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Midterms!

What can I say about this? Midterms always suck – and I’d thought I’d written my last midterm years and years ago, but here I am. This is really, really hard. At least the A&P. Wah. Wah. Wah.

My A&P study nest. (I cut and paste a lot.)

I don’t want to just focus on the negative. I swear I don’t. But it’s October and we’re in midterm hell. I’m really going to try to balance this post, though, so let’s just get all that out right at the start, ok? [Warning: I’ve got considerably less time for editing these days, so please excuse the draftiness of this.]

The academic work in this first semester of first year in the Mac MEP is MOUNTAINOUS. A caveat: not all of it is hard work. Some of it is simple busy work, and some is downright silly (e.g. Life Sci lab question: “Name two differences between a microscope and a magnifying glass.” Um, yeah – they’re not all like that, alas).

So there are two things at play here. First, it’s the seemingly millions of little assignments, reports, presentations, (mini-)papers, readings, etc. that just never stop. It’s like they’re coming at you from all directions all at once and you are constantly whipping them off as quickly as possible and ducking at the same time as another almost hits you in the head. And whipping them off is all you can do, because if you spend any amount of real time on them, you are spending time that you should be using studying for quizzes and exams, i.e. you are screwed. Life Science has a lot of info, sure, and you’re tested on it, but it seems light weight compared to A&P. This is where the majority of the stress comes from – for me at least. Coming from a non-science background here’s my take on this: it’s not because I’m somehow inherently unable to grasp the material or concepts; when I sit down with a good stretch of time, a good brew of coffee and > 6 hours of sleep, I get most of it (so far). It’s more that I’m so unfamiliar with this kind of learning and studying, that I feel really inefficient. And it hurts my brain. And I’m terrified of the cadaver lab…

To be fair, I know that writing papers and critical analyses hurts the brains of some of my more sciencey colleagues, and I know that practice makes…adequate? mediocre? That’s all that I’m hoping for. But there’s just so much information to learn, and I never seem to get the great stretches of time needed to do it. [That said, I’m writing this while taking a break from studying for my Life Sci midterm on Friday. This is my “reward.”] I know that I only need a 60% in A&P to continue in the program, but right now, that “only” seems overwhelming. [Joke: What do you call a midwife who got 60% in A&P?…….. A midwife. Ba-dum-bump!]

Soooo…..here’s a few of the great parts:

  • The “Post-Midterm Potluck and Shenanigans, aka Midwifery Students Let LOOSE” event being planned for Friday night.
  • The bowling party we had a few weeks ago to celebrate someone’s birthday (and bitch about various MEP-related frustrations).
  • The swell of excitement among us when someone comes to class having just attended a birth – everyone wants to know all the details, and we share our experiences, our hopes and our fears.
  • All the little chats and coffee-clutches that end with “OMG – we’re going to be midwives!!”
  • Simply feeling like I’m getting up every day with a purpose and direction that I’ve never had before. This is indeed Right Livelihood to me.
  • And so many other little bright moments daily that overwhelm me with deep gratitude for the privilege of this experience. (I’m limiting this here because of the mounting pressure in my skull to get back to the organic chemistry, sigh.)

It’s not perfect. Nope. Not even close. And I’ll have to write a post about all that sometime – probably during the winter break – and I’m dreading it. But for now, I feel that I was well prepared emotionally and mentally for the challenges that the program brings (the good and the nasty), and again, I have to thank those who have gone before me, and who were kind enough to share their experiences with me. I know some of my classmates are struggling right now with the clash between their personal vision of midwifery practice and what we’re exposed to in the program. I feel like I was able to deal with that somewhat before I started, and I’m grateful for that. As a wise upper-year once advised: “Let everyone else’s shit just wash over you and concentrate on what you are doing.” And it’s not that I’m taking a shit bath every day, but I’ve put up some walls, and I’ve compartmentalized my experiences a bit, and that’s what I need to do right now to get on with this. And it’s weird, you know, because at the same time, I LOVE IT!

Highlights:

1) Getting to know some really lovely women just a little bit more every day. We inevitably had to introduce ourselves (it’s such a small class) and “say a little bit about why we’re here” in every class this week. In other contexts, this might have ended up in the Lowlights category, but this week it was actually very cool. Every time someone spoke, we got to know something new and interesting. And just hanging out between classes and getting coffees and walking into Westdale together and savouring the sweetness of new friendships and allies. When things get tough, we’ll need to lean on each other, and lean hard. I’m so grateful to be part of such a great group of strong, committed women.

2) Working Across Difference in Midwifery! This class is like slipping into a warm bath for me – familiar, comforting and oh so SOCIAL science. I’ve covered a lot of the stuff before in women’s studies and anthro courses, but this particular class should be very illuminating. There are always things to learn and question about myself, my privilege and my power, and this class offers a forum for this kind of self-reflection. And, a big, meaty paper to write. Yes, actually WRITE! Not just little descriptive snippets (I’m looking at you, Midwifery the Profession), but something I can engage with that isn’t due until the end of the year, so I’ll have more time to work on it (I only have three courses next semester).

3) Loving My Girls! Picking them up at daycare at the end of the (school) day and having Bea run into my arms, and even Caroline being interested in the “activities” we do together at home, is wonderful. I miss them, yes, but I’m appreciating them all the more. A trade-off for sure, but I’m feeling okay about it now that it’s actually our reality. And that is a huge relief.

Lowlights:

1) Nearly passing out in the cadaver lab. Does anyone remember the show Quincey? I’m really dating myself here, but it was about a crime-solving pathologist with a quick mind and a dark sense of humour. Anyway, the opening sequence shows a group of medical students (presumably) standing around a sheet-draped figure lying on a steel table, and gradually, as Quincey starts doing his thing, the students start keeling over one by one. So, imagine that happening, except that it’s mostly just me getting light-headed and having to sit down before passing out, and the rest of the students are giving me concerned looks and asking if they can get me anything. Yep. Turns out I’m not so good with the sights and smells of the anatomy lab – mostly the smells, actually and the stuffiness. I was briefly worried that that would be the end of my midwifery career, but was assured by the prof that it happens every year and I would get used to it, and at least I didn’t hit the floor, which inevitably happens as well. I did labs in physical anthropology, but they were exclusively dry specimens, so this will be a challenge because they recommend visiting the lab as often as possible – not to mention the bell-ringer exams that will take place in there…

2) One gone already. On Monday afternoon as we sat in “Difference,” the program manager came in to introduce us to our newest colleague – the next on the waiting list. Great for her, a dream come true, actually, but we all knew that one among us had already decided that this just wasn’t for her. We didn’t really talk about it, but everyone knew. Mixed emotions all around.

3) LearnLink. Sucks. Period.

Welcome!

Here I am writing a blog post when really, truly I should be reading. Although many have said it before, I’ll reiterate: there is no easing into this program – especially if, like me, you’re taking the full science boat in the first semester (that is, Anatomy and Physiology [heretofore known as A&P] and Life Science for Clinical Practice). Readings for Midwifery Profession and Working Across Difference are expected to be done before the first class (next week), and I’m looking to go over some of the chemistry we covered last Friday in Life Sci. And that’s not to mention the dishes, the floors, and the gigantic load of diapers to wash before the girls head back to daycare tomorrow.

So Bea is napping and Caroline is off with her daddy at Home Depot, and what am I doing? Blogging. But I have a good excuse today, because I AM NOW OFFICIALLY A STUDENT MIDWIFE!!!!!!!

The months of waiting came to an end last Tuesday when I found myself in a small (stuffy) classroom with 29 other excited women (alas, no Otises this year) and several savvy second years welcoming us into the fold. The rest of the week alternated between thrilling (getting to know each other, a talk by an Aboriginal midwife, meeting [and being intimidated by] Eileen Hutton – the program director and one of the founding “mothers” of regulated midwifery in Ontario, a get-to-know-you BBQ held for us by the second years, and the unexpected pleasure of having my own midwife for my two births call up out of the blue to congratulate me and wish me well!), and mind-numbingly boring (welcome speeches from various FHS talking heads, WHMIS-training [although the instructor certainly gave it his all], welcome to LearnLink, plagiarism lecture [seriously?], and any number of administrative minutia that we sat through). Add to that introductory lectures of each of the science courses – which I know will be challenging, but seem really interesting from where I’m sitting now – and that’s orientation in a nutshell. Except that it was so very much more.

It was about feeling a connection with a group of people before even knowing them – being part of a tradition that dates back…well, to the beginning I guess (hmmm, I wonder if there’s an archaeology of midwifery?). It’s a connection with my colleagues and the countless generations before us, as well as the women we’ll serve. It put me back in touch with why I’m doing this – something I’d forgotten a bit amid the police checks and two-step TB tests. It is amazing to have this opportunity to learn, to grow and to serve. It is indeed a privilege for which I am truly grateful.

I could go on and on and on, but the second week awaits, and the diapers are ready for the drier, so I’ll leave it at that for now. A plague called the “day-care-induced cold” has descended on our house (after one bloody week?!?) so I know my sleep will likely be interrupted this week, but at this point, all I want to do is stay up late to read and learn and soak it all in. Joy!

The Decision

[Disclaimer: The following, as always, reflects my personal experience with the MEP application process in the year I applied (2012). Policies at any of the schools could change at any time, so please follow-up with the admissions offices regarding current procedures.]

I know MEP applications are due in February and interviews occur in the spring, but there are a few reasons why I’m thinking about this now. First, I want to write about my experience while it’s still fairly fresh in my mind and, second, I have no idea what kind of time I’ll have for composing lengthy posts in the New Year. But I also want to post it now because I’ve chatted recently with a few midwifery student hopefuls who are currently trying to make The Decision. That is, which school to apply to in Ontario. Because although the MEP is offered at three locations – Ryerson University (Toronto), Laurentian University (Sudbury) and McMaster University (Hamilton) – it is considered one program, and therefore, you can only apply to one location per year. For some, making the decision earlier will impact the way they plan for the upcoming year.

And it can be a really difficult decision to make. I waited until the eleventh hour to choose between Ryerson and Mac, so even though I applied to Mac in the end, I’d already written my Ryerson letter just in case. The decision can involve relocating families, quitting jobs and attempting all manner of logistical and financial gymnastics.

I already live in Hamilton so you’d think the decision would be a no-brainer. Why commute into Toronto every day, something I’d been doing (and loathing) for the past five years? But in talking to current and past students and faculty, and reading some MEP blogs I became less certain. Although midwifery education in Ontario is billed as “one program offered in three locations,” unofficially there are some cultural differences. For instance, I learned that Ryerson in particular has a social justice orientation that really appealed to me, and Mac leans more toward the health science/nursing end of the spectrum. And Laurentian has a strong focus on rural and Northern practice, which I’m really attracted to. The reasons for these differences are historical and institutional, dating back to the creation of the MEP in the early 1990s (for a closer look at how it all came to be, I highly recommend Ivy Bourgeault’s book “Push! The Struggle for Midwifery in Ontario.” I read it cover to cover twice, during the night-nursing stage with both my girls. Not a bad pre-interview read as well, wink, wink.) And I’d been to the Ryerson info night and culturally it just seemed like a good fit for me.

Also, the age cohort at Ryerson tends to be older, and I saw myself fitting in with that. This is partly due to the part-time streams at Ryerson, appealing options for those with families and/or established careers. But part-time study is only available for the first three semesters, during the in-class, non-clinical portion of the program. After that, not only do you have to continue the rest of the program full-time (which is a gross understatement for the kind of clinical/academic hours we’ll be putting in), but you could be doing it anywhere in Ontario. On the other hand, this structure can be an incentive for those who might consider Laurentian a little too remote because you’ll probably only be in Sudbury a short time (and Laurentian, I understand, usually has the lowest number of applicants per year, for the same number of program slots).

The application process itself can also play into the decision, it certainly did for me. Mac’s two step system (grades + interview) eliminates the more subjective evaluation of a personal letter (which Ryerson and Laurentian require) and I was gambling that my grades from two previous degrees were high enough to get an interview (although, of course, I sweated right up until the letter arrived in the mail). Mac offers interviews to 80 applicants each year based on grades alone, although 25% are offered to candidates coming directly out of high school (which probably plays a part in the lower age demographic of the Mac program). The head of the admissions committee explained to me that because midwifery is an undergraduate degree program, Mac takes an interest in seeing that “traditional” first year undergraduates (i.e. recent high school grads) are given a good chance to compete for a spot. But it’s important to note that this does not mean that there are spots reserved in the program for HS applicants, only interview spots. And regardless of this policy, only a very few such applicants are successful each year because once you get an interview, everyone is evaluated on the same scale.

Ultimately it was location, location, location that won out in the end. Fifteen minute v. two hour commute (each way). No contest. I want to be with my family more than 20 minutes a day (yes, I know there will be times when this won’t be possible regardless of where I matriculate). And I never considered part-time an option. I’m treating the academic semesters as a full-time job – the girls will be in daycare and I’ll go to school all day and do as much studying as I can on weekdays and after family story time in the evenings. Hopefully in and among those things I can also continue to contribute to the organizations I’m already involved with.

One of the best pieces of advice I got when I was making The Decision was from a current student. She encouraged me to talk to people and compare and contrast, and do whatever I had to do to make the decision, and then never look back. I’m still unsure about how I’ll fit into the Mac program, especially coming from a grassroots and social justice background, but I am sure that it was the right decision. So it’s down the rabbit hole for me in September – weeeeeee!

Warm Milk

Lately I’ve been a bit of an insomniac. So many thoughts, so little time – brain does not want to rest. I’ve been through bouts of this before, but usually during times of stress. My life right now is about as stress-free as it could possibly be. Every day I take a big deep breath and try to be grateful for this period of “rest and be thankful.” I’m not working full-time or taking courses. I’ve got excellent childcare options. I get time to leisurely hang out with family and friends. The girls have both worked out their sleep issues (for now, knock, knock). I’ve got an incredible partner who supports me in everything I do. And I’m already tapping into a wonderful community of future midwives.

I know any or all of this could change at any moment. I get impermanence – it’s a principle I try to embrace. And the MEP looms large on the horizon. It’ll be the biggest change we’ve been through as a family. But that’s in the future, another two months. So why am I sipping warm milk every night?

Therefore, in an attempt to exorcise some of the fear demons running around in my head lately, I thought I’d make a list:

  1. Can I do it? (I’m sure there’s a little of this in us all.)
  2. If I can do it, will I still want to? (That’s the big secret fear. It goes along with wondering if others feel the same.)
  3. How will my girls respond to my absences? How will I respond to being away from them?
  4. Will I get enough sleep?
  5. A million little details that keep cycling: where will Caroline go to kindergarten (in a year), is my brain going to hold all that science without imploding, how will Bea take to the toilet (again, in a year or so), will I get time to clean out all our closets, dressers, chests and cupboards before September (and finish Caroline’s big girl bed and knit Bea’s stocking), where will I park, will I get those transfer credits I’ve applied for, will the girls continue their sleeping patterns, will I fit in, when will I do my Christmas shopping…

You see?

On the other hand, I have a que sera, sera attitude towards some things that I know are very stressful for some:

  1. Placements will be wherever I get placed. We’ll deal.
  2. Financially we’ll be ok, eventually.
  3. Stu and I will be solid. Regardless.
  4. Blood, puke, poo, pee, mucus, amniotic fluid, whatever. I’ve never had a problem with these, and with time I’ll get used to doing whatever I need to do.
  5. I’ll practice anywhere in Canada that a midwife is needed. And anywhere else, perhaps. Life is life.

So yeah, thanks, that feels a little better already. Anyone else?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a friend of mine who’s been abroad since January and isn’t getting back until the beginning of September. We’ve been in pretty regular contact while she’s been away, mostly by email, exchanging kid-rearing griefs and personal stresses (and successes!). She suffered through the after-interview period with me as I convinced myself it had been a catastrophe, getting updates on why I am totally ok with not getting into the program this year, and how this will give me a chance to concentrate on other interests for a while, blah, blah, blah. I’ve learned a lot about caring for an infant in the jungle (seriously), and the difference between sun stroke and dengue.

The arc of our relationship hasn’t exactly been smooth. We got together, then we broke up. There was a time when I wasn’t there for her when she needed me, in the way she needed me. I failed her. Somewhere along the line she forgave me, I guess. Although we don’t talk about it. After a few years passed, we got together again. Slowly. Hesitantly. As we started to get to know each other again, I began to see what a truly amazing person she is. She’s been through a lot of shit, and yet has accomplished some pretty incredible things in her life. She’s smart and funny; strong and wise (although she’ll deny it).

Almost a year ago she had an amazing homebirth, which she invited me to. I was honoured. I came in the middle of the night with my three-month-old and my husband in tow. And my friend did it like she’d done it before, with both power and grace (and a whole lot of puking:). I saw her son come into this world and I saw her hold him to her chest with confidence and love. That experience changed me for the better, as I hope that every birth that I am a witness to will.

People talk about bonding between mom and babe after birth; how important it is to make that initial connection. I feel like a different kind of bonding happened between my friend and me after her birthing, and I’m so very grateful that it did. And her journey to South America over the past months has made me realize how important those kind of bonds are. We’ve stayed in touch through technology, sure, but I can’t wait for September so we can bitch about night-nursing and parenting “advice” face to face again. My life’s a little better with her in it, and I can’t thank her enough.