Midwifery is soaring in popularity and so is frustration over the lack of local access.
There are currently no midwives practicing on the West Coast, meaning expectant mothers must travel Sutton Pass to receive prenatal care.
“Midwifery is a choice that mother’s make and about 35 per cent of births on Vancouver Island are assisted by midwives, but it’s challenging for Tofino because we’re a greater distance from a hospital that has maternity services like the West Coast General Hospital [in Port Alberni],” Tofino mayor Josie Osborne told the Westerly.
Midwives are independent practitioners who must receive official privileges in order to work in specific hospitals. Osborne said a local midwife would be a “big benefit” to local families and is preparing to lobby for increased prenatal services on the Coast.
“Not everybody has a car or access to transportation. So, yes, I think we would be better serviced if we had access to midwifery services closer to Tofino,” she said.
“It’s a real concern for West Coast families when you’re expecting a baby and you need to leave in order to have the baby.”
She added mothers with children at home face a tough task because they need to find a place in Port Alberni to rent for about a month while juggling school schedules and that, while local governments don’t have a direct role to play, they can help make an impact.
“Health services in general come up consistently and maternity services do come up from time to time. A local government doesn’t have any direct pervue in this field, but I think that lobbying is one of the best things we can do as well as connecting local residents to Island Health decision makers,” she said.
“Something that I’ve certainly come to learn in my last four years as the mayor is that there’s a little bit of a gap there of community advocacy and spokespeople to really speak on behalf of the struggles that West Coast families have to those decision makers at Island Health and that’s something I really want to help with.”
Midwifery has been a hot topic lately as a petition recently circulated calling on Island Health to reconsider its decision to not renew the privileges of an alternate midwife at West Coast General Hospital.
Tofino local Paula Orser helped circulate the petition and said she was disappointed to see Island Health decrease what she she sees as an already bare-bones roster of two midwives at WCGH.
“It’s extremely frustrating and it affects everyone in Tofino-Ucluelet. It’s not a privilege. It’s a right to birth a baby. It’s a right to be able to have access to basic maternal care.”
Orser has had a midwife for all three of her pregnancies and said midwives provide valuable continuity.
“Every month, as your pregnancy progresses, you see the same one over and over again whereas here you just get the lottery of whatever doctor happens to be on call that day and you have to explain your situation to the doctor over and over again,” she said. “The midwife gives you that continuity of care. They know exactly who you are. You see them every month. They’re with you through your labour and delivery and then after they do anywhere between 4-6 postpartum visits.”
Pam Rardon, the site director for West Coast General Hospital said the hospital and Island Health have received and are reviewing the petition.
She said the midwife whose privileges were not renewed was a locum who would fill in if another midwife was away.
“No midwifery privileges have been removed or taken away in this Local Health Area,” she said.
“We value midwifery care and we’re committed to supporting women in Port Alberni and the West Coast with midwifery care.”
She said the hospital has two midwives with privileges currently and that number won’t rise until demand does.
“It’s a complex process because you want to balance the impact on other services…Vancouver Island is a really desirable place to work and, in fact, we have the highest midwife directed delivery rates in the province on Vancouver Island,” she said. “You want to provide enough midwives to meet the demand, but you also want to support the midwives that are already currently practicing.”
Orser argued the demand for more midwives is already clear.
“It’s very difficult to get a midwife as it is,” she said. “If you find out that you’re pregnant at 12 weeks instead of eight weeks you won’t get one because they’re so highly sought after.”