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'Very underserved': Northern Alberta maternity groups call for more funding for midwives in the region

Three northern Alberta maternity advocacy groups are calling on Alberta Health Services to fund more midwife positions in the region.

‘It would bring a lot less stress on our doctors and on our hospital systems,’ says Fort McMurray mother

Rachel Bayes had to leave Fort McMurray to find a midwife when she was pregnant with her daughter Arwyn, who is now six months old. (David Thurton/ CBC)

Three northern Alberta maternity advocacy groups are calling on Alberta Health Services to fund more midwife positions in the region.

The groups say midwifery services are being stretched too thin and that too few communities have access to them.

Mothers like Rachel Bayes left Fort McMurray to find a midwife and give birth. She wanted the personal care a midwife can offer throughout a pregnancy, as well as during and after childbirth. 

The alternative, Bayes said, would mean giving birth with an obstetrician she may have never met.

"Being able to have my baby in a non-hospitalized environment where I could be comfortable, where I could be relaxed, that was very important to me," Bayes said, cradling her six-month-old daughter, Arwyn. 
Rachel Bayes cradles her six-month-old daughter, Arwyn. (David Thurton/ CBC)

'Very underserved'

"We are very underserved," said Jennifer Stephenson, chair of the Fort McMurray-based Wood Buffalo Woman and Baby Care Association.

Stephenson's organization, along with Peace River's Birth Matters for Peace Parents, and the MaternityCare Consumers of Alberta Network in Grande Prairie, have begun working together to demand more government funding for midwifery in the region.

The groups say northern Alberta wasn't allocated any additional midwives for the 2016-2017 year.

Of the approximately 100 midwives in Alberta, only three practice in northern Alberta, they said.
Jennifer Stephenson, chair of the Wood Buffalo Woman and Baby Care Association, is calling for more midwives in northern Alberta. (David Thurton/ CBC)

AHS recognizes need

Alberta Health Services confirmed that in northern Alberta, one midwife is based in High Level and two more are based in Lac La Biche.

Sean Chilton, vice president of AHS's health professions and practice, said the health authority has placed Fort McMurray as a high priority for midwives in 2018. 

"We recognize there is a need — there is a need to improve access for those seeking the care of midwives," Chilton said. "And as an organization, we remain committed to that."

Those advocating for midwives gathered at the Alberta legislature Wednesday calling on the government for more funding and support. 1:20

Chilton could not say how many midwives would be hired in northern Alberta, nor how many patients these new hires would take on.

Bayes said she just hopes the health authority follows through as not everyone can afford to drive out of town and rent hotels to meet with a midwife.

"I would ask that they bring midwifery care to the northern communities of Alberta," Bayes said. "It would bring a lot less stress on our doctors and on our hospital systems."

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitter and via email.

About the Author

David Thurton is a national reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He's worked for CBC in Fort McMurray, the Maritimes and in Canada's Arctic.

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