Since December, Toni Fehr and Heather Heinrichs have seen all but two of the pregnant women in town.
As the recent arrivals filling a need the community has been clamouring to get for years, the two midwives have a full schedule. Although they have yet to deliver a baby in town, it’s not for lack of clients. Every year, between 40 and 60 pregnant women come through the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority.
“Almost all of the pregnant women in Hay River are accessing midwifery care and about half will be birthing here,” Heinrichs told The Hub last week. “More than half are eligible.”
Eligible because while there is now an option to give birth in town, not everyone can take advantage of it.
“The drawback is that we don’t have a surgical backup here,” said Fehr. “That’s why we have the eligibility criteria, and it starts with pre-natal care.”
She said factors like a history of complications, hypertension, previous caesarians and a number of other conditions and situations could necessitate a trip to Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife for the actual birth.
“With the screening process, it’s not likely that a complication with surgical involvement would happen here,” said Heinrichs. “If it was likely, they wouldn’t be here.”
Erin Griffiths, Hay River Health and Social Services Authority spokesperson, said if complications should occur, it would be treated like any other emergency and the mother and baby would be medevacced to a larger centre.
But even for those who have to make the trip to the capital, Fehr and Heinrichs will still be on hand at home to help with pre and post-natal care. They visit homes in the first six weeks, are open to walk-ins looking for extra help and also provide help with breastfeeding.
“We’re here to offer support and help make things not as hard as they could be,” said Heinrichs.
Fehr is a nurse who trained to be a midwife and has been working in Winnipeg for 14 years. After spending part of her training in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, she said she was drawn to the practice and traditions of midwifery in places where women have more limited access to health care.
“I felt like I was ready for a change,” she said. “And having the chance to start a new program was a draw.”
Heinrichs is Metis from Winnipeg and worked as a midwife in a practice serving aboriginal women in Toronto. She said she was most interested in working with women in rural and remote areas and looked forward to building relationships with women and families working in her most recent position.
“Part of what’s different here here us hearing women’s birth stories… they’re all stories about going away,” she said. “There’s a lot of excitement about staying here.”
Health authority CEO Al Woods said midwifery has been a priority for both the authority and the community for a number of years.
“Our MLAs helped make this happen and we are now very proud to have midwifery as part of our health and social services programming for the Hay River service area,” he said.
Fehr said the most important thing was that women have been asking to have their babies in the community and now have the option to do so.
“Everywhere I’ve practised, the first time women come into midwifery care, they say it’s the first time they feel like they have a full-hour with their health care person,” said Henrichs. “They say it’s the first time they feel like they have time to tell us their stories and talk about their experiences and what they want for themselves and their babies.”