A recent announcement by NWT Health and Social Services Minister Tom Beaulieu will result in more families having access to midwifery services.In response to an oral question posed by the MLA for Hay River North Robert Bouchard on Oct. 24, Beaulieu said more communities could expect to have those services available once funding is put together.
Currently there are two midwives for the entire NWT, both working out of Fort Smith.
A midwifery program in Yellowknife was cancelled in early 2011, which led to a protest by a group of mothers and their children in front of the legislative assembly in May of that year.
Beaulieu announced approximately $500,000 would be set aside for Hay River alone, where expecting mothers need to leave the community by their 37th week of pregnancy due to the lack of services to deliver babies here.
About 65 babies are born each year to families living in Hay River, but all are delivered outside of the community, most often in Yellowknife, according to the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority Capital Planning Study.
Mothers seeking midwifery services must travel to Fort Smith or south, which can cause both financial and emotional issues.
A report released last year by the Department of Health and Social Services stated women would benefit from having the ability to give birth in their own communities. It added that costs associated with sending expecting mothers to Yellowknife or elsewhere would be cut down, and would also decrease the likelihood of postpartum depression brought on by delivering the baby alone.
Hay Riverite Tiffany Gallivan, who delivered her son Hudson in Fort Smith with the help of a midwife, said the experience was one of the most wonderful and supportive of her life. She said doctors and midwives there use modern technology to evaluate labour, and a final decision is made whether to deliver the baby or not.
“There are many signs that complications may occur, and medevacs are always standing by if needed,” she said.
“It’s a very cautious, well-thought out program with experienced, educated midwives. It’s a wonderful service to have in a community.”
Both practicing midwives successfully delivered more than 30 babies between 2005 – when midwifery became legislated in the NWT — and 2009.
Wendy Lahey, of the NWT Citizens for Midwifery, has been advocating for an expansion of midwifery services in the territory since 2009.
That year she started a petition to bring back Yellowknife’s only midwife. In the spring of 2011 she was part of a group that met with Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services Paddy Meade to find out whether the recommendations listed in the Midwifery Options Report would be acted upon.
“They told us they weren’t sure, that they were just recommendations,” she said.
“They wanted community consultations and now it sounds like they want to expand the services to other communities, specifically Hay River and Inuvik.”
This year Lahey has started up another petition: this one is broader, asking the GNWT to make good on its strategic plan and finally expand midwifery services beyond Fort Smith. She has gathered 119 signatures as of Nov. 1.
The Citizens for Midwifery have been asking communities to advocate for them, and Lahey mentioned Hay River had really stepped up to the plate.
“We get emails from women there who ask how to help,” she said.
“There is a substantial interest from Hay River.”
While details surrounding Hay River’s midwifery funding is still murky at best, it is most likely to arrive by the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
Outside of that funding, there is more good news for advocates of the expansion, this time coming from the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority.
CEO Sue Cohen said the new health centre, to be completed by 2015, will provide a labour, birthing, recovery and postpartum (LBRP) room.
“The program will be delivered through a midwifery model of care,” she said.
“We will be seeking to have two midwives within the program. We will be engaging in a number of activities prior to the opening of the new centre, including community consultation and planning for the midwifery program.”