This woman wanted to give birth at the Shawville hospital — but didn't quite make it there

A nursing shortage at the Pontiac Hospital resulted in Virginia Lavigne giving birth to her second son in an ambulance — and then being sent to the Gatineau Hospital, almost 80 kilometres away.

After delivering her baby in the ambulance, Virginia Lavigne was sent to Gatineau

Virginia Lavigne gave birth to her son Vincent on Oct. 6, 2019, in an ambulance. She then had to be transferred to the Gatineau Hospital because of a nurse shortage in Shawville, Que. (Submitted )

Virginia Lavigne's husband and first son were both born at the Pontiac Hospital in Shawville, Que., and that's where she expected to deliver her second child, too.

But due to issues arising from a nursing shortage, things didn't go as planned.

"The weekend before he was delivered, there was a break in service. I was instructed to go to Gatineau or Pembroke if I couldn't make it to the Shawville hospital," Lavigne told CBC News recently. "Luckily, my water didn't break over the weekend. In fact, my water broke on Wednesday."

When Lavigne called the Pontiac Hospital on the evening of Oct. 2, she said she was told there still weren't enough nurses to deliver her baby.

Staff explained she'd instead have to go to the Gatineau Hospital, roughly 80 kilometres away. Lavigne — who was in active labour — then called paramedics, who insisted they'd been instructed to take her to Shawville. 

Amidst all that confusion, her son Vincent was born in the ambulance.

"My delivery was fast and furious!" she recalled, laughing. "My plan A was Shawville. The plan B was Gatineau. Delivering him in the ambulance wasn't the plan C, D or even E."

The Lavigne-Wolfe family at the Pontiac Hospital in Shawville, Que., shortly before being transferred to Gatineau. (Submitted )

'No control'

The Lavigne-Wolfe family's journey didn't end with Vincent's birth, however.

When they finally got a bed at the Shawville hospital, Lavigne said they were told there still weren't enough nurses to assist them. 

You just have to roll with it at that point.- Virginia Lavigne

They hopped back into the ambulance and were taken to the Gatineau Hospital. It was an experience the young mother described as "stressful" and "unsettling". 

"You have no control over what will happen, so you just have to roll with it at that point," she said.

The local health agency told CBC they were indeed anticipating a service interruption that evening, although in the end one didn't happen.

"We transferred her to make sure she could safely access aftercare for her and her baby", said Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de l'Outaouais (CISSSO) spokesperson Marie-Pier Després in a French-language email. 

Local mayors are hoping to have a meeting with the province about the ongoing staffing issues at the Pontiac Hospital in Shawville, Que. (Christian Milette/Radio-Canada)

Ongoing staffing issues

Lavigne shared her story with CBC as a staff shortage this weekend forced another shutdown of the hospital's gynecology and obstetrics unit. 

In a news release, CISSSO said the department will be closed from 8 a.m Friday until 8 a.m. Monday. 

Being a Pontiac resident, Lavigne was well aware of the staffing problems at the local hospital.

"I knew over the summer there were service interruptions. And they hired a team of midwives to come in and fill in where the nurses were lacking," she said.

All the nurses she dealt with at the Pontiac Hospital had been very helpful, she added, even if they appeared tired.

"They are extremely overworked and they are doing the best they can. Our nurse hadn't taken a break all day," she said.

'A burden on the patients'

Shawville's mayor, Sandra Murray, called the repeated shutdowns a "shame" and "a burden on the patients."

"People are talking about it on the street," she said. "They are upset. If you're nine months pregnant and due any day, and you have to drive to the city to have your baby, it's upsetting. It's not proper or fair."

The issue was brought up at a meeting of the regional municipality last week, Murray said. The municipality's various mayors are now planning to send a letter to the Quebec government asking for a further meeting, she added. 

As for Lavigne, her two-week old baby is healthy, and the circumstances of his birth will "forever be a memory". 

"I learned that plan A won't always happen exactly like you pictured," she said.