Study abroad leads to midwifery

By Karen A. Grava, CLAS Today

Michelle Farber started her college career at Smith College in Northampton, MA, but soon sought a more affordable education.

So Farber, of Danbury, began hunting for colleges. “The South Africa program really attracted me to UConn,” she says. “Every other school had study abroad programs in Europe; I wanted something different. I was inspired by South Africa’s recent struggle for democracy, and I yearned to learn more about its history, culture, and politics.”

She didn’t know then, though, that her time in South Africa as a CLAS student would also set the course of her life. As a junior, she settled into a program of classes at the University of Cape Town and an internship at Gender DynamiX, the only advocacy and activist NGO for transgender people on the African continent.

In addition to their studies, students were encouraged to use a day a week for an “activist project.” Farber, who had always been passionate about women’s health, sought out two midwives to shadow. They invited her into their practice and treated her as their student.

Her first day, she was amazed by the personal nature of care midwives provide to women. “The woman and the midwife were sitting in a warm room, it was just two women building a relationship, no cold metal tables. It was unlike anything I had seen before,” Farber says.

The midwives took her to two births while she was in Cape Town. “It was magical and intimate. Seeing my mentor help a woman through her labor showed me what being a midwife really means. I knew I never wanted to do anything else but provide comfort and empowerment for birthing women.”

This May, Farber will graduate with a major in anthropology and a minor in Women’s Studies. Her focus has been in medical anthropology.

When she returned from South Africa, she began taking prerequisites for nurse-midwifery programs, and this summer, she will begin a two and a half year program at Seattle University to become a midwife. The program will provide her with the ability to care for women along their reproductive lifetimes.

Eventually, Farber hopes to work for Doctors Without Borders. Her dream is to work in Afghanistan, which has the highest rate of infant and maternal mortality in the world due to a lack of trained birth attendants.

“I don’t speak Farsi, I don’t know the customs of Afghani women, but I would love to help train Afghani midwives who will better serve the women of Afghanistan. I have been given amazing privileges in education, and it will be my duty as a midwife to pass that training to other women,” she says.

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