For Chantal Dengah (BSN ’19), her master’s degree specializing in Nurse-Midwifery came with some “Indiana Jones moments.” Unexpected stressors arose for the University of Colorado College of Nursing student and single mother of three, especially as COVID crashed her entire graduate school experience, at times, turning her into “a ball of stress.”
Helping keep the count - Dengah's children
Yet as she accepts her MS degree during the Fall 2021 graduation ceremonies, marking the place she has always wanted to be, the standout student leader with a contagious laugh will reflect on the good things the past two years delivered and the possibilities her future holds.
“My goal was always to be a midwife,” said Dengah, whose kids excitedly helped keep count of her 50 deliveries during the graduate program. “It has always been to get to this point.”
‘Amazing’ faculty offer guidance, support
Partly due to pandemic stressors, Dengah, whose undergraduate years at CU Nursing were loaded with volunteering and extracurricular activities, decided to ease up on the side work during her pandemic-cloaked graduate education.
“There were definitely those Indiana Jones moments, where you are running, and the boulder is coming, and you are like (lets out a squeal), and you are trying to roll under the door coming down,” Dengah said, describing her time in the rigorous, nationally ranked midwifery program, that she called “well-paced” and “immersive.”
Support from “amazing” faculty and preceptors guided her under that door every time, she said. “They are so wonderful and knowledgeable that, even with those moments, I really felt encouraged and supported,” Dengah said.
She has also put PhD plans on hold to enjoy practicing midwifery and time with her family. But a reduced pace for Dengah would feel like warp speed for many people.
Giving back while moving forward
During graduate school, Dengah volunteered with the American College of Nurse-Midwifery and the CU College of Nursing Alumni Association, mentoring students for the alumni association’s Student Success Committee. She also served as a teaching assistant in an undergraduate OB/GYN course for two semesters.
“It was really great,” she said of teaching new nursing students, noting that the benefits were reciprocal. “I think when you teach, you learn. Students helped me see some things from different perspectives,” Dengah said.
“When you are building up a robust community around you, you are building in this beautiful network of support for yourself and for others.” – Chantal Dengah
“I also really find value in giving back to my community. When you are building up a robust community around you, you are building in this beautiful network of support for yourself and for others.”
Of course, the pinnacle of her midwife training was her first delivery. “That birth was just really beautiful. It was like a way post, right? It marked a transition into now practicing the theories that I’ve been learning and been wanting to practice for the past decade.”
Leaving the profession ‘better than you found it’
Dengah’s post-graduation plans begin with passing the American Midwifery Certification Board exam, which she said, holding up crossed fingers, she hopes to take in December. “I’m feeling really good and prepared. We (CU’s midwifery program) have a very high pass rate.” (The certification rate within one year of graduation is 97%.)
Once those MS/CNM letters become official behind her name, Dengah plans to launch her own birthing brand, starting with the publication of a cookbook she worked on during graduate school.
“I’d been noticing that a lot of my patients had been coming in and saying: What should I eat? Or: I’ve been throwing up; is my baby OK?” So she conceived the cookbook idea to answer those questions and more.
The book will look at dietary needs for each trimester, from calories to recommended percentage of nutrients, such as protein and fat. And it will offer “really accessible, easy recipes” that fulfill those needs, said Dengah, who hopes to publish this spring.
Next up, Dengah wants to write a birthing book on the mind/body aspect of birthing and become an Instagram presence that educates the public about her profession, she said.
“When you are called to midwifery, I feel like it’s, at least for me, a responsibility to leave the profession better than you found it.”
Her dream fulfilled, bringing her full-circle
Chantal Dengah rock-climbing abilities
Dengah’s active personal life also outpaces many people’s, with singing backup for local musicians, hosting a TV adventure show, rock-climbing for sport and working as a ring girl for the national MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) all on her résumé.
Some of her stress-relieving outside gigs were taken away by pandemic shutdowns, including the MMA job, inspiring her to “hang up my bikini,” she said with a laugh.
On a sad note, Dengah also lost her longtime climbing partner to a non-climbing tragic accident two years ago, stealing her main form of meditation during graduate school. “It’s been really hard during COVID to find any partners,” she said, adding that surviving without her meditative sport was not easy.
“I was pretty much a ball of stress. It was a big eye-opener for me, like: I do need this in my life. This is my big stress-reliever, and I wasn’t replenishing my cup. It was an important cautionary tale: Make sure you don’t neglect the things that make you feel centered and make you feel you.”
She intends to get back to climbing and, eventually, pursue her PhD so that she can contribute to what she calls much-needed research in her chosen field.
But for now, she’s ready for her next adventure – being the midwife she was called to be. That calling was cemented, she said, when a midwife controlled a dire situation – severe hemorrhaging during the birth of Dengah’s first child.
Now, with four of Dengah’s 50 deliveries during graduate school involving significant blood loss, she’s come full-circle. “They all did fine,” she said of the four mothers and babies. “I always wanted to be that bad-ass midwife who knows what to do, and now I am. It’s really cool.”