When Alescia Richardson began practicing 13 years ago, she said there were about 21 midwives with hospital privileges in the community. By her count, there will soon be less than 10.
Richardson, co-owner of the West Coast Health Collective, described the situation as a “significant loss.”
“It’s becoming quite the tragedy … If we don’t have the numbers, we definitely can’t be offering (homebirth) safely.”
According to Statistics Canada, non-hospital births saw a “sharp increase” during the COVID-19 pandemic, representing more than two per cent of all births in 2020.
The demand for midwives has increased, said Richardson, but local practices are now finding themselves unable to hire new recruits. Midwives were “overworked and undercompensated” before the pandemic and on call around the clock every day of the week, she explained, but it’s gotten worse.
“We’re not just delivering babies, we’re doing home visit and we’re doing clinic,” she said.
“The burnout rate is traditionally five or six years, and we’ve seen midwives stopping the career after one and two years because the demand is so high.”
According to the provincial government, expanding midwifery in B.C. is a “high priority.”
Adrian Dix said since he became health minister, the number of midwives has increased from 331 registrants to 504 across the province. The Ministry of Health has added training spaces at the University of British Columbia and reduced the amount of time nurses need to become midwives, he added.
“Can we do more? Of course,” he told Global News. “But it does mean we’ve never seen such a focus on midwifery, the importance of midwifery and its central role in our health-care system.”
When it comes to increasing compensation for midwives, Dix said “bargaining issues are typically dealt with at the bargaining table.”
Bernice Budz, executive director of the Midwives Association of BC, said better compensation, benefits and vacation packages are critical to the health of the profession. She said the last time she checked there were 25 midwife vacancies within the Fraser Health Authority alone.
“With the growing shortage of family doctors, midwives can be a solution and be a support to people to help in covering the care that people are needing,” she said.
“We know there are a number of communities that are really struggling to have maternity services, and in some places the only provider is a midwife.”
Abbotsford mother Jaydene Freund has delivered all four of her children with midwives. She said she feels “lucky” midwifery care was very accessible at the time she had each of her babies.
“Women that choose a homebirth, they do it because they feel safer birthing at home. They have two medical professionals there to support them,” she explained.
“Through so many births, when the mom’s focusing on holding their baby, sometimes the only person there to really hold and support the mother is their midwife. To not have that option … would just be so devastating.”
Freund said midwives deserve “all the respect in the world,” and a “whole lot more love and support” from the government than they’ve received in the past few years.