Opinion Social Policy

Midwifery in the Yukon: Government must make regulated public service a priority

The Yukon Territory is the last jurisdiction in Canada without regulations for midwives, but while the territorys lack of available birthing options has been raised in the Yukon Legislative Assembly since the mid-1990s, current and past governments have consistently deemed the issue a low priority.

There are two professional midwives currently practicing in the Yukon, but women and families who want birthing options must pay thousands of dollars out-of-pocket for these private services. Across the rest of Canada, registered midwives are public healthcare professionals who provide a holistic approach to childbirth during pregnancy, labour, birth, and postpartum.

Because private midwives are not territorially recognized as professional healthcare providers, they cannot order diagnostic tests or labs. This means that expecting parents have to perform a balancing act between the two healthcare options that sometimes have conflicting strategies and philosophies.

Unlike most hospital births, midwives often provide care with limited interference from procedures like epidurals and episiotomies. Referred to as normal birth,” midwives approach low-risk childbirth as a natural experience rather than a procedure, while addressing the fears and anxieties that come with having a child.

Without public regulation, midwives must operate privately. As a result, they have a limited ability to provide the best possible care, and Yukoners who choose to hire a midwife must bear the financial burden of private health care. Because private midwives are not territorially recognized as professional healthcare providers, they cannot order diagnostic tests or labs. This means that expecting parents have to perform a balancing act between the two healthcare options that sometimes have conflicting strategies and philosophies. For midwives themselves, a lack of regulation means a lack of support and resources within their practice.

Midwifery has been a growing priority for non-Indigenous Canadians since the early 1970s, but in Indigenous communities, the role of a midwife has always held a great deal of cultural and community significance. Indigenous midwifery puts a profound focus on the ceremonial aspects of childbirth; from naming traditions to formally welcoming a new member of the community, the role of birth in many First Nations is much more than procedural.

Colonial policies have systemically challenged the existence of Indigenous midwifery, forcing women to birth in hospitals for the better half of the last hundred years. The National Aboriginal Council of Midwives advocates for the restoration of midwifery in Indigenous communities both as a way to reclaim traditional culture and assert their right to welcome a newborn on traditional land.

If you were to give birth today in the Yukon, the Whitehorse General Hospital would be the only place where you could have a child delivered. For women and families who live in rural communities, this means traveling long distances away from the community and its emotional support. It also means the ever-present additional expenses that come with medical travel.

Having that choice to give birth on ones traditional territory would address both the geographical obstacles that women who live in the communities currently face, while reinforcing the cultural autonomy of First Nations.

Legislating midwivesability to operate would empower midwives in Yukons communities. It could be the most effective way to support safer and more affordable childbirth in the territory by providing rural women with low-risk pregnancies the choice to birth in their own community and avoid the emotional and economic difficulties of medical travel.

Having that choice to give birth on ones traditional territory would address both the geographical obstacles that women who live in the communities currently face, while reinforcing the cultural autonomy of First Nations.

Within Whitehorse itself, regulated and publicly-insured midwifery would further relieve the burden on doctors to perform childbirths. As too many Yukoners are currently without a family doctor, funding more birthing options is a territorial imperative.  

Within the Yukon political landscape, members from all political parties represented in the Legislative Assembly agree that it is time to legislate midwifery. Unfortunately, year after year the low priority status of the issue has prevented it from becoming a serious initiative.

After being questioned in the house by Yukon Liberal Leader Sandy Silver in the winter of 2016, Minister of Health and Social Services Mike Nixon maintained that the current government is in favour of legislating midwifery, but stressed the weight of time and resources is takes to develop regulations for a new profession.

In the movement to provide Canadian women with more reproductive choices, regulated and publicly funded midwifery has routinely been the result of community pressure. For many women in southern Canada, access to reproductive rights and justice has been directly tied to their ability to put political pressure on legislators.

As the Yukon approaches a territorial election later this year, there is a unique opportunity to create the political pressure to force a regulated and publicly funded community of Yukon midwives. Reproductive choice is a fundamental piece of a fair and healthy society. With Yukon sitting in last place in the development of Canadian midwifery, creating a public and regulated practice should be a major healthcare priority.◉


Photo credit: istockphoto/alice-photo

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