Isolation, desolation, deprivation.
Explain to people Outside, or even in Whitehorse, that 30 new mothers a year are choosing Dawson City to raise their first born, and those are often the points that are raised.
“Isn’t it cold and dark?”
“I understand you have to drive six hours to give birth?”
“How can there be any support when you live so far away from the city?”
At times, this can all be true for new parents who choose to raise their children in the Klondike.
Close family is often thousands of kilometres away, money is tight for some and a pin can be heard dropping in the snow on January nights when the temperature dips below -30C.
That’s when the federal Canadian Pre-Natal Nutrition Program — and its off-shoot programs — is available to help.
Patricia Greer has worked for two years as the program co-ordinator for Dawson’s CPNP program.
In that time, she has seen almost 60 families use the program for pre- and post-natal support.
“The objective is to offer support for women and their partners and families during pregnancy and making healthy family choices up to one year after the baby is born,” she said in an interview, recently.
This support is available at four levels: physical, emotional, mental and financial.
An outreach worker will go into a new mother’s home and provide physical services including short-term babysitting, meal preparation or light housekeeping up to two hours a week.
That’s a little help just to give new moms a break, says CPNP outreach worker Brandi Bassett.
“I usually go in, get comfortable with the parents, talk to them a little bit, and get to know them and their child.
“Once they are comfortable, generally they leave the house and I stay with the baby and care for the child. If I have any time, I do housekeeping or help with whatever is going on that day for the family.”
This support can lead to the next level of help: mental and emotional care for the new mom, who may simply need someone to talk to, said Greer.
“Emotionally, we are here for them for anything we can help them with. If they just need someone to talk to, it’s a confidential program so nothing leaves here.”
Some new parents do not need in-home help, but just need questions answered. That is when the CPNP library can be helpful.
“We have a great resource library of videos and books just to help them with their pregnancy, giving birth and rearing other children.
“We also do research for the moms for anything they don’t have time to do.”
For single moms, or families that are struggling to make ends meet, CPNP also provides financial assistance through grocery vouchers.
“We provide food subsidies for those in need and for those travelling to Whitehorse to have a baby,” said Greer.
Dawson is a long way from a major hospital. That is why the community was chosen to host a CPNP office when the program was started nationally 10 years ago.
Outside, it is only available for families who live below the poverty line.
Not so in Dawson, said Greer.
“Everyone in the community was considered to have a challenge because they have to drive to Whitehorse, six hours away, to have a baby.”
But the town’s isolation is actually good for the new mothers, said Bassett, who has been in her position for six months.
“In tradition, people had to depend on one another, their neighbour, and so there was this much greater sense of community.
“People were helping each other and being a part of one another’s lives. That still exists here because many people still value traditional ways.
“Life is hard here in the winter. It’s cold. It’s desolate. It’s far away. People need each other.”
An example of this sense of community is evident through a “father’s” program, which is an off-shoot of the CPNP service.
Organized by volunteer fathers, activities are co-ordinated for the whole family.
Saturday, up to 40 people turned out for a tobogganing party at Moose Mountain ski hill.
In July at least that many attended a barbeque and impromptu soccer game at Minto Park.
Canada’s efforts to involve fathers in the parenting is attracting international attention, said Greer.
“The co-ordinator of the (national) committee has been asked to go to Japan and Australia to promote what has been done at the national level.
“Of all the national projects, this has really blossomed and it’s been recognized by other countries.”
So why is it important that fathers spend time with their children as infants and toddlers?
“There’s been a lot of research done,” said Greer. “It affects their child’s self-esteem, their cognitive abilities.”
Bassett added that spending time with his children is just as beneficial to the father.
“It increases his sense of self-esteem and worth within the family and connection to family. He also seems to be more involved in the community because of those skills.”
With free lunches, financial and home support, what could possibly be missing for children in Dawson?
Support ends for children after they reach one year of age and leave the CPNP, Greer was quick to point out.
“If we had a program like this, that children could graduate into, that would be great.”
But Bassett has found that mothers in Dawson find ways to support each other both during and after they leave the CPNP.
“There are moms that meet every day and go for a walk up the Dome.”
Janice Rose is one of them.
She has one 10-month-old daughter, Macy, and a thriving bed and breakfast, Bedside Manor, which she owns and operates with her partner.
Rose has made great use of Dawson’s child services, she said.
“Last week, alone, I went to five events organized because of CPNP: a sing-a-long, community kitchen, a lunch, romp ‘n run, and tobogganing. It’s just great.”
Rose agreed with Bassett that Dawson is an exceptional place to raise a family because of its isolation.
“It’s a close-knit community. I know every child Macy’s age and every parent in her age group. There’s no shortage of support.”
Rose uses the CPNP as a base for networking with other new mothers.
“I find CPNP is the organization that brings these (activities) together. Through that networking, parents can get together.”