Black Student Midwife: a financial dilemma

Another day.

Another young, ambitious Black woman appearing on my timeline collecting coins—hustling her way into or through midwifery school.

For many Black student midwives, the cost of a midwifery education creates financial barriers that are difficult to climb over or get around in an attempt to reach their goals. This leads some students to social media in search of financial support.  

One donation at a time.  

Their pitches vary and so do the depths of financial need. The requests are undoubtedly sincere with a familiar one of urgency and passion.

They usually flow something like this:

Hello.

I’m an amazing young woman from some place suffering from an overwhelming need for more Black midwives to meet the needs of underserved  Black mamas. (Drops stats of Black maternal mortality).

I was recently accepted into a midwifery school or an apprenticeship someplace outside of my state.  I’m reaching out to ask for support from my folks to help me pursue my lifelong dream of becoming a midwife.  (Drops more stats on current number of Black midwives in their state and adds a few lines on the history of Black midwives in United States)

I hate asking for support, and actually, I’m a bit embarrassed. But at this point, I need family and friends to hold me up. (Drops even more stats but this time highlighting the cost of midwifery student life which includes books, travel, lodging and, of course, childcare)

You can donate through my CashApp, Venmo, GoFundMe,  PayPal, Zelle, and cash. Checks can be sent to the following address.

Thank-you. (Drops headshot and 27 hashtags)

Beautiful pitch. But Sis, when did crowd-sourcing become financial aid?  

Yes. That’s a bit critical, but a valid question. And here’s another.  Where is your personal financial accountability? After all, this is your education.  

I can feel the collective eye rolls. The ancestors are not pleased with my sass.

But wait—here me out.

Before we go forward, let me acknowledge a few facts for sake of total transparency.  One, I am not a Black student midwife; and two, there is always more to the narrative. Nobody is better at telling the story of a Black student midwife than an actual Black student midwife.Specifically a student who was banking on public charity of strangers.

After a few minutes of scrolling through my timeline, I found the student I was searching for. Paige Jackson. Paige is raw, vulnerable and honest. These are posts directly from her page.  

“Your donations show me that you believe in me and in the purpose I’ve been called to. Because of your donations, because of your prayers...I can breathe without being anxious or stressed. I can live--focusing on my studies and not just the struggle to survive. I’m encouraged. I’m so very encouraged.”

And another:

“This is the part that makes this midwifery journey so difficult--the financial struggles. I miss my family too. But being in Idaho struggling, not wanting everyone to worry and not knowing how to fully convey everything that I’m going through is rough. It’s draining. I keep smiling and saying everything is ok even when I’m not sure that it is.”

Last one:

“My room, board, and food are covered by my scholarship but all of my other expenses I must rely on donations to cover.” But the truth is, I really didn’t have a solid answer for him because even I’m amazed by how God has kept me from losing my mind by now.”

I thought, “This is my girl!” and immediately shot her a brief request for an informal phone interview. It was now my turn to reach out and ask for support across social media from a stranger--just as she had.

When the time arrived, we jumped right in and Paige Jackson did not disappoint.

I asked, “What did it take for you to publicly ask for support on social media?” Paige pauses, takes a breath, and replies in a thick Arkansas accent, “hitting rock bottom.” She continues, “I had to be vulnerable or quit [midwifery school].” I’m impressed with her honesty, but Paige isn’t done. She says, “I had to decide to put my pride aside and I had to humble myself in ways that I didn't know were possible. Either I reach out and ask for help or quit and get a regular job.”

Paige is clear that she was called to midwifery and shares, after she was tagged on a Facebook post from Mercy in Action College of Midwifery in 2017, that she prayed, applied, and was accepted into the Mercy in Action program all within a week’s time. She was also awarded the merit-based Grand Challenge Scholarship from Mercy in Action to cover the full cost of her tuition. But this scholarship wasn’t enough to cover all the living expenses for Paige.   

“It’s stressful day to day and I feel bad.”  Paige shares that she has support for housing and that her community have gifted her the e-textbook she needed. But struggling to pay her car note, car insurance (which has lapsed a few times), and cell phone bills leaves her feeling financially crippled.

I know what you’re thinking—she should just “get a job” or maybe a side hustle.

But Paige says, “I can’t work. My schedule just can’t handle it. I have to be there for all the pieces of birth—continuity of care, labor checks, birth, third-stage management and postpartum visits.  People don’t understand the responsibility of a senior primary student midwife.” And she’s right. Paige admits that even her own parents didn’t understand why she would leave her full-time job with benefits to live in a racially isolated city as a poor college student in her thirties. Thankfully, they’ve come around.

But there’s more.

Paige tells me that many Black student midwives struggle with more than just car payments, insurance coverage, and cell phone bills. Several students she’s known have left programs because of lack of childcare and family support. “Single moms are forgotten about. These programs are not set up for them,” says Paige. And she’s telling the truth. Many preceptors face challenges supporting students with children, as securing childcare can be a massive barrier and ultimately can impede the safety of clients and entire birth team.

I asked Paige how she is able to focus on providing care to her families and herself when she literally has precious lives in her hands and the financial world on her shoulder. She admits sometimes she can’t keep up. All the stress impacts her mental health and keeps her up at night. Paige told me about a time her car payment was late—really late. She feared it would be repossessed and all she could do was pull the parking brake to prevent the tow truck from rolling away with her car in the middle of the night.

This is no way to live. But Paige, like many other young women, is dedicated to her pursuit of midwifery. For her, there is no greater calling.

She has found her life’s purpose.

So what are we missing? How are Black student midwives expected to get through school when they can neither financially meet their personal needs nor maintain a modest lifestyle? Quite literally, some can’t afford to eat, but the expectation is that they show up ready and grateful.  The decision should never come down to eating or education.

There are groups like Elephant Circle which offer small grants ranging from $250-$600 through the Birth Worker of Color Scholarship, but the need is so much greater.

I am clear.

We have failed Black student midwives, and unless we overhaul the educational institutions and preceptorships contracts which hold them financially hostage, we will continue to fail Black mothers and babies. Period.

Paige Jackson set me and me critical attitude straight. In the future when I see a post from a Black student midwife seeking financial support, I’ll pause to consider how humble and passionate they are to put their hands out and ask for help. Paige represents the many student who did not “give up and go get a job.” Who decided to persevere by any means necessary, even if that means pulling parking breaks and pitching dreams.

But let us not forget those with dreams deferred by the financial expectations set too high, with support out of reach.

Yes, it’s their education, but it’s our future- the future Black maternal health.

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Paige Jackson is a second-year student at Mercy in Action College of Midwifery, and is the recipient of the Grand Challenge Scholarship.  She lives and precepts in Boise, ID. If you would like to donate to Paige, find her on Cash App at @pjackson87.

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To contribute to the Elephant Circle Birth Worker of Color Scholarship visit elephantcircle.org


China Tolliver is the founder of the eCommerce community RiseUpMidwife.com,  an apparel line designed for impact. Partial proceeds from their signature “Birth Rights” shirt are contributed to the Elephant Circle Birth Worker of Color Scholarship. 

Chat: hello@riseupmidwife

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Photography Credit: Leighann Renee on Unsplash.com