I’m coming to the end of the final module of my MBA. I started on that path ten years ago as a bright-eyed 21 year old software developer with vague notions of one day being a powerdressing consultant. It’s been a long, long process with several pauses during which I had two babies, completed a BA in theatre at a bricks and mortar university then moved across the world and had a third baby.
I accelerated the MBA over the last two years and decided to pick a specialism in healthcare and the life sciences. It turned out to be a serendipitous choice. My home birth revitalised a rabid interest in birth matters and the life science specialism allowed me to combine my birth and management studies into a dissertation on how the NHS might cope with managing doulas.
So now I find myself at a crossroads. Home-educating and breastfeeding are part of my life and I’m more t-shirts and piercings than shoulderpads. But I want to keep studying, keep going, keep learning and I want to be challenged. I also want to be in a position to make positive changes in the world.
Here’s the thing.. my impression is that the only qualification which counts is MD. (Please, PLEASE challenge me on this. I’d welcome a debate!)
Personally, I adore midwives. I’ve met several over the last year or so who are among the wisest people I have ever met. They are on top of the latest evidence, constantly learning, reading, gaining experience and absorbing knowledge. They have the emotional intelligence, spiritual intuition AND the science.
Yet if we’re playing ‘birth top trumps’ the midwife always loses out to the doctor.
And in American society, the doctor is king. They can deliver babies, cut people open, prescribe medicine, make diagnoses and declare deaths. They get a cracking salary. They can also make all sorts of pronouncements that are often ‘the voice of experience’ rather than coming from any kind of evidence.
And many will say fair enough, they went to medical school for a long time.
And this is where I hit a snag.
I would quite like to go to medical school. I would love to learn about cell biology and anatomy and all that stuff. I’m a good student. I’ve juggled motherhood and studying in various fields for years.
Yet the barriers are massive. They’re almost insurmountable if you have young children. “It’s about stamina.” I hear. You have to go full time. You can’t do med school part time. You have to be dedicated. It has to be your number one priority. Your spouse will have to deal with the funny hours. You won’t see your children. You need to do it early in life or you’ll never pay off the debts etc. etc. etc.
I ask why? Why can’t you learn more slowly? Why all the macho stamina stuff? Why is it a study course tailored to young, childless people? Why is the med-school recruitment target audience made up of people who have not yet had a baby or even much life experience out of academia? At my school, the ‘clever girls’ were groomed to be doctors following a straight, clear path from school. And well done to them. It’s not an easy path. They were smart figuring out what they wanted to do before children. But some of us needed a little more time to figure out what we want to do – then find it’s too late.
Things are changing slowly in the UK – St George’s for example offers a fast track course aimed at getting older students in and trained. There are post-bacc courses in the US too. But there are no part time med schools. You have to dedicate yourself to it entirely. You can do law or business part time. You can do a PhD part time. But medicine is different. Why?
Now I’m not suggesting that doulas or midwives are second best. They’re a different thing entirely. And there are some massively influential ones – Peggy Simkin, Ina May Gaskin etc. etc. But they don’t carry as much weight in the medical world as they should. Hospitals NEED more doctors like Dr Biter who is rightly all over the news at the moment. Doctors who have PERSPECTIVE and are aware of why natural birth is important and when they should let it take its course. Doctors who carry weight with their peers. Who have the same level of education and authority.
But that education is not easily available to women with children. Especially women who are reluctant to put their children into full time day care.
There’s a feminist issue here. Why should wanting to care for your children preclude you from accessing that education? Why shouldn’t women with children study and gain the experience to become peers with doctors? So many mothers become doulas or even midwives yet for a hands-on mother to become an OB/GYN is difficult to the point of near-impossibility.
And doulas and midwives will always be ‘put in their place’ beneath the OB/GYNs. The patriarchy is stifling.
How can mothers get their voice and experience heard when we’re always told we’re ‘not as good’ or ‘not as clever’ or ‘not as educated’ or ‘don’t carry as much authority’ as the wise doctor and we don’t even have a chance to access the education?