Andreae Prozesky responds to Newfoundland midwifery film Gentle Beginnings.
“Of the 210 countries that belong to the World Health Organization (WHO), only nine do not yet have provisions for midwives in their national health care systems. They are Panama, Honduras, The New Hebrides, El Salvador, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Columbia, Burundi, and Canada.”
– From the Friends of Midwifery website
When I was pregnant with my daughter I was living in Yellowknife, where I was lucky to have Geoff, the affable Australian midwife, on board. Geoff did almost all my check-ups at my home, and although I gave birth in the hospital (there was no legal protection for midwives to do home-births at that time), it was a peaceful, calm, entirely positive experience. There are a lot of people who think that women in our province should be able to have that same kind of birth experience.
In director John Hong’s short documentary, Gentle Beginnings, two families share their birth stories – and their birth footage – to help people understand what midwives do. Produced by the Association of Midwives of Newfoundland and Labrador and Friends of Midwifery, the film takes a woman-as-consumer approach; Melanie, the pregnant protagonist-narrator, is exploring her birth options. This narrative is juxtaposed with interviews with parents, clips of midwives explaining what they do and why, and home-movie scenes of babies being born to ecstatic families in homey settings (an inflatable pool in the living room, a family bathroom). Friends of Midwifery’s Kelly Monaghan glows when she talks about her experiences with midwives, and asks why anyone would choose a doctor-assisted hospital birth if they didn’t have to.
Midwife-assisted birth is the norm in most countries. It was the norm in Newfoundland until confederation, but Canada didn’t recognize midwifery back in 1949, and by 1958 all pregnant women were streamed out of their own comfy beds and into shiny new hospitals to give birth.
Today, virtually every baby in Newfoundland and Labrador is delivered in a hospital, by a doctor.
Like doctors, midwives are professionals. They have the same training and expertise a doctor would bring into the birthing room, but without a doctor’s penchant for machines that go “ping.” Midwife-assisted births are less likely to involve medical interventions (cesarean sections, episiotomies, epidurals and the like), and mothers who have had midwife-assisted births tend to be very pleased with the care they receive from early in their pregnancy through to their babies’ first weeks in the outside world.
Sounds great, but there’s a hitch. Gentle Beginnings points out that midwives’ fees aren’t covered by MCP, and since there are no midwives currently working out of Newfoundland, there are airfares and accommodations to pay for, too. Midwives have no hospital privileges here, so a woman still needs a doctor to order blood work, ultrasounds, and the usual pre-natal tests. Friends of Midwifery and the Association of Midwives of Newfoundland and Labrador are lobbying to change this, and Gentle Beginnings is a part of this effort.
It is an informative little film, infused with the joy and enthusiasm of its subjects. Watching it, I found myself grinning wide with each new-baby cry, and excited at the prospect that, some day, Newfoundland and Labrador might actually endorse – and pay for – midwifery as an option for safe, happy childbirth.
Gentle Beginnings, Giving Birth with Midwives in NL will be screened on Thursday Nov 30, in the Main Auditorium (2nd Floor) of the Health Sciences Centre. 7pm. Free. Followed by a panel discussion.