Tag Archives: midwifery

Ontario pledges $28M to expand midwifery services

The Ontario government has pledged $ 28 million to expand midwifery services throughout the province.

The announcement was made Monday in St. Jacobs by Minister of Health Christine Elliott.

“Midwives are an essential part of our public healthcare system,” Elliott told reporters, adding that midwives promote best practices that lead to higher breastfeeding rates, fewer medical interventions and shorter hospital stays.

The province is also expanding midwives’ scope of practice to allow them to prescribe more medications, Elliott said.

Elliott said this change will make better use of midwives’ training, and reduce patient wait times for medication and therapies.

Where the money goes

The funding will support up to 90 new midwifery graduates as they enter the field, increase access to culturally-appropriate midwifery care by expanding Indigenous midwifery programs and help midwives update the technology in their clinics, Elliott said.

Elliott said in a release the additional funding will mean more families “will be able to access quality care from a midwife during pregnancy, labour and birth, as well as six weeks of support once their baby is born.”

In Waterloo region, it will mean an additional $ 1.2 million this year for local midwives. The announcement also included continued funding for a pilot program for midwifery care at Mount Sinai Academic Family Health Team, in Toronto. 

Elliott said that the $ 28 million announcement means the Ontario government provided $ 178 million for midwifery care in the province this year, which helped 35,000 families.

Janessa Otto is a registered midwife at St. Jacobs Midwives. She said in the release she hears from families that “they value and depend on our services.”

She said she hoped the funding announced “will allow greater access to midwifery care in our region.”

Need more investment, says association

The Association of Ontario Midwives applauded the funding expansion in a news release, calling it a “critical” step in improving access to midwifery, and noting that four in 10 people who require midwifery services are turned away because of a provider shortage.

“However, investments must also extend to providers to ensure fairness and sustainability,” the release said, noting that recent provincial cuts to the College of Midwives have resulted in greater fees being shouldered by front-line care providers.

In the fall of 2018, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care said it would no longer provide operational grants to the college. 

In response to questions Monday about this funding cut, Elliott said the College of Midwives of Ontario had been the only college receiving ministry funding, and that the change was made to bring it in line with other colleges.

She said the college had received $ 400,000 in temporary bridge funding to account for the change.

“We’ve had conversations with the College of Midwives, and they’ve indicated they already have a plan going forward so their existence is not threatened in any way,” she said.

Midwives’ association president Elizabeth Brandeis also pointed to a ruling last year by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, which determined that the government had discriminated against midwives based on gender.

Brandeis said she wants to see midwives’ pay brought into a comparable range with that of salaried family physicians and nurse practitioners. 

“As long as midwives are undervalued for the work that we do, we won’t be able to continue a sustainable profession that is very challenging on the provider,” she said.

“We need appropriate compensation in order to have the supports in our lives to do that work.”

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‘It was powerful’: Cree babies are 1st to be born through Chisasibi midwifery program

Cayde and Ella Snowboy are the first two babies to be born under the Cree Board of Health and Social Services’ midwifery program.

They’re also cousins — their moms, Christina and Louisa Snowboy, are sisters.

They were pregnant at the same time, and signed up for midwifery care instead of the usual doctor’s visits during pregnancy and delivery.

“I was so happy that my family was there,” Christina said. “They supported me.”

The midwifery program, launched in September 2018, is part of efforts by the Cree health board to bring birthing back to the territory.

It gives Cree women with healthy pregnancies the choice to have their babies in Chisasibi, the largest Cree community in the region and the only one with a hospital, rather than down south.

“There were lots of people there while I was giving birth, lots of women,” said Christina.

“I was happy that I had lots of support.”

For Louisa, giving birth in Chisasibi meant being back in her own bed, with her healthy newborn and her older children, just four hours after giving birth — rather than having to stay for several weeks in a town almost 1,000 kilometres from home.

Louisa’s two older children were born in Val-d’Or. When midwifery services became available in her home community, she signed up right away.

Her positive experience helped convince her sister Christina, a first-time mom, to give birth in the community.
Cousins Cayde and Ella Snowboy were born in the spring. (CBHSSJB/T. Philiptchenko)

“[The birth] was indescribable. It was ecstatic. It was powerful,” said Jessyka Boulanger, the midwife who assisted Louisa.

“It was really like a circle of women supporting that life coming. It was so beautiful.”

Choosing where to give birth

Boulanger is one of four midwives in Chisasibi, and is also the head of midwifery services for the Cree Health Board. She travels by plane a lot, and often witnesses the moment when a mom steps off of a flight from the south and introduces her newborn to family for the first time, in an airport.

She says having the choice to give birth at home, with family close by, can be healing.

“The Cree, like many Indigenous communities, experienced trauma from residential schools, from colonization, separation of families. The systematic evacuation of women during pregnancy can re-open those traumas,” said Boulanger.

“Now, you can make that decision for yourself. You can decide where you feel the most secure, what has meaning for you, where you should be, and with whom. We’re able to give back that choice.”

When Louisa was pregnant, she and her family decided that her mom, Annie Sam, would be the one to welcome the baby. She says that having her mom catch the baby was deeply important to her.

“It’s wonderful that my two grandchildren were born here in our town,” said Annie Sam. “I wish more women would try to give birth here.”
Annie Sam, Louisa’s mother, Louisa and Jessyka Boulanger, head of midwifery services in Chisasibi, gaze at Ella. (CBHSSJB/T. Philiptchenko)

Traditional Cree birthing knowledge and practices are integral to the midwifery program. During pregnancy, women can learn from elders about naming rituals, ways of wrapping a baby, and how to treat rashes using traditional remedies.

The program is in high demand, with midwives now caring for almost half of Chisasibi pregnancies, or about 25 women. The community’s population is about 5,000 and growing quickly.

What was lost for so many years is coming back, said Boulanger.

“To be able to share that celebration of life, bring it back to the community, to the family, instead of [birth] being a separation or stress or worry. That it can be, once again, a joyful event.”

The Cree Health Board is planning to expand midwifery services to other communities in Eeyou Istchee, and to train Cree midwives. Birthing homes will be built in Waskaganish, Mistissini, and Chisasibi over the next few years.

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