Women in remote rural communities face a different set of challenges than their urban counterparts. More and more, 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 pregnant women getting appropriate care? 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. The Rocky Mountain Goat has asked for birth rates and outcomes in the Robson Valley but has received only a partial response to date, with no information on outcomes.

By Andru McCracken

Finlay, 1 year old, was happy to play while his mom took part in the midwife meeting /ANDRU MCCRACKEN

A group of six moms and one dad gathered in the basement of the Valemount Public Library to discuss issues facing young families before, during and after child birth in Valemount and the Robson Valley on January 16.

Nancy Taylor of Dunster led the discussion. Taylor was part of a birthing culture that dominated the area in 1980s, a time when local women often chose to have their children at home or in the local hospital, and midwifery was both accepted and accommodated by doctors in the area.

Taylor said the whole community suffers when women have birth experiences that are less than ideal.

“Many women are choosing not to have a second child after they have had a traumatic first delivery,” she said.

Among other problems, gatherers shared concerns about a lack of agency during their births, a lack of prenatal classes and limited or no access to midwives.

For Taylor giving local women access to midwives is vital

“Women fought really hard to get midwifery legalized,” said Taylor. “Why should we be denied those services that are offered in cities? It is a thing of equity and access.”

Taylor said the strength of midwives is that they don’t treat pregnancy as an extraordinary experience that needs to be mitigated through medical treatment or ‘cured.’

“Midwives protect and promote the normal healthy process of childbearing. It’s pregnancy, birth and postpartum,” she said. “As a culture, we’re forgetting how to give birth.”

“When they have had an experience where they have had some control over and their dignity and rights have been respected, that goes into their early days and months of parenting.”

Karen McKirdy had a positive birth experience despite all the odds and specifically the practitioners who told her birthing would be a terrible pain-filled experience.

She thinks things can be improved and she hopes to work with local health care providers to make things better.

“Our desire is to work with the clinic in such a way we can have healthy prenatal postnatal care where women go into childbirth with knowledge feeling empowered, not feeling that they have to do everything their doctor says,” she said. “They are allowed to be in control of the situation.”

McKirdy said that regardless of whether women have a natural birth or a cesarean, women often feel depressed because they feel violated.

“We need to empower them so as they are coming out of it how they desired.”

McKirdy said that in her own experience if she didn’t have access to her cousin who is studying to become a midwife she would have had a cesarean at 37 weeks.

McKirdy said that a key factor for women is consistent care. Two supports that have been dropped by Northern Health since McKirdy had her first child in 2017 were prenatal classes and a house calls made by a public health nurse.