Ten years ago, midwife Jane Blackmore moved to Cranbrook and began offering midwifery services in the community.
Since then, the practice has grown to include another two midwifes — Carolyn Thibeault who joined in 2005, and Sivan Bar-Sever who joined in 2010 — and the group is hoping to promote awareness of the health care service at a celebration on Monday, May 5.
From noon to 3 p.m. at the College of the Rockies track field, the midwives are inviting past and present clients, midwifery supporters and anyone interested in learning more about the practice, to join them for a picnic lunch. There will be guest speakers and snacks, and the group will walk around the track together. Families are invited to bring their own lunch and picnic set-up, but refreshments will be provided.
The event will be held on International Day of Midwives, said Carolyn Thibeault.
"Every year around the world they celebrate in different communities to bring awareness to the work that midwives do."
In fact, the first baby delivered by a midwife in Cranbrook and the first child delivered in a home birth, now 10 years old, will both be present with their moms.
Thibeault said that most people don't know that midwifery is a health care profession that requires a four-year degree and is covered by B.C. Medical.
"The big things that people don't know is that the services are covered by B.C. health care, that we deliver babies in the hospital or at home, that we have an office where women come for prenatal and postnatal care, that we order lab work and ultrasounds and we can prescribe medications, and that in any complications we consult directly to obstetricians and pediatricians where necessary," said Thibeault.
Midwifery was legislated and regulated in B.C. in 1998.
"That's 16 years ago and still relatively new as far as an old profession reemerging for people to be aware of what we do," she said.
In Cranbrook, there are about 450 babies born each year, and the East Kootenay Midwives deliver about a quarter of them — around 120 a year.
"That number is actually very high if you look at other places. In a lot of areas it's five per cent. So it is quite a large percentage of women who are coming to us."
The B.C. midwifery program is modelled on New Zealand's program, where about 75 per cent of babies are delivered by midwives. But the difference is partly due to the small number of midwifery graduates in B.C.
Until this year, only 10 midwives graduated from the University of British Columbia program each year, the only institution that offers it. That intake was recently increased to 20.
"The reality is that most of them are staying in the Lower Mainland," said Thibeault.
As many rural communities experience a doctor shortage, there is going to be more and more need for midwives in the community, she went on.
"As more doctors reduce their availability, it's going to be more important for midwives to start picking up on that."
East Kootenay Midwives does sometimes have waiting lists of expectant moms in busy months, but it's an important that women who are expecting have the option of choosing a midwife.
"We don't have waiting lists every month, but if people are interested in our care, it's important that they call as soon as they have a positive pregnancy test," said Thibeault.
While awareness of midwifery is growing, there are still misconceptions prevalent in the community.
"People still get lots of shocked responses from family and friends if they are planning a home birth, but it's a very safe alternative to hospital birth as long as you have a women who meets the criteria and a skilled care provider. Research that has been conducted shows that it is just as safe, if not safer than the hospital," said Thibeault.
"When midwives are in the hospital, they are basically admitting a patient and using a room. People sometimes think they are under everybody's care — a doctor's care, a nurse's care — but that's not actually the case."
Midwives also provide care once mom and baby go home for up to six weeks after the birth, which usually includes several in-home visits in the first week.
Other medical professionals are beginning to adopt some midwifery practices as research shows their effectiveness.
"An example of that is delayed cord clamping," Thibeault explained. "Midwives have always intuitively done delayed cord clamping, but as midwife education grows, midwives are going into midwifery research. So one of those developed a research study on delayed cord clamping and actually showed that it does improve hemoglobin outcomes six months later - it is better for babies to receive that cord blood after they are born. That research paper has actually changed practices in the hospital.
"As we become more integrated into the system, our practice as midwives is also becoming more integrated into how doctors conduct themselves."
Celebrate International Day of Midwives on Monday, May 5 from noon to 3 p.m. at the College of the Rockies track.