North·In Depth

Zero midwives in Yukon leads some expecting parents to make tough calls

More than six months after Yukon's new midwifery regulations came into effect, the territory has no legal, working midwives — and that's leading some expectant parents to make difficult decisions.

The only midwife in the territory hasn't worked since April due to new regulations

Christina Kaiser was the only practicing midwife in the territory before regulations came in place in April. She needs to now work elsewhere in Canada for a year in order to be registered in the Yukon - something she says is creating a gap for her patients. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

More than six months after Yukon's new midwifery regulations came into effect, the territory has no legal, working midwives — and that's leading some expectant parents to make difficult decisions.

New regulations for midwifery came into effect in April — the first step in a decades-long battle to integrate the profession into the territory's broader healthcare system. One of the requirements is for midwives to be registered and have practiced in another Canadian province or territory for at least a year. 

Christina Kaiser was the only practicing midwife in Yukon before the regulations came into force, she said. The new regulations mean Kaiser, who spent the last 20 years of her professional career in Yukon, can no longer work. 

"It's very stressful for me because I would like to take care of [my clients], but I can't," Kaiser told CBC. 

Kaiser is now going back and forth between New Westminster, B.C., and Whitehorse to put in hours as a registered midwife there. After a year, Kaiser is hoping she will be able to start practicing full time again in Yukon. 

"I'm not moving, this is my home," Kaiser said. "I want to work here, not in B.C." 

Midwifery implementation delayed till spring 

The new regulations also force midwives to get their own private insurance, something Kaiser said is "virtually impossible." 

"You could have private insurance, but that is not feasible in a profession like midwifery ... it is financially impossible to get insurance for one person," Kaiser, who is also the president of the Yukon Association for Birth Choices, told CBC. 

"So the only way to actually work as a midwife legally in the Yukon right now is to be hired by the Yukon government," she continued. 

Tracy-Anne McPhee, Yukon's health minister, told the Legislature in May that the government hired two midwives to help move the profession into the broader healthcare system, but they are not providing on-the-ground services for pregnant people. 

"There are currently no midwives in the territory to provide the services under the new act," McPhee continued. 

"But there is always a gap in doing that ... and we expect that it will be resolved — hopefully in the near future." 

Midwifery was supposed to be offered by the fall. During this fall sitting of the Legislature, McPhee said the implementation is "taking longer than expected" and should be in place by the spring. 

Tracy McPhee, minister of the Yukon's departments of justice and health and social services as well as the territory's deputy premier, speaks to reporters at the Yukon legislative assembly on Oct. 18, 2021. (Jackie Hong/CBC)

CBC sent a list of questions about the midwifery regulations to the department of health but did not receive a reply before publication. 

'I spent a lot of time crying, a lot of times scared'

Not having access to midwifery, Kaiser said, means some of her clients are turning to unassisted home births — a legal but risky option that goes against medical advice.

Emily, one of Kaiser's clients, chose this option to deliver her newborn daughter in September after "begging" for months with the Yukon government for an exemption to the new regulations. 

Having an unattended home birth isn't what Emily wanted. Even though she's done home deliveries twice before, she was reluctant to do one at home without a doctor or midwife. 

CBC is changing this woman's name because she is considering her legal options against the Yukon government after they refused to help her get access to a midwife during her recent birth. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

But at the same time, Emily's last experience in hospital led to procedures that she didn't think were necessary to deliver her child, like an unplanned C-section. 

So, despite her reservations, she and her partner pressed on with doing things themselves. 

"I should not have had to have been subjected to that kind of stress," Emily said. 

"I spent a lot of time crying, a lot of times scared. I mean, there's so much that can go wrong." 

Emily put $1,000 on her credit card to buy her own medical equipment to prepare for the delivery, things like a birthing pool, umbilical cord clamps and sterilized scissors. 

"If it's your first [or second] time, and you really don't want to go to a hospital - wait." - Emily, new mom who delivered her baby unassisted in September 

She did this only after Minister McPhee denied her request for a doctor or midwife to be present during her labour, weeks before her due date. CBC has reviewed that communication. 

"Unfortunately, Yukon Government cannot provide you with a doctor or midwife to support a birth in your home at this time," the letter reads. 

Emily is not this woman's name; CBC has granted anonymity due to fear of repercussions. 

For any new parents looking into non-hospital births, Emily has some simple advice. 

"If it's your first [or second] time, and you really don't want to go to a hospital — wait," she said.

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