“I am a midwife. That is who I am.”

I was born and raised in a mill town in central Wisconsin. My family was very outdoorsy and we spent much of our time fishing and camping as a family.

Photo courtesy of Jill Tormoen

I grew up with my parents’ super strong belief that education is your ticket to a successful future, whatever that looks like. My initial educational goals were to be a wildlife biologist. I was really into wolves and was a volunteer tracker for the DNR.

After high school in Wisconsin Rapids, I worked in the Dells for the summer then started the biology program at UW Madison.

After two years, I started looking at my student debt and thought, ‘Who am I, what do I want to be?’ I panicked and left the UW and started massage therapy school. I had a friend that was doing the program and it sounded cool. I started a little traveling massage business and that was when I became pregnant with my son which was an unexpected, unplanned pregnancy. That was a pivotal moment in my life. Becoming a mother definitely helped me focus.

I went back to school.  On the side, I worked as a doula in Central Wisconsin when my son was about one. I started doing that because during his birth, I really felt like there had to be a better way to have more support and encouragement during labor and birth. Because of my own birth experience, I developed this passion for being with women during transitions and I had a lot of empathy for single moms.

I graduated from UW Stevens Point. I still had this idea that I was going to be a wildlife biologist, but I took a class that changed my life. I took human physiology, instead of animal physiology, expecting to hate it. I convinced myself I didn’t want to work with people. I wanted to work outside with animals. But I loved human physiology and had a light bulb moment: Maybe I would go into nursing.

My mom was a nurse back when she was younger and sometimes families follow in their elders’ footsteps. I enrolled in the UW Oshkosh Nursing School Program. I couldn’t have done any of this without the support from my parents. They watched my son frequently because I needed a stable, full income while I was in school. I kept telling myself, ‘After this, I’m going to midwifery school!’ I had a rotation on the birth unit and I  did not love it.  I just felt like I couldn’t be with those families as much as I wanted to. The duties of being a nurse, the charting, and having to go from room to room made it really hard for me to give what I wanted to give to the people I was helping. I’m thinking, ‘I’m really far into this nursing program. I don’t think I want to be a midwife!’

My next rotation was at the inpatient oncology unit in Marshfield, which was not something I expected to enjoy.  I thought it would be depressing, but I actually loved it! So much that I took my first nursing job in oncology.  I met my husband, Craig, around this time and we ended up moving onto his grandparent’s farm in Vesper.  We brought the land back to farming and ran an organic CSA of produce and poultry that was powered entirely by solar energy. We had a lot of fun, sweat and tears those years! I took a job with Hospice, helping people in that transition, between living and dying and eventually went back to oncology nursing. When I got pregnant again, my interest in birth reemerged.

I realized what I feel passionate about is being present for our major transitions in life: Birth and Death. I feel there’s something that I can give. To be able to just be quiet and not feel like you have to do something except bear witness to a process that is happening. There is something about being with people when they are at their most vulnerable, going through these huge transformations.

I have amazing stories I carry with me. I had so many experiences with veterans of war that shared stories they’d never told anybody before—stories they would tell us on their deathbeds. It was such a special thing to be there to hear what they’ve never been able to say.  I love supporting birthing people through normal and abnormal experiences, witnessing human resiliency and courage while protecting their experience and space is a real gift in my work.

I also worked with the Home Birth Midwives of Central Wisconsin—both as an assistant and as a client. They helped me through two of my pregnancies and even caught my daughter on the living room floor of our farmhouse in Vesper, the same farm where her great grandparents homesteaded. Around my 40th birthday I wanted to make a decision—am I an oncology nurse, hospice nurse or a midwife? I decided ‘I am a midwife. That is who I am. That’s what I want to do.’ Currently, I’m one of seven midwives at Mayo Clinic in Eau Claire. Eau Claire is a pretty big mecca for midwives in our state.

Life is hard, but there are so many things to enjoy in life.  There is no law that says you have to pick one thing and do that forever. For me, I dive into ideas and find my way.

Jill’s story was produced by Rebecca Bloedorn.

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