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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Crystal Schick/Yukon News file
Runners in the Yukon Arctic Ultra marathon race down the Yukon River near the Marwell industrial area in Whitehorse on Feb. 3, 2019.
Cold-weather exercise hard on the lungs

Amy Kenny Special to the Yukon News It might make you feel… Continue reading

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
YUKONOMIST: The Neapolitan election

Do you remember those old bricks of Neapolitan ice cream from birthday… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
This week at city hall

A look at issues discussed by Whitehorse city council at its April 6 meeting.

Two people walk up the stairs past an advance polling sign at the Canda Games Centre on April 4. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
April 12 is polling day: Here’s how to vote

If in doubt, has an address-to-riding tool

Yukon Party leader Currie Dixon addressing media at a press conference on April 8. The territorial election is on April 12. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Getting to know Currie Dixon and the Yukon Party platform

A closer look at the party leader and promises on the campaign trail

Today’s Mailbox: Rent freezes and the youth vote

Dear Editor, I read the article regarding the recommendations by the Yukon… Continue reading

Point-in-Time homeless count planned this month

Volunteers will count those in shelters, short-term housing and without shelter in a 24-hour period.

The Yukon’s new ATIPP Act came into effect on April 1. Yukoners can submit ATIPP requests online or at the Legislative Assembly building. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News file)
New ATIPP Act in effect as of April 1

The changes promise increased government transparency

A new conservancy in northern B.C. is adjacent to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (Courtesy BC Parks)
Ice Mountain Lands near Telegraph Creek, B.C., granted conservancy protection

The conservancy is the first step in a multi-year Tahltan Stewardship Initiative

Yukon RCMP reported a child pornography-related arrest on April 1. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press file)
Whitehorse man arrested on child pornography charges

The 43-year-old was charged with possession of child pornography and making child pornography

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The postponed 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been rescheduled for Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
New dates set for Arctic Winter Games

Wood Buffalo, Alta. will host event Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023

Victoria Gold Corp. has contributed $1 million to the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun after six months of production at the Eagle Gold Mine. (Submitted/Victoria Gold Corp.)
Victoria Gold contributes $1 million to First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun

Victoria Gold signed a Comprehensive Cooperation and Benefits Agreement in 2011

Most Read