As Lisa Paull was giving birth to her eight-pound, 14-ounce daughter on Feb. 12 she was relieved to have her midwife by her side.
“She said: ‘Try to stay calm and look at me in the eyes. Try to focus,’” Paull recalls at home with tiny Savaitha Elizabeth Anne cradled in her arms.
“She was there for me throughout the pregnancy. She took time to check in to see where I was at emotionally too.”
Savaitha is the 34-year-old mother’s first child and, although her partner has a son, midwifery was new to the couple.
“My doctor was so busy and there were questions I would forget to ask when I visited. She recommend a midwife.”
Paull considered having Savaitha, which means “sun” in indigenous Australian, at her house on the Squamish Nation reserve but decided to give birth at Lions Gate Hospital instead.
Both Paull, a student at Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, and her partner Victor, who works in the oil mines in Fort McMurray, lead busy lives and say a midwife fit in well.
“She provided a lot of comfort,” she says of Vera Berard, a midwife with Midwifery Care North Shore, one of four clinics in North Vancouver that are covered under Canada’s Medical Services Plan.
Last year, these clinics helped with 327 births, mostly from women living on the North Shore.
Now the Midwives Association of B.C. wants to double the percent of midwife-assisted births on the North Shore and other parts of B.C. to 35 per cent.
Berard says this can be done by spreading the word about the benefits of midwifery and increasing the number of midwives being trained.
To keep up with growing demand, UBC’s Midwifery program will double its yearly graduation rate from 10 to 20 by 2017.
The Midwives Association is also seeking provincial funding for a program that would annually enable 10 to 15 internationally trained midwives to practice in B.C.
“There are more women who would like to have midwifery care but there aren’t enough midwives around,” said Berard, who has been in practice for 15 years.
The recommendations, which include an expanded rural locum program and skills upgrading, would costs $3 million annually or $225 a birth per year starting in 2014/2015. The total cost of support would reach around $21 million by 2020.
This money would be well spent, adds Berard, because it would free up around $60 million for other types of health care.
According to the Midwives Association, midwives save the province money because they provide postpartum care inside the home, allowing women to leave the hospital an average of 18 hours earlier. Midwife-assisted births also decrease caesarian sections from 30 to 19 per cent.
Midwives are recommended for healthy, low-risk pregnancies like that of Brianna Higgins who gave birth to a daughter at home in October.
“A home birth was always in the back of my mind. My husband was completely against it at first but I gave him research about safety and we ended up doing it,” says Higgins from her home in central Lonsdale.
“I had a water birth in the bath tub. It was a gentle way for Rea to come into the world. Her eyes were open looking at her dad.”
With a plan to go to the hospital if there were complications, she felt more comfortable staying at home.
“I wanted an intervention-free birth.”
And, yes, that means without all the forms of pain relief available at the hospital, including epidurals.
Only recommended for low-risk pregnancies, giving birth at home saves the province money because it reduces the demand on hospital resources, according to the Midwife Association of B.C. Currently 17 per cent of births are done at home.
“If women are healthy and their pregnancies are going fine then they’re not likely to see a doctor the whole of their pregnancy, labour, birth and postpartum,” says Berard.
“However if anything arises… we can get women in to see specialists quickly.”