Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Where Was My Midwife?

It's hard to believe the Intrepid Junior Blogger is now almost fourteen. I don't know where the years have gone, and at times I catch glimpses of the little girl she was, and even the baby I once held in my arms. I recall her infancy well, every moment of those very early days, and her birth. It was a remarkable time, but I have always had one regret. Because of where we lived - a remote town in northwestern Ontario - I did not have access to a midwife. My daughter was born in a hospital, surrounded by nurses and physicians, and there is nothing wrong with that, as she was born healthy and whole - but I sincerely wish I had some options back then. I know things now that I wish I had known then.

Women have been giving birth with the assistance of midwives since the beginning of time. Midwifery has come a long way, combining the art and science of childbirth with the natural history of our species.   It is an option that women have chosen for thousands and thousands of years, except that now midwifery isn't an option for many women, including those who live right here in Fort McMurray.

I will share a story about my own birth experience, because I think it is relevant. Shortly after my daughter was born I developed an issue with my eye. Initially misdiagnosed as an eye infection it turned out the problem was in fact a virus, and that the virus had damaged my cornea badly enough to leave significant scarring on the surface. It was puzzling to my doctors at the time as this virus, common in humans, doesn't normally surface first in the eye, and usually when it does people have experienced other occurrences of it elsewhere on their body. I had no such occurrences, no history with this virus - and that is when one of my ophthalmologists theorized that perhaps it was a hospital-borne infection, transmitted to me during my stay in hospital after giving birth. He postulated that my immune system might have been under a great deal of stress, and that this virus could have been transmitted to me unwittingly by another patient or even a staff member. That virus, and the subsequent problems it caused, led me on a journey through glaucoma, emergency eye surgery, damaged vision, and a need to see eye doctors on a very regular basis, with the possibility of losing my eyesight entirely in that eye always present.

Maybe that doesn't seem related to the practice of midwifery, but I think it is. You see if I had options back then perhaps I would have chosen to give birth at home, and not in a hospital. Or perhaps I could have gone to a birthing centre, where such viruses would be less likely to be found. Hospitals try very hard and do their best to control such things, but it is difficult to do when dozens of sick people are all in the same facility. And there's the rub - pregnancy isn't a sickness, and yet we give birth in hospitals as if it is. We are exposed to things we wouldn't necessarily encounter in other settings. And I suppose that experience has made me wonder over the years about putting healthy women and newborns into situations like that if there are other options.

Now, perhaps I would have still chosen to go to a hospital for a doctor-attended birth, or perhaps I would have chosen to give birth in a hospital with a midwife present, working in collaboration with my physician, but that's the point: it would have been my choice. The lack of choices, particularly at the most important moment of one's life, is beyond frustrating. I think it is, in a word, wrong.

This community has a birth rate that is phenomenal, and growing. We push out (pun intended) babies at an astonishing rate, and frankly these normal, healthy births are also a drain on our medical system. The costs for hospital stays, doctor attended births, and the rest, could be greatly addressed by creating a midwifery system in the province, and our community. Complicated births, and those with special needs, and those who choose it, would still have access to all the medical care they want and need - but others, who would prefer to pursue another option, could have that too. I am not sure who loses in this ideal scenario, but at the current time I think it is expectant women who lose because they have no choice, just as I had no choice. Would that choice have changed my experience, and saved me fourteen years of dealing with an eye disease that I will now have for the rest of my life? I don't know, and I never will - but I might have. All I know is that I never had the choice.

This weekend, on September 2nd, local advocates of midwifery and those who support it will rally together to ask for midwifery services in this region. You've probably seen the signs around town, just as I have. And yesterday I received a link to the video I share below, a video made by my lovely friend @ashcakesquiggle. I think this is an issue we need to talk about, think about, and consider in relation to our own birth experiences, or those we hope to have in the future. My final thought is this: choice is never bad. Options allow us to choose the things that are best for us, our families, and our futures. I don't know where my midwife was when I gave birth - but I hope for all women in the future their midwife, if they have chosen one, is just a phone call away.

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