many products. You may not have noticed, but we have literally take down over 10 of our products in the last few months in efforts to simplify and hone in on the things we really want to focus on. It was an unfortunate coincidence (or perhaps a fortunate coincidence, since this helped weed out students that have very little interest in our mission and no concern for us as humans) that the retirement of our signature 5 week childbirth course (How to Have an Indie Birth) and the announcement of our new 10 week offering happened a few months after the end of our Childbirth Education Course through IBMS. This student (and perhaps some others) wondered if their class and creations had inspired this turn of events. The short and complete answer is, no, and I wish that someone would have just asked us about this if they were concerned. A new CBE course is something we have had on our agenda for well over a year, and after getting a complete rebrand we were feeling inspired to refresh the rest of our offerings, too. We recorded the classes for our 5 week How to Have an Indie Birth before I had ever even been pregnant, and I have really wanted to redo it ever since having my daughter who is now 3 1/2, and that has always been the intention. Not to mention that our ideas here at Indie Birth have evolved and grown and the 5 week model couldn’t contain the amount of information we want to impart onto our own clients and women around the world who take our childbirth education courses.
So let’s talk about the bigger vision and the lesson in all of this. One lesson that has come out of this is that “most people aren’t interested in the truth, they are interested in perpetuating the story” (credit to this idea goes to Thom Knoles 🙂 ). Those who DO want the truth are the ones we want in our more intimate circles, and it is for you that we wrote this transparent and emotionally exhausting piece (please send chocolate to Duluth). We want a community of radical midwives that love and support each other, even across our differences, which we will inevitably have. We want a community of midwives who talk to each other when issues come up, and treat each other with respect and give each other perhaps the greatest gift, the benefit of the doubt, the same way that we should be relating to our clients. We want to rebuild the trust amongst ourselves that has been systematically eliminated over the centuries in an attempt to keep us all divided. We ask ourselves how to do this and emulate this more each day. We know that we can continue to do better, and invite you along to do the same.
The biggest lesson though has been one we keep learning in larger ways each time. The lesson is that when you are trying to rock the boat, some people will love you and some people will hate you, and in this work, we really, truly, deep down have to learn to love the haters. So thank you to the people that were involved in this drama, for showing us where we can continue to be more clear, more real, more honest, more vulnerable, more bold and more steadfast. Thank you for giving us an opportunity to reflect on the parts of ourselves that are still insecure and untrusting. Thank you for making it that much clearer who is part of our team, and who isn’t (and we wish those folks well, too!). And to those who ARE on our team, thank you for being incredible, and we can’t wait to do this hard and important work with you.