The issue: Birthing services
We say: Bring them home
When expecting a child, there are many things you can prepare yourself for and some that you simply cannot.
Most parents-to-be spend time planning how their lives will look when their new addition arrives, buying needed supplies, crafting special treasures, and spending time with family in anticipation of what is almost always a joyful change.
However, women in Nunavut have one more hurdle to overcome before they can continue their lives with their newborns and the rest of their families – most must also plan to travel hundreds of kilometres from their home communities to give birth in Iqaluit, the only community in Nunavut currently equipped to deliver babies, or further still to Yellowknife or Winnipeg, should Qikiqtani General Hospital run out of room.
Add the complications of our ongoing pandemic, and these new mothers must also isolate for weeks before returning home.
All of this travel and isolation takes away from bonding time between the new parents, their child and any siblings they may have.
The Government of Nunavut acknowledges this in its 2008-2014 Maternal and Newborn Healthcare Strategy, saying how “travel outside the woman’s home community for the birthing process is not an ideal situation. When women leave, often without an escort, for extended periods of time, the family connection can deteriorate. As a consequence, it can often be difficult for the father and the rest of the family to feel involved with the child and its birth.”
Rankin Inlet was a hub for childbirth for many years, until August 2020, when the community’s two longtime midwives quit, causing the birthing centre to suspend services.
A news report at the time pointed to a lack of support along with an incredibly heavy workload for the two women. Midwives assist with many facets of pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum care, they bring an incredible range of skills and knowledge to a care team.
Former Health Minister Pat Angnagak says she truly believes in this issue and she wonders why community birthing is not in place and used as part of the system.
Angnakak says midwifery in communities is a great opportunity to intertwine the cultural side (Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit) of midwifery with today’s way of delivering babies.
Nunavut Arctic College used to offer a midwifery program based in Cambridge Bay, Rankin Inlet and, later, Iqaluit, until it lost funding.
The need is there, and the desire to keep women close to their families when they are vulnerable post-partum is there, so how can there be any justification for such a loss of funding?
The most recent figures from Statistics Canada show that Nunavut has the highest birth rate in Canada at 22.6 live births per 1,000 people, which is more than double the national average. Some 840 babies were born to Nunavut mothers in 2019, and a 2019 interview with then-territorial coordinator of maternal newborn health services Carol Griffin indicated that approximately half those births would have taken place out-of-territory.
It is unacceptable that communities go without birthing centres to safely deliver their children.
It is up to Nunavut Arctic College and the GN to work together to find solutions that will end what is yet another colonial holdover causing undue stress to Nunavummiut.