Inuit-led midwifery services should be supported in south, midwives say
Indigenous midwives, parents share ideas to improve access to Inuit midwifery services at virtual forum
Expectant Inuit parents would be better served if they had access to their own cultural midwife services, even when they must travel south to give birth, the National Inuit Midwifery Forum heard Tuesday.
The three-day virtual seminar includes presentations and panels discussing how governments, health-care workers and communities can improve access and awareness of Inuit-led midwifery services across Inuit Nunangat.
Organized by Inuit women’s organization Pauktuutit and the National Aboriginal Council of Midwives, its first day was Tuesday.
In a panel discussion, speakers shared their experiences of giving birth in a southern hospital or of accompanying a partner to give birth.
Some suggested ways the experience could feel more supportive and culturally appropriate for Inuit, including allowing Inuit midwives to travel south with expectant parents.
Other ways that were suggested include having a freezer with country food they could access at the southern hospital, and having designated accommodations available near southern hospitals so family members can be close to the expectant parents.
The stress faced by Inuit who live in the North but who must travel far from their home communities to give birth, or simply receive basic pregnancy care can be avoided with better funding and support for Inuit midwifery training and education, experts said.
“Interfering with Indigenous birthing knowledge and Indigenous birth workers is a direct act of white supremacy, genocide and ethnic cleansing,” said Karen Lawford, a registered midwife and professor of gender studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.
She referred to the tragic case of Silatik Qavviq, a woman from Sanikiluaq who died in a Winnipeg hospital in December 2021 from complications related to COVID-19.
Qavviq had been medically evacuated to Winnipeg to give birth, but died a few weeks later after contracting the virus.
Lawford questioned why Qavviq could not have been transferred instead to Inukjuak or Kuujjuaq in Nunavik, two communities closer to Sanikiluaq that offer Inuit midwifery services.
“Travelling for birth is a result of a colonial, western-biomedical model, and it is an unsafe practice that is unsustainable,” Lawford said.
“For generations, women have relied on local midwives who traditionally filled the role of providing reproductive health care to expectant mothers,” said Pauktuutit president Gerri Sharpe during the forum.
Giving birth to a child was essentially a family and community-centered event based on longstanding traditional birthing practices, she said.
But Inuit-led midwifery services have been removed from communities and replaced by a Western system of medicalized birthing practices that forces expectant parents to travel far from their home communities during a vulnerable time in their lives, she said.
“The lack of social support causes financial stress and loss of wages when we must be away from home for extended periods of time,” Sharpe said.
“Inuit are often treated by health-care providers who are unfamiliar with our language and culture, making us more vulnerable to experiencing racism and discrimination in Canada’s health-care system.”
The National Inuit Midwifery Forum will continue Wednesday and Thursday from noon to 4 p.m. People interested in attending virtually can register at Pauktuutit’s website.