from academic advisor to student chaplain
while buttoning up after one of many last cohort classes, i found myself meditating on the astonishing amount of time i'd spent in the school building in my lifetime. as a student midwife, then as a midwife, then as an academic dean, and finally as a core faculty member, i've spent more time physically in the space where i work than i have in any one home space i've occupied in the last decade. the building is in my bones. the cracked plaster in the front office. the art on the walls. the terrifying and fully-articulated birthing model ("noelle" *shudders*) on the third floor. the unbelievably beautiful and sweetly fleeting peonies by the front sign in june. the fake blood in packets. the cups of "just add hot water" pea soup for making demo meconium. the plants that have been slowly dying since elizabeth left. the shared office door with a birth center that gives new value and meaning to noise-cancelling headphones. the accidentally vaginally-patterned office carpeting. the tenacious mice (all of whom are named richard). i could write a book about the stories in that building (i may someday).
those spaces have held big, big transformation over the past three decades. you could water plants with the tears that have been shed, in both triumph and tribulation. people came into the space timid and passionate amateurs (literally, "lovers of the thing") and came out bold and gentle, capable care professionals. the doors of the school held some in and were a filter for others. some stayed, some went on to differently amazing things. staff poured whole lives into the care and keeping of the fire that burned within and powered the whole machine. we woke, slept, ate, and breathed the school (often, it seemed, unbeknownst to those who came and went, and with little acknowledgment)--because we believed in what we were creating and sustaining.
and now it seems i have to say goodbye, as do all others with a tie to that space.
the school will be closing on january 1st, and with it, while we don't lose community in an emotional sense, we do lose our physical meeting space, and we lose (for now) the promise of new cohorts and colleagues joining our ranks. because of the massive amount of teaching catch-up i've been doing (hands-on skills classes were mostly and necessarily punted forward in the timeline by the pandemic), i haven't had time to slow down long enough to begin to grieve. i imagine i'll carry on teaching and teaching and teaching until, on the last day, i'm suddenly and starkly faced with the reality that this building, this place so in my bones, won't ever be a midwifery school again. it won't be my other-home.
i thought today about what it would feel like for future-me to walk through the building as a cannabis dispensary, a tourist trap retail shop, or an air bnb vacationer spot, and to see and feel so deeply everything only i knew to be held by those walls. that stain on the hardwood? fake blood. that room? that's where i learned to do pelvic exams. talk about uncanny valley.
“why do you go away? so that you can come back. so that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. and the people there see you differently, too. coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving” terry pratchett, a hat full of sky
one of the things that i will truly miss the most when the doors close and that entity is put to bed is the opportunity both to teach and to learn from student midwives. in my time at the school, i've participated in application interviews for nine years' worth of incoming cohorts, i've taught eight years of classes, i've helped facilitate five years' worth of graduations. i've presented students for graduation who'd precepted with students who i'd presented for graduation years earlier. the lineages are strong, and they're far reaching. it's amazing to me to think of how many families are being served right now by people who were a part of my life and my path at the school. big ripples that spread and spread and spread.
as a teacher, i've had the opportunity to create class materials, to shift ways of sharing information, to update techniques and adapt them for different ways of learning, to evolve approaches from old ways of knowing and being into the newly and rightly-valued languages of inclusivity, decolonization, and trauma-informed care (i've done it both well and poorly--both wisely and naively). i've had the privilege to expand my mind through exposure to students' own personal approaches and thoughts about the work that we do. i've become a better phlebotomist because of our students who are emts. i've become a more discerning consumer and evaluator of information because of our students with medical research backgrounds. i've broadened my knowledge of herbal allies because of our students with deep knowledge of the plants and their various chemistries. make no mistake--teachers and students always both teach and learn from each other.
in my time at birthwise, i served as an official academic advisor for some, and as a generic soft-place-to-land for others. the pandemic brought this role into stark relief, as we all at once became a community of people each deeply in personal, academic, financial, existential and/or medical crisis. when no one had capacity, those of us in academic advising tried to find ways to hold that space anyway, and now that i'm operating from a place of higher personal capacity, i'm realizing how much i will miss the connection and space-holding that the role afforded me.
as i try to divest my business, little by little, from social media as a primary means of communication, and as i'm simultaneously faced with the loss of other means of connection to the community of midwives who have been part of my day to day existence, i'm feeling called to pull together networks of connection in other ways. i'm not sure what ultimate form that will take, but i would like to stay connected to you here if possible. if you're a student midwife or a graduate and you'd like to stay connected after the school closes, here are some ways to do so:
send me a note through the contact function on this website if you haven't already. that will add your name and personal email address to a contact list so that i'll be able to reach you once our @edu addresses are all defunct.
long story short, if you're a student or graduate, please stay connected personally and/or connect with me professionally--whatever you feel called to do. life is long and winding, and i'd really like to keep you in mine.
in the meantime:
be well, keep growing, keep going, and thanks for the gift of your time and presence for so many years.
abby hall luca
the hearth chaplain