Manitoba midwives and their supporters are calling on the provincial government to fund more midwifery positions in the province.
"I hear all the time that getting a midwife is like winning a lottery," Sarah Davis, president of the Midwives Association of Manitoba, told a crowd of close to 100 gathered in front of the Manitoba legislature Monday in the wake of the 2019 International Day of the Midwife.
This month, 12 local midwives are graduating from a joint University of Manitoba-McMaster University program — and just two have jobs lined up in Thompson, Davis said in an interview.
The other 10 may have to work out of the province if Manitoba doesn't fund any new positions, she said. That doesn't sit well with advocates who say midwives play a vital role in the health of Manitobans.
Ashley Ford says a midwife saved her life and that of her first-born child.
"I had severe preeclampsia," said Ford, who was at the demonstration Monday with her nearly-three-year-old daughter, Poppy. The condition, formerly known as toxemia, involves high blood pressure and puts mom and baby at high risk.
Ford said she was 33 weeks pregnant when she had a strange headache and one swollen foot. She called her midwife, Elaine Labdon, to let her know.
"I was grocery shopping and on-call when Ashley called to say she had a weird feeling," said Labdon, who delivered hundreds of babies in England before moving to Canada and training to have her midwifery credentials recognized here. Labdon said Ford's blood pressure was "extremely high", and directed them to the hospital right away, where premature Poppy was delivered by caesarean section.
The healthy relationship that develops between parents and a midwife can save lives, said Ford. "She helped me have a good birth experience with (second daughter) Daisy."
There are close to 40 practising midwives in Manitoba, according to the association, but nearly 200 are needed to meet demand as some health regions have no midwives. The regulatory body that governs midwifery in Manitoba says it doesn't track numbers but, anecdotally, knows more are needed.
"In some regions, 50 per cent of the women are turned away," said Janice Erickson, registrar of the Manitoba College of Midwives.
A Winnipeg Regional Health Authority spokesman said Monday fewer than 10 per cent of women who requested a midwife in Winnipeg were declined because there wasn't a midwife available.
This year's 12 midwifery grads are the second class to graduate in Manitoba after the troubled University College of the North program that began in 2006 was discontinued by the province in 2016. The provincial government agreed to a partnership with Hamilton, Ont.,-based McMaster to allow students in the program to complete their studies at U of M, but provided no long-term solution for a future program.
On Monday, a statement from Health Minister Cameron Friesen said there is more work to do.
"Clinical teams are examining data and developing models of care that will best support access to quality perinatal care for Manitoba’s population. This includes a focus on how best to meet the needs of pregnant women and their families through collaboration among health-care providers — of which, midwives are an important and valuable part of. Midwives are an active part of this planning."
The province could save health-care dollars by using more midwives, said their association president.
One-quarter of births attended by Manitoba midwives in 2018 took place outside of hospital and, in Winnipeg, the rate of births occurring by c-section with midwifery care was only 11 per cent, compared to the national average of almost 29 per cent, said Davis.
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