Manitoba·Point of View

Paperwork for a mom in labour vs. honour songs: Why I chose a birth centre over a hospital

One year ago, pregnant with my unborn son, I was faced with the decision of home versus hospital birth, and the possibility of reliving an experience like the one I encountered after the birth of my now three year old daughter.

Wabakway Benais recalls being given financial information forms to fill out in between contractions

'While in active labour, I was handed a questionnaire to fill out,' says Wabakway Benais. 'It asked for information about my living arrangements and source of income, as well as any previous involvement with child welfare agencies.' (Panom Peusawang/Shutterstock)

There is a statistic that says more than 11,000 children are in care in Manitoba, with 90 per cent being Indigenous. This triggers different reactions.

Some feel if apprehensions are taking place daily from the local hospitals, then surely it is for good reason. And in some cases, that may be true.

Others feel that the child welfare system targets certain demographics in certain area codes.

Some feel the Indigenous community is feeling the effects of the residential school system all over again, in what many call the "Millennium Scoop."

Whatever the reasons, this is a staggering number. 

Here is my reaction and my experience.

 - Wabakway Benais


One year ago, pregnant with my unborn son, I was faced with the decision of home versus hospital birth, and the possibility of reliving an experience like the one I encountered after the birth of my now three-year-old daughter.

It was the summer of 2015 when I gave birth to her — a beautiful, healthy girl — in a Winnipeg hospital.

While in active labour, I was handed a questionnaire to fill out; it asked for information about my living arrangements and source of income, as well as any previous involvement with child welfare agencies.

Why was I expected to fill out this invasive form … during one of my most vulnerable moments?- Wabakway Benais

I answered to my best ability (given the circumstances) and when my daughter was born, I had all but forgotten about these papers until just before our release from hospital.

I was on the phone with my worker, and as we spoke about the birth and how I was feeling after my long night prior, her office line rang.

She speculated the call was about me as it was from the hospital and let me go. About 10 minutes after hanging up the phone, the nurse arrived to cut us loose.

This whole experience with the hospital left me with questions. Why was I expected to fill out this invasive form about aspects of my life that were no business of anyone in the hospital, especially during one of my most vulnerable moments?

After inquiring with my social media forum, not one single woman I knew had been given this set of questions to answer — let alone while in active labour.

No birth alert

I struggled to understand why I was so special, if nothing else but the fact I was an Indigenous woman, despite assurances from the worker that there was no birth alert.

So when I became pregnant with my youngest son, due in February of 2018, I wasted no time expressing my right to avoid a hospital birth. I was determined to give birth in secret, but not because I had something to hide.

I opted to have my son at a birth centre, surrounded by community elders who sang, with hand drums and rattles, the most beautiful honour songs to help guide my son from his lodge.- Wabakway Benais

Rather, I was making a statement about the statistic that says Manitoba child welfare agencies were apprehending at least one baby a day.

I was determined to avoid this at all costs, and with the support of my midwifery team I opted to have my son at a birth centre, surrounded by community elders who sang, with hand drums and rattles, the most beautiful honour songs to help guide my son from his lodge.

And when he made his entrance as a perfect, healthy little being, he was introduced to the world with the eagle whistle, sounding to the four directions to root him in the ceremony way of his ancestors.

Sundance way of life

Later, at four months of age, his feet touched the sundance grounds, where he will grow up immersed in his culture, because we as his parents are connected with the land and the sundance way of life. 

He will make his first revolution around the sun in just two short weeks, and as we celebrate his first birthday I will reflect on how much has changed in the child welfare system.

But I will lament also the fact that way too much has not  changedand I will continue to speak out so that our Indigenous children can reclaim their way of life.


This column is part of  CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Wabakway Benais

Community activist

I am a mother, grandmother, community activist and Anishinabe Ikwe from Southwestern Manitoba who resides in Winnipeg with her husband and two children.