By Mike Gregory
Expecting mothers in Ladysmith and Chemainus have likely met or at least heard of midwives Laurier Untereiner and Yvanne Faught.
No family doctor in either community currently specializes in obstetrics meaning families must either make special arrangements with a physician after about 20 weeks in either Nanaimo or Duncan or connect with a midwife.
“For anyone local it would be just the two of us that would be able to care for them throughout their pregnancy,” said Faught.
Full-time work for a midwife is considered between 40 to 60 births a year and Untereiner and Faught fall on the higher end of that range with at least 120 annually.
In addition, they are turning away upwards of 10 women every month simply because it is too much for their workload and are already booking due dates into July.
British Columbia leads the country with midwife assisted births at 21 per cent, according to a recent report by the Midwives Association of British Columbia (MABC).
Last year, registered midwives across the country were involved in approximately 9,000 births, with B.C. leading the nations.
MABC’s has set a goal of increasing the number of midwife assisted births in the province to 35 per cent by 2020, but on the island that threshold has already been reached.
“It’s definitely a lifestyle and I would say it’s a calling. The benefits, the rewards, totally outweigh the fatigue,” said Untereiner, who decided to take up the profession later in life after raising her children and has been a midwife for 14 years after receiving training in Seattle.
“I think we both feel very privileged and happy to provide personal care in this community.
“To see them after in the community and see these babies grow up is immense.”
Some of the core philosophies of midwifery is continuity of care and informed choice, meaning a woman knows her care provider and is an informed decision-maker throughout the pregnancy.
“I think that people really like the relationship that we’re able to develop in that regard,” said Faught, who grew up in the Cowichan Valley and received a four year Bachelor of Health Sciences degree from McMaster University in 2005.
“Our clientele can be more engaged because this is a model that they want too.”
Midwives offer all the same tests, blood screens ultrasounds and imaging as a physician and are regulated by the Medical Services Plan of B.C.
“Our visits tend to be longer (compared to a physician) because we do a lot of teaching,” Untereimer said.
“We like to discuss what those different blood tests are for and encourage women and their partners to be part of the decision-making process.”
Home births may be one option but both Untereimer and Faught have privileges to perform deliveries at the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital and find those births account for about 90 per cent.
“A woman will labour better wherever she feels more comfortable so wherever that is that’s where we want her to be,” Faught said.
There is a burnout rate that comes with being on-call almost 24 hours a day.
Untereiner and Faught joined forces together two years ago, and now are at least able to enjoy every other weekend off unless a due date for a home birth is upcoming because it requires two midwives be present.
“I’ve been at births where I’ve seen two shift changes and we’re with her through the whole thing until she has that baby in her arms.” Untereiner said.
Despite the demand for midwives, the University of British Columbia only accepts 20 students into its four-year program each year because of the lack of provincial funding.
They are both preceptors this semester to two students who shadow them 24 hours a day during clinics and deliveries.
“Anyone who is considering it really needs to consider fully what it entails and to me it really is about providing good women’s healthcare because it’s also the follow up post-partum,” said Untereiner, adding that of course being with babies is “icing on the cake.”
The work is extremely community-based and it’s typical to run into families they’ve worked with at the grocery store.
Faught said despite the demand they will “always” take someone who is from Ladysmith because of the challenges accessing obstetric care.
“To be able to be part of a family growing, three or four babies, it’s really quite unique. You can really see over those pregnancies that a really nice relationship develops.”