Nurse Midwife Profile – Stephanie Tillman, CNM
Bachelor’s in global health, minor in medical anthropology from the University of Michigan, 2007
Master’s in nursing in nurse-midwifery from Yale University, 2012
Midwifery is not just a job for Stephanie Tillman – it’s a personal mantra. The recent master’s school graduate has worked in both public health and clinical roles, in countries as diverse as Honduras, Malawi, Hungary, Haiti, and The Gambia, and finds providing women’s healthcare the most fulfilling. She blogs at Feminist Midwife and for the American College of Nurse-Midwives.
Question: Why did you want to become a midwife?
Tillman: “Midwifery encompasses everything I believe about respectful, passionate, and holistic medical care. Women especially deserve this in every aspect of their lives, but most importantly in reproductive healthcare. I started working in public health immediately after completing undergrad, but after a couple of years recognized that I needed more hands-on and face-to-face work to fulfill myself personally and professionally. Providing women’s healthcare as a midwife reflects a human rights approach, feminist theory of positive body image and empowerment, and starts from a place of normalcy that is vital in the world of pregnancy and birth. I became a midwife because I knew it was all I wanted to do with the rest of my life. It has become a personal mantra and a way forward for myself, and how I view ways forward for women and for feminism.”
Question: What did you need to do in terms of education and experience?
Tillman: “There are many paths to midwifery. Through working internationally in low-resource settings, I knew that, personally, I also wanted a nursing and primary care background, so I chose a path to midwifery that included a medical foundation through nursing education. I attended an accelerated Registered Nurse to Master of Science in Nursing Program at Yale University. Individuals can also become midwives through apprenticeship and a focus on normal birth care, without a prior nursing/medical background. The process for me was challenging, but worth every moment. Reproductive healthcare is a tough environment politically, emotionally, and personally, but women have strength inside themselves that they share with all those around them through those experiences. Birth in particular can be both a beautiful and a difficult experience for women and providers alike – we all hold on to the beautiful experiences to carry us through the more difficult ones.”
Question: I’m sure you’ve had many, but what’s one of the most memorable experiences you’ve had, either as a student or a midwife?
Tillman: “As a nurse, I worked in a rural health center in The Gambia, West Africa, with a group of public health, nursing, medical, and nutrition students through the organization Operation Crossroads Africa. I was still a student midwife in the United States at the time. The maternity ward averaged 5-10 births per day. I assisted the midwives, provided nursing care, and worked to teach the students about labor and birth while absorbing a lot of medical culture shock myself at the same time. I have never learned so much about the resiliency of women’s strength, the power of empathy, the importance of student teaching, and the extent of love between people when it counts the most. At the same time, the differences in ideas around consent, belief in women’s rights, understanding of birth and death, and risk involved in pregnancy varies dramatically in different parts of the world. The United States often greatly misses the mark in obstetrical safety for women, but so do other countries. Dramatic change needs to be made. Midwives, feminists, and all who work in reproductive health are working to make those changes, everyday.”
Question: Why did you decide to launch your blog?
Tillman: “I started writing Feminist Midwife in the time when I was waiting for my professional licensure and hospital credentialing to be completed. I felt my brain was slowly tiring from lack of use, I was missing women’s studies theory after so much focus on clinical, and really had a lot that I was processing from reading online and experiencing my own life and my path forward as a feminist. The blog became a place to process those experiences. I also write about the difficulties of the first year of practice for myself as a new clinician: the first year out of school and working in healthcare is really tough, and I was not finding the processing or the support I was looking for elsewhere. Sometimes I use the blog space as a journal to work through difficulties, and other times to compile ideas focused on a particular topic. It is wonderful how well it has been received, and the feedback that others in similar positions are working through the same issues.”
Question: As a healthcare professional, why is an online and social media presence important to you?
Tillman: “I do not share a lot of personal details about myself or my employer through Feminist Midwife, though there are easy ways to connect the dots through many social media avenues. I like to keep my name and access to my patients separated. However, through the blog’s presence, I find it incredible to feel connected to other midwives, other women’s health providers, other birth workers, other feminists, and, generally, other women, through social media. Feminists and midwives alike struggle with recognizing each other in public, naming themselves aloud where perhaps they are most needed, and creating a global voice. Blogs, Facebook, and Twitter are incredible ways to make the disconnected feel incredibly connected and supported. I feel connected to others in this work, and hope that the blog provides a space for them to also feel connected to each other.”
Question: What advice do you have for people just starting their education or their professional career?
Tillman: “If it’s what you love, just keep doing it, even when it gets really hard. It’s often when it’s the hardest that it’s the most important. Stick to your core values, and use your belief system as a rallying cry for when you explain and defend your work. Continue to love it, and it will continue to fulfill your soul.”