Reclaiming rural birth: An ecstatic experience

By Andru McCracken


Karen McKirdy and her healthy son Matthais.

Women in remote rural communities face a different set of challenges than their urban counterparts. More and more often, maternity care is only available in larger centres. It seems natural that women travel to a nearby city. It seems safer,  but it may not be that clear cut. With no practicing midwives in the valley, no prenatal classes and a baby boom in the works,  are local women getting appropriate care before and during childbirth? In this series, the Rocky Mountain Goat explores rural birthing: What is working, what needs to change, and what are other similarly remote communities doing to address the challenges.

Karen McKirdy knew that giving birth to her son Matthias would be an amazing and positive experience, even though she had been diagnosed with a condition thought to lead to complications for both her and her unborn child.

“I didn’t let anyone tell me what kind of birth I was going to have,” said McKirdy.

When nurses at the hospital in Hinton told her that child birth would be the most difficult and painful experience of her life, it didn’t phase her. She came prepared to weather those attitudes and create her own experience.

She had read the works of the legendary midwife Ina May Gaskin who founded the Farm Midwifery Centre in Tennessee. The Farm Midwifery Center has delivered about 3000 babies and has an astonishingly low rate of Cesarean sections (1.7%) and they routinely delivered breech babies, twins and even mothers of more than five babies. Gaskin even has an obstetrical procedure named after her, called the Gaskin Maneuver.

Gaskin asserts that fear in childbirth has an overwhelmingly negative impact on mothers and that health care providers in hospitals and clinics don’t do enough to take this into consideration.

“We are the only species that can doubt its capacity to give birth,” said Gaskin in a 2013 TEDx Talk in Sacramento, California.

“It’s easy to scare women, it’s even profitable to scare women, but it’s not nice,” said Gaskin..

Gaskin distills her findings from over 41 years of midwifery and said said women should hire a doula, a nonmedical labour companion who helps create the right conditions for birth.

“They [keep] a calm atmosphere, slowing down the pace of breathing, [adding] some humour. Affection could be allowed in the room,” said Gaskin.

McKirdy said birth can be scary for new moms.

“You are pushing a human being through something that is usually less than 1 centimeter but opens to 10 cms,” she said. “This is why we need a midwife or a doula to support moms.”

“You want to be in a relaxed calming atmosphere, you want to be around people you have been with for the entire time.”

McKirdy’s birth experience wasn’t without hiccups. Two weeks before she ultimately gave birth she and her health care providers decided to induce labour because of her condition. McKirdy had an adverse reaction to the drug and was in intense pain for 36 hours. The doctor wanted to intervene, but McKirdy got advice and assistance from a friend training to become a midwife. The doctor listened and together they agreed to give it some time.

Until then McKirdy had only met the doctor who would deliver her baby twice. Briefly. Over the course of those 36 hours, McKirdy got to know her physician well. She could see he was a kind and gentle man with a good heart.

Two weeks later when it was finally time to labour, she believes that knowing her doctor well helped create the right atmosphere for a good birth. When she finally went into labour, it only took four hours and forty five minutes.

“I had an ecstatic birth,” said McKirdy. “It was the most amazing feeling.”

McKirdy learned a lot during her birth experience, and now pregnant with her second child, she has an even better idea how to have an ecstatic birth. High on the list is long term consistent relationship with care providers, including during prenatal check ups.

Now McKirdy is advocating for a midwife to serve Valemount. From her own experience, she sees how important it is to be familiar with the people helping during childbirth.

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