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Charity Clarkin, left, Jessica Mace, holding Pontiac Tracy Mace, Heather Redshaw, holding Freeman Nichols, and Wendy Lahey, holding Charlie Palmer, showed their support for the International Day of the Midwife in May 2010, when the midwifery program was still running in Yellowknife. At the time, the cost of midwifery services were covered under the NWT Health Care system. - NNSL file photo

Midwifery programs the talk of the territory

Lyndsay Herman
Northern News Services
Published Monday, May 21, 2012

When the legislative assembly begins its next session on Wednesday, many NWT women hope midwifery will be given its due attention. Jennifer Young and Wendy Lahey, two midwifery advocates, are doing what they can to make sure that happens.

They, along with many others, believe the current practice of evacuating women from remote communities for pregnancy care causes undue stress, dis-empowerment, and unnecessary costs to both the women and the government.

Midwifery in remote communities would give women with low-risk births the option to stay in their communities.

A few weeks ago, Young and Lahey met with Inuvik Boot Lake MLA Alfred Moses, chair of the Standing Committee on Social Programs, and Debbie DeLancey, deputy minister of Health and Social Services, to discuss the recently completed Midwifery Options Report and the actions either government body plan to take toward the expansion of midwifery in the NWT.

The benefits listed in the Midwifery Options Report for in-community births include a decrease in domestic violence, a decrease in sexual assault, an increase in self-esteem, greater feelings of dignity, less stress and more male involvement in newborn and partner care.

Lahey said everyone they've spoken to has been in favour of developing midwifery in the territory, but she is concerned about the lack of formal commitment from the GNWT.

"(The Department of Health and Social Services) said they would find the money for the year 2014/2015 but with that comment (there was) no commitment for what community, or how many communities, or how it would look, or if they would follow the recommendations from the report that they paid so much money to do," she said. "It's a very vague commitment."

Lahey said she understands that finding funds for a new program is not easy, but it is something that needs to be done for the health of women and families in the NWT.

"We would really like to see the department come forward with a formal plan of how they're going to address (the report) recommendations ... and start expanding midwifery services outside of just Fort Smith," said Young.

Young and Lahey plan to present to the Status of Women Council in June and will open an e-petition through the legislative assembly website this summer.

They're also exploring the idea of a midwifery coalition or committee between the communities mentioned in the Midwifery Options Report. The idea grew from a desire to expand their forces beyond two and beyond Yellowknife.

Support for Young and Lahey is already coming from all corners of the territory. Jessica Cox, a resident of Fort Smith and a strong supporter of the Fort Smith midwifery program, said expansion of the midwifery program in the territory would provide a greater support for Fort Smith's highly successful midwifery program.

"The midwives that we have here won't be working indefinitely," said Cox. "There will be a time when they will retire and move on, further down the road. There's no one really to step in and take their place. In my mind, it's important to see midwifery expanded to other communities as a means of increasing the number of midwives practising in the NWT and creating a more sustainable, widespread program."

Tammy Matthews, Healthy Babies Project officer in Inuvik, stated in an email to News/North that midwifery allows pregnant women and their partners to feel more comfortable with the person overseeing the birth, whereas time restrictions and scheduling make that difficult when accepting care through a physician.

"Moms ... need someone that will take the time to listen to what they are saying," she said.

"The mom is the number one concern."

Young and Lahey said anyone interested in getting involved with midwifery development in the territory can visit the NWT Citizens for Midwifery Facebook page or contact them individually.

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