LAFAYETTE — The number of licensed midwives in Louisiana could nearly double next year, from eight to 15, when the first class of students in the state’s only midwifery training program becomes eligible for licensure.

South Louisiana Community College began offering classes for an associate degree in applied science in midwifery last year. The 30-month, direct-entry program prepares students for a licensing exam and combines academic coursework with clinical experiences.

Midwives assist women in the natural birthing process and also provide prenatal care and support through the pregnancy. Midwives may assist deliveries at home, a birthing center or in a hospital.

The program’s first class of seven students is scheduled to fulfill the program’s requirements next spring.

The program has attracted interest across the state with students from Alexandria, Jena, Baton Rouge, Hammond, as well as the Acadiana region, Sherri Daigle, SLCC’s midwifery program director, said.

Daigle is one of eight licensed midwives in Louisiana.

Students meet once a week for their courses, which allows them flexibility to observe and assist with births in their own communities, Daigle said.

Students’ clinical experiences progress in responsibility as they continue in the program.

Students said they’ve used their own networks of friends, and even Facebook, to find willing expectant mothers to allow them to be a part of their birthing process.

“Right now, we all have at least one person we’re assisting at the birth in the next month,” said Ali Roberts, 36, of Lafayette.

A second set of students began the program this month and an additional group will be added each January, Daigle said.

Their own personal experiences with childbirth attracted some students to the program.

“I had an experience that led me to think there must be a better way,” said Charlotte Shilo, 48, of Opelousas.

Shilo said she feels midwifery is her “true calling” and provides an outlet to empower women by educating them about their pregnancy and birthing options.

Many midwives view their work as a ministry, rather than a career, Daigle said.

Giving birth naturally is an empowering experience, Roberts said.

“It’s an amazing thing you do for yourself,” she said. “You feel like a warrior and a rock star.”

Too often, Roberts said, she hears women say they’ll choose a natural option or seek out care from a midwife for their next birth.

She said a cervical cancer diagnosis altered her plans to have more children and inspired her to become a midwife.

“I didn’t have a next time,” she said. “I want to teach women to treat every pregnancy like it’s the only one they’ll have.”

The youngest student in the class — Sarahbeth Boyd — is 18.

Boyd said she had her future set on medical school to work as an obstetrician on medical missions until she learned about the midwifery option.

“One of my friends is a missionary in Romania and said there’s a need for midwives there,” she said. “It showed me that I can do this and still do medical missions.”

The observations are revealing, said Shatamia Webb, 27, of Lafayette, who observed her first birth two months into the program.

“I saw everything that I wouldn’t want to do,” she said of the experience.

Some students in the program, such as Erica Glass, 36, of Alexandria, already have some clinical experience.

Glass said she has apprenticed with a licensed midwife for the past year and a half.

Daigle said Glass will receive credit for her clinical experience.

She added that the college is preparing a pathway for those with experience to join the program for their academic classes and work toward an associate’s degree.

There’s also a need to standardize training for preceptors — practitioners who preside over students’ midwifery clinical experiences, Daigle said.

The college plans to work in partnership with a technical college in Michigan, which also recently started a program, to develop a standardized training model, she said.