A midwife crisis

by Lauren Golosky
New mom Colleen Book feeds her daughter, Charlotte. Book was unable to deliver Charlotte the way she wanted to. Photo by Lauren Golosky

New mom Colleen Book feeds her daughter, Charlotte. Book was unable to deliver Charlotte the way she wanted to. Photo by Lauren Golosky

Saskatchewan is experiencing a baby boom right now, but some women aren’t able to have the births they want.

The province is currently facing a midwife shortage, leaving some expecting mothers on a wait list for a midwife, who assists during and after the birth.

This was the case for Colleen Book. When she was four months pregnant, Book turned to the Midwifes Association of Saskatchewan to find a midwife, only to discover Regina has just two midwives. She was put on a wait list.

“I was definitely shocked that there was not only such a demand for it, but such a wait list for it,” Book said.

Currently, the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region has a wait list of 114 women hoping for a midwife. Some, like Book, won’t be lucky and their birth plans then have to change.

“I was really disappointed I couldn’t have a midwife,” said Book. “The hospital experience is so medical that it was definitely off-putting and I didn’t expect it to be quite so cold. It kind of would have been nice to have a midwife who could guide you through it and act more of a guide than just a doctor who tells you what you have to do. There’s not that personal touch.”

Midwifery services are relatively new to the province, with the Midwifery Act only being passed in 2008. The provincial government first implemented its midwifery pilot program in Saskatoon in 2009. Although the service has spread to two other health regions – Regina Qu’Appelle and Cypress – there has been a struggle to fill midwife positions.

Brenda Collacott, a program consultant with the Ministry of Health, said the program is still in its developmental stages, but the province hopes the program will attract more midwives.

One of the challenges Saskatchewan faces is the lack of midwifery training programs in the province. Currently, there are only seven midwifery programs across the country. The closest one is at Mount Royal University in Calgary, but it is a new program; previously, would-be midwives had to relocate as far as British Columbia or Ontario.

This is problematic for internationally-trained midwives such as Debbie Vey, who came to Canada from the U.K.

Vey is the lone midwife at the Women’s Health Centre in Fort Qu’Appelle. Her clients come from as far as Yorkton, Melville and Regina. Her caseload includes up to 35 clients a year, in addition to 90 prenatal clients.

“I take on more than I should,” she said, adding that she had to turn away 12 clients last year. “That’s four a month who wanted midwifery care, but I couldn’t physically take them.”

Vey expalined that internationally-trained midwives are required to undergo a yearlong assessment process. This process means the midwife has to leave Saskatchewan for B.C. or Ontario. However, Vey thinks the process is necessary.

“All midwives have to have the same standards,” she said. “Every midwife across Canada should be at the same level.”

However, Book thinks the province should be doing more to bring midwives to the province, especially as the population increases.

“To have a population boom in Saskatchewan right now, to have our population growing so fast, yet to only have two midwives…it seems like they’re not doing all they can,” she said.

Book said the province needs to institute some kind of midwifery program.

“Where are midwives going to come from if Saskatchewan Health isn’t setting up training programs for them?” she said.

Vey agreed.

“We do have homegrown students that want to do midwifery but can’t because you have to leave the province,” she said.

For any future pregnancy, Book hopes to have a midwife and plans on getting on the wait list earlier.

“I hope that there is some change so people can have the birthing experience that they want because it’s very personal; it’s very scary,” she said.

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