3rd midwife position coming to South Shore but advocates say work isn't done

The outcry over the collapse of the midwifery program on Nova Scotia's South Shore has made a difference, says the head of the obstetrics clinic in Bridgewater.

Head of Bridgewater's OBS clinic says new full-time midwife position was created this week

The South Shore's service was suspended when the last remaining midwife went on leave. (The Canadian Press)

The "hue and cry" over the collapse of the midwifery program on Nova Scotia's South Shore has made a difference with a new position coming, says the head of the area's obstetrics clinic.

There are currently two midwives in the area but both are on leave and aren't seeing patients. 

Dr. Paul Newton, who works closely with the midwives, confirmed a third full-time midwife will be sought for the area. 

Earlier this year, the program on the South Shore was suspended when the second midwife went on leave citing she was overworked. That meant 21 pregnant women found themselves without a midwife.

Newton said he was informed about the new position in an email on Jan. 30 from a health services manager.

Newton doesn't know when someone will be hired, but the fact that a permanent, full-time position is being funded gives him hope. It could mean the midwife who recently left will come back to work, he said. 

"This has woken a sleeping giant," he said. "I think it's important to keep the momentum going, to expand the midwifery program throughout the rest of the province."

The Nova Scotia Health Authority said a new position has also been created in Antigonish, where there are currently two midwives, and that both jobs will be posted in the coming weeks.

"While further expansion of the midwifery program will be considered, the immediate goal is to ensure women and families can continue to access the midwifery services currently available," the authority said in a news release. 

'We should rally more'

Bridgewater is one of three sites in Nova Scotia where mothers can access midwives, but the service has been on shaky ground, with the president of the Association of Nova Scotia Midwives saying many midwives are overworked.

Ashton Rodenhiser gave birth to her first two children at home, but doesn't have that option for her third pregnancy. (Ashton Rodenhiser/Facebook)

Ashton Rodenhiser, who lives in Bridgewater and is pregnant with her third child, said there were problems long before the program was suspended. When she tried to get a midwife in October, she was turned away.

Rodenhiser had low-risk pregnancies and gave birth to her first two children at home with the help of a midwife. That wasn't an option this time and she hopes people continue advocating for more midwifery services.

"We should rally more, and not just more in our own community but rural Nova Scotia sort of banding together to get it across the province," she said. 

About 100 people attended a rally in Bridgewater in January outside of MLA Mark Furey's office to protest the loss of midwives in the area. (CBC)

Two midwives was never enough, said Newton, because they have to be on call 24/7 and both need to be present for home births. 

Newton said the South Shore's OBS clinic has worked closely with midwives to build a collaborative program, "and it was pretty devastating to see it potentially fall a part — well not potentially, it did fall a part."

Researchers at Acadia University have been studying the break-down of the service, and they agree with Newton.

Kayla McCarney, research coordinator with the Rural Midwifery Project, said the consensus is clear: two midwives are not enough, and neither are two rural sites. 

"It was really a system that wasn't able to support the needs and demands of the communities," she told CBC's Information Morning this week. 

MLA Mark Furey told protesters at the Jan. 22 rally that their concerns would be taken to the province's health minister. (CBC)

Rodenhiser said she knows families who've chosen to move to the South Shore partly because of its midwifery program.

That's why she's not done fighting for better access.

"If we're attracting people into our communities because of this program then it doesn't just benefit us in Lunenburg County, it benefits the whole province," she said. 

With files from CBC's Information Morning