History and Culture of Birthingway

Birthingway Founder Holly SchollesBirthingway started in March 1993 as a six-month structured study group in the home of founder Holly Scholles. Soon, the group transformed into a private business, Birthingway Midwifery School, offering a two-year program of classroom and independent study. Holly taught all of the courses with the occasional help of guest speakers. In 1996, to meet MEAC accreditation requirements, the program expanded to three years and increased the clinical requirements for graduation. In 1997, Holly turned control of Birthingway over to a Board of Directors and the school became Birthingway Midwifery Center, a non-profit, charitable corporation.

In fall of 1998, Birthingway moved out of Holly’s home into a large house in North Portland. By this time, a growing number of teachers and preceptors were part of the Birthingway community. The new location proved to be temporary. Birthingway moved to its current site in August 1999.

In spring 2000, the State of Oregon gave Birthingway a choice: become approved as a private career school or offer, as a college, a Bachelors Degree. After much community discussion, Birthingway applied to the Oregon Office of Degree Authorization in September 2000 to confer the Bachelor of Science in Midwifery degree. This was authorized in March 2001. Upon approval, Birthingway Midwifery Center become Birthingway College of Midwifery. In 2003, Birthingway College of Midwifery became authorized to offer Title IV Federal Financial Aid.

In fall 2010, Birthingway received approval from MEAC and the State of Oregon Office of Degree Authorization to offer our second degree program: Associates of Science in Lactation Consultation. Birthingway received approval from the Department of Education to add this to our approved programs list for Title IV Federal Financial Aid.

While Birthingway has grown through the years, the beliefs at its core have remained intact.

  • Birthingway developed a model of caring for women and families during the childbearing year and beyond. We refer to this as the biodynamic model, in which birth is not only a natural part of human life, it is a necessary part, and one that is intimately connected with what it is to be human. The “bio” in biodynamic reflects the centrality of biological processes while “dynamic” refers to the energy of relationships that ensures our model is very woman-centered and individual. A biodynamic birth will be one with the least amount of intervention while still protecting the well-being of mother and baby. Intervention takes on different meanings depending upon the type of care provider; therefore, each of our programs develops specific tools for the various types of services our students will be providing.

  • We value non-violent communication (NVC) for several reasons. NVC is compatible with the Biodynamic Model of Care, which is based on working with women by holding a space for them to develop their knowledge, self-awareness, motivation and power rather than judging them or their actions as good or bad. As Inbal Kashtan writes in Parenting from Your Heart, "At it's heart, NVC is...about a set of principles and approaches to connect with ourselves and with others." While other communication models have similar philosophies, NVC has well developed tools which make it easier to learn and use what, for most of us, is a different way or speaking and thinking.

  • We are a community learning together, teachers and students alike. While instructors have specialized knowledge and experiences to teach, students also have knowledge and experiences to share. We learn from each other. Because of this emphasis on learning, there are no “stupid” questions at Birthingway. At the same time, it is okay for a teacher to say “I don’t know the answer.” When that happens in other schools, the teacher often says “I’ll look it up for you next week,” then everyone forgets about it. At Birthingway the class will stop and look up the answer right then. Or if more research is needed, the instructor really will answer the question the next week.

  • We honor and encourage diversity and multi-vocality. After all, there are many kinds of childbearing women in the world, so we need many kinds of midwives. The crucial element is respect for other people’s opinions, beliefs, and practices. Respect allows room for disagreement through discussion and round-tabling and allows insight into other ways of thinking and doing. This provides the basis for consensual action and mutual support both within the Birthingway community and on our individual paths as midwives and birth activists.

  • We are relationship based. The Birthingway community is formed by interactions between individuals, multiplied many times over. We support a model of power with and power within rather than the power over so common in our world. We emphasize face to face interactions, compassionate communication skills and personal responsibility. We value kindness and the highest standard of personal integrity as essential characteristics of all members of our community.

  • We value and encourage development of intuition, empiricism, and analytical thinking as equally vital components of excellent midwifery. We teach students to listen to their inner voice of insight and knowing and to live in a spiritual way that is appropriate for them. Empirical knowledge is validated through an emphasis on storytelling, on learning from mistakes, and from hands-on experiences. Rigorous analytical skills are cultivated through differential diagnosis, critical analysis, problem solving, case studies and evidence-based practice. By balancing these three “ways of knowing,” we are able to bring many resources to our work.

  • We avoid rewards and punishments and do not believe that one person can motivate another to learn. Therefore, we do not use the standard "A,B,C,D,F" grading system. That does not mean that everyone is “passed along” through the program. Quite the contrary – our standards for completion of coursework are quite high. Birthingway’s task, rather than to stamp people as failures, is to set appropriate standards and to encourage and support students as they meet those standards.

Taken together, these principles produce an environment in which each member of the Birthingway community travel their own path towards excellence in their chosen vocation. Each of us serves as a beacon of hope toward a better way for birthing women and new families and thus a better world for all.

*(See Truth or Dare by Starhawk for information on power over, power with, and power within. The works of Alfie Kohn, especially Punished by Rewards, explore the ideas behind motivation, failure and rewards in education. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg describes NVC and its application in a variety of situations.)