When some young adults talk about their future, there is a noticeable confidence. They are self-assured and secure; they don’t think of their career plans as a distant goal, but instead they talk as if they are already employed in their field. It’s a sign that they have done an impressive amount of research, and have spent time preparing mentally for whatever their career might ask of them. That is how Jamie Gabriel, Verona High School Class of 2022, talks about midwifery; as a commitment, not just a dream.
Even as a child Gabriel was set on assisting with pregnancy and birth. She finds it beautiful and is excited by the idea of delivering babies into the world every day. “I’ve watched so many videos and documentaries,” says Gabriel, “It’s something that fascinates me.” Three years ago, her sister, who was majoring in psychology at Rowan University, watched a film about midwifery in a child development class and recommended it to her. Gabriel watched the movie and quickly realized that the specific duties of a midwife aligned with her ideals perfectly. “It really narrowed down my thinking,” she says. Now, she knew she wanted to participate in the natural birth process rather than work in a hospital.
“The midwife route is giving the mother the ability to have her labor the way she wants to,” Gabriel says. “It’s such an empowering thing that I’ve always wanted to be a part of.”
First, become a nurse
A midwife is tasked with providing counsel, prenatal care, assistance during labor and delivery, and even more assistance after the baby is born, individualized for each woman. Often, these are at-home births, or the woman chooses a birthing center where she can receive care in a more home-like environment. But, before Gabriel can act as a midwife in New Jersey, she must first study to be a nurse.
This fall, Gabriel is going to be enrolled at the Penn State Ross and Carol Nese College of Nursing, working towards a Bachelors of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.) degree. (The estimated tuition for this program is $36,000 a year.) After her four years at Penn State, Gabriel plans to get a master’s degree concentrated in midwifery, aiming for the acclaimed midwifery program at Georgetown University. Finally, she will have to pass the national certification examination in nurse-midwifery and apply for licensure to practice in New Jersey.
The road to midwifery is long, but clearly Gabriel has a dedicated vision for the future. There is absolute clarity when she describes her plans, so much so, she even has plans beyond being a midwife. “I have a business proposition,” she says, “It sounds crazy, but hear me out.” Gabriel wants to create a luxury retreat for pregnant women, essentially combining a gynecology office, a birthing center, and a family resort. The objective is to create a space for women to experience their labor with their family in a comfortable setting, a place where women can also take time to connect with the staff, doctors, and midwives as the birth of their child approaches so that they can experience it with absolute confidence and familiarity. The retreat would offer yoga, and other relaxing experiences for women and their families. When a woman goes into labor, there would be no rush for an on-call midwife or a birthing center, because they would already be there. At her retreat, Gabriel is going to be in charge, and she’s committed to preserving the empowerment she associates with natural birth.
Respecting the birth plan
But why exactly is natural birth empowering for women? “Most women have a birth plan,” Gabriel says. “And they get to the hospital, and that birth plan is completely shut down… It’s out of their hands.” She says that when some women have specific requests for their labor like no epidural, or they ask for family members to be present in the room or to have skin-to-skin contact with the baby for a number of hours, their plans are usually derailed with the formality of a hospital experience. “When it comes to being at home or going to a birthing center, the mother is able to present a birth plan,” she says, “and things might not go strictly as planned, but as a midwife it’s their job to go by what you want to do.” (An example of a birth plan can be found here.)
In support of natural birth, Gabriel mentions that some women report negative long-term health effects from receiving an epidural, and she stresses the importance of skin-to-skin contact in regulating a baby’s hormones and temperature. Overall, Gabriel favors the control a woman has with natural birth. She says that with midwives, women know exactly what’s going on in the room and decide who is present for their birth. In the unfortunate event that there is a complication to the birth, midwives are trained to recognize that and react, ushering the woman to a hospital for special care.
“That’s definitely nerve racking, being able to make that call,” she says, thinking about the possibility of an emergency. For a job dedicated to creating comfort for others, there’s still a lot of responsibilities for Gabriel to consider, and even in her confidence, she has worries for the future. She jokes, “I’m just an anxious person, so being able to be that nurturing presence to the mom is like ‘I’m freaking out internally, but I can’t show you I’m freaking out’”. Still, Gabriel’s worries are likely exactly why she’ll be an excellent midwife. That type of consideration and foresight comes from a place of raw passion, a perfect example of her commitment and mental preparation, how before going to college, getting her master’s, or even taking the test, she’s already thinking like a midwife.
Hope for reluctant parents
To some, Gabriel’s commitment to midwifery of all things might be peculiar. It certainly is surprising, because a common feeling of her generation is that having a family, having children, is not important or desirable. A 2021 Pew Research Center study found a 7% increase since 2018 of non-parents saying they will likely not have children; 9% of respondents cite the state of the world, and 56% say they simply don’t want to.
In her response to this, Gabriel illuminates a really interesting, mature, and beautiful notion of hope. She says, “I know we are the generation of broken homes and seeing love not last, but I’m a strong believer in making my own destiny”. Her idea is that the struggle with love that many in her generation have had to face does not have to define the future, instead she is going to commit her life to filling that void, and helping others bring love into the world.
“What’s Next” is a series of profiles about what members of each Verona High School class do after graduation. MyVeronaNJ has been publishing the series since 2010 and you can read all of them here.