Midwifery in Ontario

Candace, 05 August 2005, Comments Off on Midwifery in Ontario
Categories: Bodies, Feminism, Women's Studies

When my grandmothers were having babies (in Canada before WWII) going to the hospital was for middle class women, poor and isolated women had their babies at home. By the time my mother was having babies almost no one was having babies at home anymore. (And almost no one was breastfeeding). Science, medicine, and technology were the heroes of the 70s.

When I had my first baby in the 90s there was a growing midwifery movement in Canada but midwifery was not yet covered by Ontario’s health insurance. Only those who could afford a midwife could have one. Even with a sliding scale it was a challenge to pay, but it was the only way to have an attended home birth. Most of the clients of the practice were highly educated and all the ones during the time I was there were white.

By my second birth Ontario had passed legislation, which for the first time made a midwifery licence mandatory (making traditional midwifery illegal for the first time in Ontario). I lived in a community without any registered midwives. Those who could afford an American midwife did so but their fees were very very very high. I couldn’t afford it. It was something only accessible to the rich. In Michigan however the cost of a midwife at home is much less than the cost of an obstetrician in a hospital. The midwives I talked to said how different their clientele is on each side of the border. In MI they see mostly poor women, in Windsor mostly rich. Women here who could not afford a midwife had to choose between having their babies in the hospital (with a 25% c-section rate) or have an unattended birth at home. Both choices have risks.

The third time around there was still no midwife in town. My husband had left early in the pregnancy and I had no money. I managed to talk a midwife into coming here for cheap because I had such a need for a good birth. Stepping into the medical model would not have been very good for me or the baby or my family. With this midwife I was able to make my own choices, take responsibility for the pregnancy, and was able birth where and how I chose. It is not likely I would have had that freedom in the hospital. Needless to say the birth was extremely empowering.

There is a lot of criticism about the medical model of childbirth. I agree. But it is false to assume that midwifery is not also medicalized. Traditional midwifery is very different from the midwives who are being trained in universities in Ontario today. A person trained within the medical model will be taught its norms and values. Only if the person has previous or other experience will they retain or develop a non-medical philosophy of reproduction and birthing.

Since midwives have come to my community one striking thing I have noticed is that appointments have gotten shorter (longer appointments were touted as one of the benefits of midwifery). Appointments take place in an office now, no longer in homes. Many people do not want a traditional midwifery experience but do not want a medical experience either. Each midwife is different in the way she blends these two ideologies. Because of this, you never know what you’re going to get in a practitioner. This makes it even more essential that you know what you want and seek someone who matches your hopes for the birth.


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  1. Laura
    16 August 2005, 1:33 pm

    One of the unfortunate things about higher education today, is that everyone takes it for granted. Midwives and Obstetricians are often trained in the same facilities and from the same texts, not to mention the fact that Nurse-Midwives have already been through the rigors of nursing school, and most likely become immersed in the norms of the medical community.
    Because of the fact that every person, be they midwife or obstetrician is an autonomous practicioner, you can never expect them to fit into a specific mold simply because of their medical title. There a plenty of midwives out there who are willing to use drugs for the comfort of their clients, and there are certainly obstetricians who are eager to let their laboring and birthing women determine their own childbirth experience.
    They key to finding what is right for you is doing the research. No one thing will work for everyone.

  2. Sour Duck
    13 December 2005, 2:46 pm

    Redneck Mother’s “Not a baby-machine”

    Related Links:
    Redneck Mother: “Not a baby-machine.” This piece was featured in Issue 3 of The Carnival of Feminists. Issue 4 is out now at The Happy Feminist.
    Muse and fury: “Midwifery in Ontario”
    Creek Running North: “Blog Against Racism Day”

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