THERE'S A COLLEGE out past Devils Point—just take a hard left after the hippie farm on SE Foster—it's there you learn how to be more mature. So mature, in fact, that you will no longer giggle over the terms "lactation," "latching," and the fact that the parking lot has huge "IN" and "OUT" signs (that's what she said). This is where students learn to birth babies at the Birthingway College of Midwifery. While there are no kiddie pools on the lawn for natural births and there's a dearth of storks to pet, there is a lovely rambling old house that's been converted into a tiny college for midwives, doulas, childbirth educators, and lactation consultants.
It's an unassuming little campus right on bustling SE Foster—the former house/Mexican restaurant and a separate converted ranch house are the whole extent of the school—but it houses up to 150 full-time and community students and 25 faculty members. In Birthingway's midwifery program, students typically spend three to five years and approximately $55,000 studying the age-old practice of helping women have babies, with a variety of classes that read like the Hogwarts School of Midwifery curriculum ("Infant Complex Breastfeeding Situations," "Plant Medicine," "Suturing").
Operations Coordinator Lauren Edholm gave me a tour of the 20-year-old nonprofit school (an endeavor that started out as founder Holly Scholles' study group). We wander through the main building with its dark wood paneling, as Edholm shows off the ample library with its rows and rows of titles, 6,000 in all. Women with children wander into the main office. A pregnant lady talks with another woman in the parking lot. I ask if all the students are female. Edholm says yes, but it's not like Birthingway refuses to admit men into the school, it's just that midwifery has traditionally been done by and for women and women are the gender most interested in the profession.
The college is small and homey. There are three equipped classrooms, including a large clinical area in the basement. The basement looks easy to mop. This is the gyno-table dungeon (ahem, that's my term). A half-dozen or so OB-GYN tables are scattered around the room, with stirrups up in the air, and white and brightly colored pillows on each. Edholm, with her brown dreadlocks and big smile, says the room freaks out some people. Yep, it's a little freaky. From there we move onto Birthingway's back building, a smaller house behind the parking lot, edged with a community garden and large table for outdoor dining. Inside is the lactation center (they should consider changing the name to the Lactation Station, just sayin'). There's a comfortable living room with white brick and plush chairs, and downstairs is a mad herbalist's dream, stocked with jars and jars of herbs.
I ask if there's student housing and Edholm tells me nope, but it's a long-term goal. Students come from all over to attend the midwifery program; Portland's renowned for natural-birth methods. Birthingway also emphasizes community at the school—students eat together in the kitchen, usually potlucks with superfoods like quinoa and kale. Also on the school's horizon, a birthing center—right now, no births take place on campus. The college, however, accepts models... not those skinny gals from Elle, but ladies with one or two buns in the oven on whom the students can practice the curriculum, like measuring the growth of the fetus. The future mothers get 20 bucks for their troubles and a foot-rub. Neat!
Sure, Birthingway's not a school for everyone, but it's very obvious that the faculty and students have created a cozy, welcoming, vagina-art-filled place to learn how to catch babies, a field that's been around since well, kinda forever. Plus, when students excuse themselves from class, I bet they make really funny jokes about taking a "water break." (Doula see what I did there?!)