By Laura Keil

Few residents of Valemount can say they were born there, but in November two babies earned that distinction.

Expectant mother Natale Neilands had planned to do a water birth at the Prince George hospital assisted by a midwife. But her baby—her second child—had other plans.
Her friend Jessie Badger, who acted as a Doula, says Neilands told her she was having some contractions around 9pm on Nov. 6th, but at that point neither was sure whether it was true labour or Braxton Hicks contractions (ie. practice contractions the body does to prepare for a delivery).

“She said ‘I feel a little something,’ and I said, ‘Ok, check back with me in an hour,’” Badger said.

They had planned to embark on the 3-hour drive to Prince George the following Tuesday when the weather forecast looked better, and then spend a week or so with Neilands’ family waiting for the baby.

“(We were like) the weather is really treacherous right now, the roads are terrible, people are in the ditch everywhere,” Badger said.

But by the time they phoned the hospital the night her contractors started, she was already 4-5cm dilated (10cm is considered time to push).

“It was progressing rapidly,” Badger said.

Luckily the paramedics were able to meet them immediately at the clinic, as a previous call got cancelled. Dr. Kat Godlewski arrived not long after, and Badger describes a “flurry of action” as the medical team got the emergency room set up. It was clear the baby was coming quickly. They got to the hospital just after midnight and the baby was born about an hour later.

Natale Neilands holds baby Leif in the Valemount Health Centre, delivering him just an hour after arriving. Both mom and baby were home in their beds by 3a.m. /JESSIE BADGER

Badger says the feeling in the room was a lot different than the birth she’d witnessed with Neiland’s first child.

“It was kind of cool because everyone knew each other. Like Jasmine (the paramedic) and Nat have a relationship. Jen (the nurse) was one of my clients and Dr. Kat had been Nat’s doctor the whole time. So it was just a really cool community feeling in there … Everyone’s just go-go-go and Jen’s cracking jokes with Nat. It was really special.”

Neilands says her experience was “super positive.”

“I didn’t even have to wait for the paramedics to get there and Dr. Kat and nurse Jen were there shortly after. Dr Kat did suggest I go to Prince George but the labour was progressing very quickly, we wouldn’t have made it.”

Neilands says they were still able to offer some pain medication and she had complete faith in Dr. Godlewski’s abilities.

“I never doubted her delivering the baby,” she said.

Neilands ended up having no complications and delivering a healthy baby boy, Leif Wylder 6lbs 14oz.
“I thought everyone did a great job considering the circumstances,” Neilands said. “I was only there an hour before babe was out—12:30 to 1:45—and home in our bed by 3am. No driving on shitty roads on a -20 night, so thank you, Valemount.”

Neilands’ daughter woke up to a baby brother in the house.
“Everything was seamless,” Badger said. “Dr. Kat was just like a rock star. She was so calm, she knew exactly what she was doing. She was definitely like, fresh from school, you could tell that she was checking off the things and very thorough. She was very reassuring with Nat.”

A year ago, Dr. Godlewski took a leave of absence from the Valemount clinic to receive specialized training in Obstetrics. Even though delivering at a clinic without the capacity for emergency surgery carried a risk, Badger says setting out for the city at that point carried its own dangers.

“The other risk is that she delivers in Dome Creek on the side of the highway in the middle of the night on icy roads,” she said. “We were all aware that (driving) conditions were very poor.”

Badger said it would be nice if the clinic accommodated planned births when the expected delivery is graded low-risk.

“It would be nice in the winter, where your risks are either driving in a blizzard in the middle of the night, or the risk of giving birth in a clinic that is not prepared for an emergency. We’re three hours from any major city centres. If you were able to birth in the valley that would be a huge blessing, and I think it would just save a lot of stress.”

In a statement, Northern Health communications person Eryn Collins told the Goat Valemount Health Centre is not a facility that offers birthing/maternity services, though of course sometimes babies arrive unexpectedly.

“In these emergency circumstances, our physicians and staff are equipped to respond to an unplanned birth,” she said. “It’s for this reason prenatal care providers work closely with their patients, particularly those at higher risk, to help them plan where to deliver based on their expected delivery dates and their care needs, and to reduce the potential for an emergency delivery at a non-birthing site. We recognize that having expectant or pregnant mothers travel to give birth can be disruptive and inconvenient, but patient safety must come first.”

Collins says ideally women would give birth as close to their family and community as possible, no matter where they live in the province.

“Some communities, however, face challenges providing these services – either because there are too few births for the health care team to maintain the needed skills; there are too few health care staff with the appropriate training; or clinicians are not comfortable providing services in the absence of higher care-level supports such as immediate access to emergency C-section and other potential post-partum surgical interventions, a specialised nursery for the infant, etc.”

Another expectant mom-to-be was awaiting her first child. Alodia Velacruz had no vehicle to take her to the city, but she planned to go down to Burnaby with her sister-in-law once it was closer to her due date. But the baby decided to come early.

Her water broke at 6a.m. on Nov. 4th and she went to the clinic around 8am, but the clinic wasn’t open yet.

“There was someone there, but they said ‘I’m sorry I can’t let you in, there’s no one here to assist you.’”

The pair waited outside the clinic in the cold for 10-15 minutes before the clinic staff person returned and let them in around 8:15. The doctor examined her around 8:30 and said there wasn’t time to transfer her to the hospital, as she could already feel the baby’s head.

She was set up in one emergency room and gave birth to a healthy baby girl Crystal around 1:30pm.

When asked how she felt during the delivery, Veracruz said she was scared.

“I was scared I was going to have a problem with (delivering) my baby.”

She said was concerned about the lack of medical supports during her labour, as the baby was preterm.

“I didn’t even have an IV,” she said.

She said the doctors and nurses were very helpful though, and supported her through the labour. Dr. Godlewski and Dr. Chudzinski delivered the baby. Afterwards, they transferred mother and child to Kamloops, but her partner wasn’t allowed to ride with them in the ambulance. Because they don’t have a vehicle, it was three days before they were reunited, as the next bus didn’t leave until Monday.
Originally from the Philippines, Alodia had worked in Valemount for seven months. She now plans to stay in Burnaby, as was her plan before the birth.