An Interview with an Apprentice Midwife

At the end of the year, having student midwives at Thrive is bittersweet. They’ve caught babies, they’ve smiled into mamas eyes, they’ve held the hands of partners, they’ve cleaned a few birth rooms. They are trusted team players who are leaving the center to support other communities. Typically, student midwives are new to midwifery. However, this last year, we could not have been luckier to practice along side a student midwife with fifteen years of experience. How can this be, you might ask? You’ll have to read the interview with Serena Russel. Serena, we are sad to see you go, we thank you for your insights and hard work, and we wish you well in building your practice in Grass Valley and Nevada City! You can see Serena’s beautiful website here and please feel free to leave her a note in the comment section. We know she touched many people’s hearts as their families were born.




Kelly:  Tell me about the moment that you absolutely knew you were meant to be a midwife?
Serena: It started out with my ravenous hunger for knowledge and information on natural and normal birth when I became pregnant with my daughter at 18. Once I had her at home, with the guidance of my amazing midwives who continually and unwaveringly trusted and supported me, that knowledge became power and I felt compelled to share and inspire other women with this knowledge. This led me to midwifery.

Kelly: Tell me about your path to becoming a licensed midwife?
Serena: This is a long and winding one! Once I decided midwifery was my path (right after my daughter was born in 93), I started with self study and then attended a midwifery intensive for 3 months. This was in 94/95 before CA had licensing available for midwives, meaning it was a renegade path. The midwife who taught the class was very outspoken and she inspired me to always stay committed to my goal of supporting women. I apprenticed in a home birth setting for a few years. My mentor was trained by a granny midwife in Tennessee and passed on the deep trust and wisdom that comes with knowing your stuff and knowing when to use it~ and when not to use it! I started catching babies for friends in 99, but ultimately decided that I could use some high volume experience. I went to Jamaica to volunteer and train at a high volume birth center run by the well known midwifery mama, Shari Danials. I spent 6 weeks there and came home after 40 births and a plethora of clinicals. Slowly, I started my small practice with the idea that licensing, with all the protocols and requirements, would ultimately hold me back from my ability to truly work for my clients. I practiced for years this way, balancing single motherhood with midwifery, all the while knowing that one wrong step and I could go to jail for a felony. I kept diligent paperwork, wrote informed consents, attended peer review and followed local peer protocol. This was exhausting and it kept my practice very small. In 2013 the midwifery law went up for review and in January 2014 many aspects of it changed. Most importantly,  the concept of a woman’s right to self determination changed. For me, this meant I was no longer covered by my diligent claims of being unlicensed. So, I decided it was time to join the licensed model and through that decision realized it would also offer me an ability to be available to more types of women and families.
I enrolled in NMI and realized that after almost 15 years of primary practice, I had very little documentation I could use to prove my skills. This led me to the frustrating awareness that I would need to apprentice… again. Thats when I found out that Thrive Birth Center was looking for apprentices. Knowing the ladies from peer review, I emailed them and communicated my situation and found them to be surprisingly receptive. I arranged to start in an advanced student role in march 2015. Having been primarily home birth trained and experienced, I found the birth center to be a bit confusing at first. Electronic charting, digital b/p cuffs and an entirely different client load than I was used to was slightly intimidating but Jasmine and Caitlin were patient and friendly and took the time to explain everything. The other student showed me the ropes and quickly my insecurity shifted as I felt very much a part of the team. The collegial nature of my experience at Thrive brought perspective into my own ways of practice and expanded my ability to midwife all types of women in a comfortable and gentle manner.

Kelly: Wow, you really went from student midwife to experienced midwife back to the student roll again. What was the most challenging aspect of being an apprentice?

Serena: I think being on-call all the time while juggling the need to take care of my other responsibilities, like paying bills, making money and household tasks, was the most challenging piece of apprenticing as a midwife. It’s a lot of work and selfless service, and yet its also very rewarding.

Kelly: What was the most rewarding aspect of apprenticeship?
Serena: I loved that every single new mom and baby that comes into this world is gently and well cared for by their providers at Thrive. Also, working with the amazing midwives at the center, not to mention the work we brought to more traditional home settings.

Kelly: Now that your apprenticeship is complete, how do you plan on bringing these skills back into your communities?
Serena: After so many years coming, I feel really great about entering into this new phase of being a licensed midwife. I’ve just relocated to Grass Valley and am really excited to offer midwifery care to home birth mamas in the community. I love the water birth model at Thrive and I am purchasing a birth tub to include in my practice. I’d also like to create educational opportunities for families about the safety of home birth, VBAC, and healthy lifestyles for preconception. In addition, I plan on offering Holistic well woman care, and in- home-fertility support including IUI.