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The Real Poop

So you love babies and want to help bring them into the world. But, organic chemistry is, like, really hard. Hmm. Maybe medical school's not really for you.

Now what?

Oh, you'll become a midwife. You heard there are lots of kale-loving hippies with disposable incomes to blow out there looking for "natural births." And you're just the person for the job! You'll hold the mother's hand, coach her breathing ("hoo-haa, hoo-haaaa"), and disseminate whatever homeopathic mumbo jumbo midwives need to sound like they know. Voila! A safe pregnancy and delivery for the mother, a paycheck for you. It's perfect!

Except that the person we just described is called a doula—definitely not a midwife. Not by today's standards, at least.

In case you haven't noticed, though we hope you have, this isn't the Middle Ages. Midwives aren't simply nice women in clean aprons who show up at your doorstep to help you push a melon-sized human out of your "birth canal." Midwifery today has come a long way. (And thank goodness. Have you seen the infant mortality rates in the Middle Ages? Not stellar.) Once considered the poor woman's option for giving birth, concerns in the '50s over the heavy anesthesia used in hospital births lent more credibility to natural births.

Of course, hospital culture has made a lasting impression on the ob-gyn world. Nowadays, people are decidedly less chill than they were in the Middle Ages about trusting random people who show up at their doorstep with the birth of their child. They expect midwives to have things like "credentials"and "training." It's a total downer. But it's something you have to put up with if you want to become a trained medical professional, with at least one and maybe two midwifery credentials under your belt.

What are those credentials, you ask? Here are your three basic options: Certified Nurse Midwife, Certified Midwife, and Direct-Entry Midwife.

Behind curtain number one is Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM). By far, the most common—and employable—type of credentialed midwife, this midwife has rigorous nursing training. Some organic chemistry might be involved, and you can bet your fancy scrubs nursing school is involved.

Maybe you really, really don't want to get any nursing training. You've still got some options. (Though parents-to-be might be a little sketched out by a midwife who wants to bring their child into the world but doesn't want to do a three-year stint training to be a nurse.) Behind curtain number two, folks, are non-nursing Certified Midwives (CMs). Shouldn't be too hard to remember the difference. These gals may not have formal nursing training, but they almost all have a related bachelor's degree and they definitely took a course or two to get that credential.

Don't want any training in midwifery either? Well, then you're called unemployed. Okay, technically, you're called a doula. Or a direct-entry midwife. But unemployed better captures the essence of your career. These gals (and the occasional guy) just kind of hang out around pregnant people. They're not qualified to help with anything—beyond your occasional homeopathic medicine. Which is why they’re illegal in more than 20 states.

By now, you hopefully sense that midwives didn't just get to skip the whole "school" and "training" parts of life. Many midwifery programs that lead to either a CNM or CM certification mean graduate school, and graduate schools typically ask for evidence of a bachelor's degree. Weird the way that works. Some programs will require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), and in general becoming a nurse either prior to or concurrent with midwifery education, is a pretty good idea. People trust nurses, and pregnant families are willing to pay more for trustworthy care. If you're not interested in getting a BSN, again we ask: Why aren't you? Seriously, just do it. If you absolutely refuse, at least make sure you do coursework in chemistry, biology, and microbiology. A course or two in sociology and women's studies might be kinda cool too, and will show you exactly why your career is so important.

At this point, you have a bachelor's degree, certification in hand. If you're legally allowed to practice midwifery in your state (and we really hope you are), then you can go ahead and advertise in health directories, like the American College of Nurse-Midwives, or even the freakin' Yellow Pages. Increasingly, midwives can also find jobs specifically in hospitals. If you're looking for a union, though, you'd best head across the pond to the United Kingdom. Sorry.

Okay, so you're about to start your first job, but you need to make triple-sure: Are you cut out for a life of midwifing? First, how physically able and mentally capable are you of standing on your feet for 12 hours every day with just a five-minute break to scarf down a Nature Valley granola bar? You're cool with that? Great! Because that's every day from now until you retire.

By the way, how willing are you to dedicate your life to your job? Because, just like doctors, midwives don't clock in or out. In addition to working more than 35 hours per week like other full-time employees, many CNMs are on call for what ends up being an average of 60 hours per week. CNMs and CMs never really switch off. And when they are off duty, it tends to be strange hours when no one else is off work. No happy hour specials for you.

Finally, are you able to keep calm, and stay upbeat and friendly while running from one screaming patient to another in a crowded, underfunded hospital ward? (The majority of CNMs work in hospitals and medical centers, and midwifery hasn’t escaped deep budget cuts to health care.) If that sounds like an environment where you’ll thrive, you just might find yourself having a little fun with this job for a brief 15 minutes until the next new mother needs some painkillers.

So you'll go to school, enroll in an accredited training program for midwives, and eventually, hopefully, find a job as a midwife. Probably in a hospital, maybe in a private physician practice. Your salary will be decent, though your hours will be longer than any of your friends'. And you're going to spend the rest of your life explaining that midwives are actually legitimately trained professionals.

In summary, if you want this job because you like pictures of cute babies in flowerpots, turn back now. There will come a time when you can'’t stand the sight of babies—no matter how cute they are. But if you can put up with the crazy, hectic work schedule, you'll at least get to deliver some healthy, happy babies to some super demanding, panicked parents along the way.