May 21, 2012: Edited to protect the privacy of those involved in my story.
I worked at this small community hospital in Chicago for just over a year. The midwife group was three full time equivalents in the form of four midwives. In business lingo, that means two of the midwives were full time (me and the practice director) and the other two were part time (Karen and the fourth midwife).
About three months after we started, we learned that we would be losing our contract with the Chicago Board of Health, which was our major source of patients. I heard there were a few angry meetings, but given the speed with which most government organizations run-which would be the speed of a glacier-it’s reasonable to speculate that the decision had been made before I started there.
For the next several months, the practice director and I tried mightily to increase our volume. She made a lot of phone calls to nearby community organizations and nurtured relationships with them. I spoke with the manager of a nearby feminist women’s health center that once offered OB services but stopped when their affiliated hospital was purchased by a faith based organization. I introduced her to the department chairman and business manager of my hospital to negotiate bringing us into their clinic space.
Our efforts brought more hope than results. After another few months of negotiations going nowhere and watching our numbers dwindle I decided to kick back and wait to be laid off. On a hunch I started to compile names and addresses of clients, starting with ones whose babies I had caught and eventually just writing down the names of women coming in for gyne visits that I thought were cool, thinking I would invite them to join me wherever I ended up.
Shortly after Labor Day, The Day came. I was in my office preparing for my clinic day to start and two women from human resources came in with severance letters for all of us. They were apologetic but professional.
“What took you so long?” I asked.
I cheerfully gave back my pager and asked if I could bail on my clinic day, and they said yes. I was getting severance in lieu of notice, and I was quite ok with that. I like the amputation version of being let go as opposed to the death by a thousand paper cuts of having to show up for another month.
While everything at the hospital was happening, Karen had decreased her hours and was taking steps towards opening her private practice. As I left the hospital the day I was laid off, the first thing I did was call her. “So, uh, I just got let go. Mind if I come over? I don’t want to go home and stare at my walls.”
She didn’t mind, and when I got there she gave me coffee and cheesecake.
I mentioned to her that I had a list of about 25 patients that I was reasonably sure would follow me, and how about if I join her in her new venture? I thought I was being all slick and business like.
When she tells the story, she always planned on having me as a partner.
Even though I knew the layoff was coming, I was more depressed than I thought I should be. At the same time I going through a breakup of a not very serious relationship, and felt that my grief was out of proportion to the seriousness of the relationship.
I had an energy work session not long after that, and through some guided imagery I realized I was grieving every job I’d ever lost, including the ones I’d voluntarily left that had a heavy emotional charge to them.
My fogginess continued for about a month. I felt like a chess piece being played in a cosmic chess game, not fully understanding what was happening but trusting the source that was moving me.
I can’t pinpoint a particular time when I Was Better. I just took the next step, and before long I became excited at this possibility we were creating.
In the years following the opening of A Woman’s Place, more than a few people, midwives and others, commented on how brave I am. I’m not exactly sure what “bravery” is. Midwifery practice models in the US include midwives who are hospital employees, physician employees, or health care organization employees. I had done all three in four years and was laid off from each of them. Being involved in a private practice is just a different kind of risk.
And thus we proceeded, not seeing what we were accomplishing because we were building it.