Reshaping face of midwifery

<p>In Cynthia Varadan’s line of work, every job ends with a hug — that, and a soul-enriching experience.</p>


In Cynthia Varadan’s line of work, every job ends with a hug — that, and a soul-enriching experience. “What I always find amazing is that hug at the end when you’re leaving them,” mused Varadan on why she loves being a midwife. “That’s when you know you’ve really shared something indescribable.”


Recently out of Ryerson University’s midwifery program, 33-year-old Varadan is part of a new cohort of women reshaping the face of this centuries-old profession. The Turkish term for midwife literally means “old woman” or “grandmother” and for some people, this is the first image to leap to mind when they think about midwives. This stereotype, however, is disappearing. “There has been a renaissance,” said Mary Sharpe, a practicing midwife and assistant professor at Ryerson. “The face of midwifery is changing.”


Canada has had a long history of midwifery but it wasn’t until 1994 that it was given legal recognition, first in Ontario. Several provinces and territories have since followed suit and between 1993 and 2002, the number of regulated midwives in Canada grew 330 per cent, swelling from 96 to 413. Demand still far outstrips supply, however, and in Ontario (where midwifery is publicly funded and registered midwives have more than doubled between 2000 to 2007), about 40 per cent of Ontarians wanting midwives still can’t be accommodated, says Judy Rogers, director of Ryerson’s midwifery program.


Women who turn to midwives do so for many reasons but one of the strongest pulls is the choice it provides. Using a midwife doesn’t necessarily imply a homebirth and women also have the option of a hospital birth (which 80 per cent of midwife-assisted births in Ontario are). The relationship between an expectant mother and her midwife is also one of great intimacy. “I love the women and getting to know them in their context,” said Sharpe. Whereas obstetricians see upwards of 40 women a day, a midwife handles only about 80 each year. They can thus offer care that’s very involved and for up to six weeks after a baby is born, a midwife will continue helping the mom. “We approach it as a life event as well as a health event,” explained Rogers.

As far as professions go, midwifery is a gratifying one but it can also be grueling. Midwives have to be on call 24/7. Any woman who does become a midwife, however, will have accepted the rigors of the job and sometimes, the rigors are even part of the appeal. “Another thing I like about midwifery is that it taxes me in every dimension,” explained Rogers. “It requires the use of your head, your heart and your hands.”

tips for giving birth

Midwives stay on call 24/7 because there’s no way of knowing when a baby will be ready for his or her debut. Some are overly eager, however, and there might not be enough time for help to arrive. In that situation, registered midwife Vicki Van Wagner has this advice:

  • To help the baby start breathing, remember these three words: Warm, dry and stimulating (through rubbing its back). “That’s usually all that’s necessary to help the baby start breathing,” she says.

  • Having your newborn start suckling as soon as possible not only feels natural, it also performs physiological functions. “This triggers the hormone that both lets down the milk and contracts the uterus,” Van Wagner says. The contracting uterus will push out the afterbirth and stop the mother’s bleeding.