If you care about “women’s rights” you should believe that women have the right to give birth how they want to and that access to a midwife is a “human right”. A midwife is not a nurse or a doctor, a midwife specialises in supporting a mother and baby through the journey of “low risk” pregnancy, natural delivery, and into the delicate postpartum period. Midwifery care is likely more client-centred care than care women will receive from a doctor.
When I told people I was going to have a homebirth, the most common reaction I received was one based in fear, not fact. Because pregnancy and labour have been pathologised, it’s hard for people to fathom giving birth outside of a hospital. Many people felt that having a homebirth was putting the health and safety of my baby and I at risk. I explained that for pregnancies deemed “low-risk,” mothers and babies were statistically just as safe at home with a midwife as they are in the hospital. I also explained that the biggest statistical difference was that hospital births involved medical interventions that homebirths did not. Interventions being pain killers, epidurals, episiotomies, intrusive fetal monitoring, inductions, forceps deliveries and cesarian-sections to name a few. With each intervention, the likelihood of further intervention increases because the natural process of birthing is interrupted. Unnecessary intervention robs women of the most empowering experience of their lives. Women deserve the prenatal, labour, and postnatal support that empowers them as women and mothers. Sometimes there are complications and pregnant women need life saving medical intervention. Midwives are well trained and experienced in recognising when a pregnant mother is in need of medical and emergency care. Midwives do not show up to a homebirth empty-handed. In this modern day midwives show up with an abundance of life-saving medical supplies such as oxygen tanks and a syringe of oxytocin to prevent postpartum hemorrhage.
Ideally, having a homebirth reduces the likelihood you have to drive somewhere while in labour, as this journey may interrupt the woman’s natural process. When a cat is giving birth it looks for a “nesting area”; a safe cozy place to birth her kittens. Women are mammals who also need a safe place for birthing and commuting to this safe place may interrupt the woman’s birthing process. Hormones play a vital role during childbirth and if the natural process of producing oxytocin and endorphins is disrupted by the woman’s environment, this can stall labour and lead to intervention.
Atlantic Canada is lacking in accessibility to midwifery care. Qualified midwives from Atlantic Canada struggle to find employment here and end up working in other provinces such as Ontario. In Nova Scotia, the government has monopolised midwifery care so that many women who need midwives and many midwives who need jobs, cannot connect. This is because the province (The NS Health Authority and the IWK) decides how many midwives to hire and they have currently hired less than ten midwives for a population of almost one million. There are pros and cons to this approach. It is illegal to be a midwife in Nova Scotia if you are not licensed by the council, and only employees of the province are licensed. This makes it illegal to be a private practice or independent midwife in Nova Scotia. On the upside, it is free to see a midwife, and the midwives malpractice insurance coverage is paid by their employer. Because the ratio of midwives to people in Nova Scotia is about 1:100,000 women who seek midwifery care are often waitlisted or rejected. To hire more midwives is a political decision made by the government. The “Midwivery Coalition” is one avenue of advocacy for midwifery care in the province. If you want to speak to your local MLA or write a letter requesting more midwifery care you can address that to the Minister of Health and Wellness or the Prime Minister.
The day I went into labour I had been floating in the ocean. I gained 70 pounds during pregnancy, my thyroid was “low,” it was a long hot summer in which wells ran dry, I was five days overdue and my edema and water retention was causing me great discomfort. The ocean was my sanctuary, the only place I wasn’t being dragged down by gravity. I was unbelievably buoyant! Upon wading (waddling) to shore, gravity hit me like a tone of bricks. That afternoon we popped in to see one of the amazing South Shore Midwives so she could check things out and potentially help get things moving. At this stage of pregnancy also known as “The Tenth Month”, I was desperate but also convinced the baby wasn’t ever coming. Illogical, I know. I had watched all four of my younger siblings be born, and I can assure you, vaginas Do open, and babies Are born.
That evening I had some mild lower abdominal cramping. I asked my husband if this was labour, as if he was going to know. This was our first child. I had a bath. My husband had a beer. We really didn’t think the baby was coming, or else he wouldn’t have had a beer, since we had to drive an hour and a half to Dartmouth because after being wait-listed, I was fortunate to get in with the (HRM) IWK Midwives and was planning to give birth at my parents house. After the bath and beer, I had my first contraction which doubled me over in absolute agony and I wondered in amazement, HOW DO WOMEN DO THIS?! I was then violently ill, my body expelling all contents in preparation for the delivery. As per our agreement, one of the amazing South Shore Midwives came at midnight to check me out and tell me if we should embark on our journey to Dartmouth. During contractions I was transcending physical realms in a sea of intense agony and I couldn’t fathom making this journey. But we did it. I did not enjoy the stop at the fuel station or the weird look I received from a passer by as I hunched over a pillow in the passenger seat. HOW DO WOMEN DO THIS?! All I could do was breathe.
We made it to the house and I wasn’t sure how I would get inside. Ten years in the military taught me endurance but nothing prepared me for this. Not even the “positive birthing mantra cards” I had created. I made it into the house between contractions. It was about 1:30 am. I flopped on the leather sofa and was engulfed in my inner process of enduring the throes of labour. I was surrounded by love and support. My Sister who is a doula was there and so was my Mother, taking turns pushing on my lower back during times of extremely intense and agonising back labour. My Husband held my hands and was my rock, he grounded me to the world and I felt if he let go I might drift away, never to be seen again. My waters exploded out of me, like a dam had snapped and a thousand rivers had broken free. I exclaimed “OH MY GOSH!” and my Father, from another room, voiced his concern about his sofa (lucky it was leather). My wonderful Midwife showed up at 3 am with all her supplies in tow. She called emergency services to give them a heads-up, should anything go wrong, providing them with my information. My Sister-doula said I should change positions so I hunched over a yoga ball, on the sofa. My wonderful Midwife said push when you feel “pushy.” At some point my Mother and Sister exclaimed “We can see the head!” He was posterior or “sunny side up” which is not the best position for delivery and may have contributed to my excruciating back-labour. I was exhausted. I thought to my self: maybe I give up now. That thought was swiftly replaced by the internal demand that MY BABY’S NEED TO GET OUT IS FAR GREATER THAN YOUR NEED TO NOT RIP OPEN. With that thought, I pushed his head out. My wonderful Midwife checked the head for the umbilical chord. I asked if I can continue pushing. Six hours after my first contraction, his body shot out of me like a shark out of water. Relief. Euphoria. Ecstasy. My wonderful Midwife passed him to me and I saw that he was a He. I held him, my body zinging on a crazy high of endorphins like I had just awoken from a chaotic slumber of infinite intense dreams into a vibrant world that had, unbeknownst to me been turning all the while. I turned to my husband and prepared him to meet his son by stating “Honey I think it’s a boy.” Our son tried to latch right away. His APGAR score was 10/10. My Dad came into the room when he heard a baby crying with tears of joy in his eyes. My Mother was so proud of me. My Sister-doula was exhausted and had her own homebirthed babies in her arms at this point. My Husband was overwhelmed. My wonderful Midwife stitched me up. My husband held our Boy skin-to-skin while I was stitched and my Dad stayed by my side. The birth was so quiet that my other siblings and nephews didn’t wake up. It was peaceful yet traumatic. I did it! It was the most empowering experience of my life. I felt connected to every mother who had gone before me. THAT’S HOW IT’S DONE, I thought to myself.
The journey of Midwifery care doesn’t end after the delivery. They are there for you in the fragile postpartum days and weeks to monitor your infants health, your healing, and support you at the beginning of your breastfeeding journey. This is done in the comfort of Your Own Home. In my case I received this care from the awesome IWK Midwives and the South Shore Midwives. Why waddle, all swollen and stitched up, a day or two postpartum, to a car and put your tiny infant child into a car seat to trek to a germ filled doctors office if you don’t have to? Midwives are truly a blessing, and Atlantic Canada needs more Midwives.