Erin Stopani's first experience that made her think about becoming a midwife happened at a friend's house.
A very good friend just had a home birth and was hungry after all her hard work. She invited Stopani to meet the baby and, while at it, bring her some takeout. When Stopani arrived she saw something she didn't expect to see.
"I got there and she looked like herself and was sitting on the couch holding her newborn," said Stopani. "This miracle that had just happened seemed like it was just a part of their day. I think that's where midwifery entered my heart and where I thought birth really is something that's normal and natural."
For 11 years, Stopani has worked as a licensed midwife performing home births and providing care for women in New Mexico and other parts of the world.
Even with her years of experience, Stopani decided it was time to earn a master's and become a Certified Nurse-Midwife to further her education and professional path.
"It took me 11 years to make that decision," said Stopani with a laugh. "The population that a licensed midwife reaches is very limited. I feel everyone deserves the midwifery model of care and to be able to provide that to more women, this next level of education and certification is necessary."
That next level of education and certification will also help Stopani continue her passion in international work.
Stopani, 34, has done a lot of traveling in her career as a licensed midwife. Before coming to UNM, she spent time in the Philippines and Ecuador gaining different perspectives on birth among different cultures.
These experiences abroad made Stopani realize there is a great need for midwifery care in other countries. While in Ecuador, she looked into the possibility of opening a birth center, but found she would not be able to do so with her current license and degree.
"The laws are such that the license I have here in the states and my associate's degree does not translate in that part of the world," said Stopani. "Different countries that I was looking at do require that higher level of education to practice in their country."
Once she completes her master's and becomes a Certified Nurse-Midwife, Stopani hopes to continue her international work and provide a level of care many of these countries desperately need.
"I've been thinking about different parts of Africa," said Stopani. "Maternal mortality rates in Africa are just astronomical. There, your midwifery skills can save people's lives and save their families. Women are very fearful of pregnancy in other countries because women die. There's such a significant loss associated with it. Lives will be saved as midwifery care and skilled attendants at births are more available to these populations."
No matter what Stopani decides to do after she graduates, she is certain that being a midwife is her passion and calling. You can see that in her twinkling eyes and permanent smile when she talks about her journey as a midwife in the states and abroad.
"I just think of the women I've helped," said Stopani. "It's such an intimate part of someone's life. To be invited into that, to be very involved in it, it's sacred."
To learn more about the UNM College of Nursing Master of Science in Nursing programs and the nurse-midwifery concentration, visit http://nursing.unm.edu/prospective-students/Masters-in-Nursing/.