Today, a blog about life instead of death. The province of Manitoba is opening a new birthing centre in Winnipeg. The interesting thing about it is that it is not part of a hospital, or even very close to a hospital. It will be run by the Women’s Health Clinic through a contract with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, and staffed by provincially regulated and licensed midwives. It is across the street from an ambulance station in case something goes wrong, and is accessible only to women who have been carefully screened to make sure their pregnancies are very low-risk – in fact, these are women who would likely have a home birth, with all the inconvenience to their families that that entails, if the birth centre weren’t available.
I listened to a CBC radio host today whom I generally admire. She was interviewing the provincial Health Minister, and her voice kept rising as she asked repeatedly about the dangers to mothers and newborns. Why wasn’t the centre built in a hospital, or at least near a hospital? Back in 1996, the previous birth centre (at a hospital, I might add) was closed after the tragic death of a newborn. An inquest was held at the time and a number of recommendations were made, which apparently were not followed in the establishment of the new centre. The reason given was that the new centre was built according to the wishes of the mothers and midwives who would be using it, not those of the medical establishment.
I can understand the radio host’s panic – after all, the death of a baby is a terrible thing that none of us should ever have to experience. The counter-argument, calmly voiced by the minister, was that birth is a natural process, not a disease. Sometimes there are issues, and then the birth is not eligible to take place in a birthing centre, but must be subjected to the full weight of the medical world. For most healthy women, birth is a process that they should be able to go through with the support of their midwives, in a peaceful environment of their own choosing. In fact, said the minister, the women had really wanted to put the birthing centre in a rural area or in the middle of a forest, to make sure it was peaceful enough. The chosen location in South Winnipeg was a compromise.
As a woman who has undergone three highly medicalised births, I greatly appreciate that the system was there when I and my babies needed it. Still, I am highly envious of those who have their babies in a natural manner, surrounded by music rather than beeping monitors. One of the characteristics of our 21st century society is that we are rediscovering natural ways of living (giving birth, farming) that were discarded by our parents and grandparents in favour of better living through chemistry. The obesity and cancer epidemics testify how well that worked. I am delighted that the province is opening this centre, and have great hopes that this trend will continue.
What do you think?