The case for registered midwives

When something is universally agreed upon, we often call that a motherhood statement. Because really, who could be against motherhood?

When something is universally agreed upon, we often call that a motherhood statement. Because really, who could be against motherhood? But unfortunately, too often there is a difference between how we talk about motherhood and our lack of action when it comes to helping and supporting real-life moms.

If you don’t think so, best not to follow along with the never-ending debate over registered midwives in the Yukon.

There is a decades-long conversation in our territory about the wisdom of midwifery.

Despite being the subject of over 15 years’ worth of political promises, studies and working groups, legislation that would regulate and fund midwives still evades our territory, a distinction we share only with PEI.

Why is this important? In other jurisdictions, a registered midwife is an experienced healthcare provider who accompanies expectant mothers through childbirth. They allow new moms important choices over childbirth, like whether to deliver in a hospital or in their community or home, supported by family or friends.

Expectant moms in the Yukon can currently use a midwife for a homebirth instead of a doctor in the hospital. In the absence of regulation, though, anyone can claim to practice midwifery without undergoing the exhaustive education and training that protects women and their babies.

And in the absence of financial support from the territorial government, women are responsible for paying for their midwife out of pocket, which rules the option out for many low-income women and families.

As it stands now, the Yukon’s only birthing hospital is in Whitehorse and women in communities have to travel and stay away from their homes for several weeks to give birth. Surely this creates an emotional and financial toll at the very time that women most need to feel supported. (Thank goodness for organizations like the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre, which provides women with a comfortable home-like setting during this important time).

Midwifery associations have long since called for regulated and funded midwifery in the territory as a way to ensure the highest quality of care for patients and to provide confidence in the practice of midwifery for all medical practitioners. It would also ensure equitable remuneration for yet another profession dominated by women.

Legislation enabling and regulating midwives for low-risk births could allow more women to deliver in their home communities. It could provide more women the dignity of making the best choices for how their babies start their lives and how they will enter motherhood. It can also provide the opportunity to incorporate culturally appropriate practices for our Indigenous women on traditional territories.

As other jurisdictions have shown, integrating midwives into the health care system can also reduce critical health costs, allowing us to invest in other much-needed care priorities.

Midwifery in remote northern communities is not new to Canada. Recently, the Nunavik Maternity Centre celebrated its 3,000th birth by community midwives over a period of 30 years. Further, many of the midwives in Nunavik are Inuk, which highlights the potential for Indigenous midwifery in the Yukon — which is currently sorely lacking.

So why is Yukon lagging behind?

Reading between the lines, it may be that previous governments have had difficulty navigating all of the different interests surrounding this issue. Listeners of CBC North last week would have heard the Yukon Medical Association highlighting the very real fact that more deliveries by midwives mean fewer deliveries by doctors, making it harder for doctors to keep up their skills and training. They also raised the lack of pediatricians as a cause for concern.

These are very real issues that must be addressed and resolved. But they are not reasons for inaction. Every government makes choices based on who they’re ultimately trying to help. After over 15 years, that choice must now be for expectant moms and their babies.

Every mother can tell you a story about the day her child was born. The memory of that life-changing experience is vivid and real. The long-term impact on the health of mother and child is significant.

I have been very fortunate to give birth to three wonderful children, two with the help of a registered midwife, and one under the care of a doctor at the Whitehorse General Hospital.

For all three births, I was treated with warmth, kindness and respect by my doctors, nurses and midwives. I wish every other woman the ability — and the right — to do what’s best for her and her family.

When it comes to providing Yukon women with choices and dignity with respect to the birth of their child, it’s time to move from endless study to real action. That would be a real motherhood statement.

Shaunagh Stikeman is a Yukon lawyer.