Note: this blog post was written during Dr. Cayla's time as a naturopathic medical student.
Good morning everyone! Today, I am overjoyed to be sharing what was the most amazing experience of my entire life! Now, I don’t take that statement lightly because I’ve had the privilege of doing many amazing things in my life... however, the experience that takes the cake in topping everything I have ever done is getting the opportunity to be at the birth of my new sweet little niece when my sister gave birth to her this past week. Yes, I got to be there for everything from start to finish! It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever witnessed and something that I will never forget. On Wednesday, January 6th at 7:32pm, we welcomed this precious little angel into the world!
As a naturopathic medical student, there are many fields that I am greatly interested in and women’s health is one of them! I feel so fortunate that I got to experience a live birth from start to finish, which many students in school never get to be a part of. Talk about an unbelievable learning opportunity! I milked it for all it was worth.
A Brief History of Labour & Delivery
Last week in our Maternal & Newborn Care class at CCNM, we learned about the history of labour and the evolution from home-births to births becoming a more institutionalized event. In the past, it was quite normal for women to give birth at home where their mother, sister, daughter and aunt was involved and everyone knew what a “normal” birthing experience was like. Nowadays, if you ask many healthcare professionals if they have ever experienced a “normal” birth, you might be surprised to hear that they have not! Medical professionals are well trained in trauma and birth complications (thank goodness for their hard work!), but many may not receive the same level of experience in “normal & uncomplicated” pregnancies. We also learned that North America has the highest amount of labour interventions, yet it also has the highest amount of birth complications compared to any other country! Just some food for thought.
Birth is a natural human experience – not a pathological event. I am extremely fortunate that I had the opportunity to experience a normal & uncomplicated birth this week. It doesn’t matter how many videos you watch, how much you study or how many lectures you attend on the subject, it does NOT compare to being there yourself. For any student interested in women’s health or pregnancy, I highly encourage you to experience this miracle for yourself, if possible. I was told by several people that being present for a live birth is a completely different experience than giving birth for yourself, so I feel incredibly blessed that my sister and brother-in-law let me be there for this moment. I will never forget it!
Before I get to the details, let me start by saying that my sister is a magical birthing unicorn. While labour is a unique experience for each woman, my sister made it look completely easy, so take this post with a grain of salt! It was funny actually, because everyone kept comparing labour and delivery to running a marathon. While I have never been pregnant or delivered a baby in my life, I have run several marathons and from what I witnessed this week, I can tell you for certain that it is NOTHING like running a marathon! Sure, running a marathon can be painful from mile 20 to mile 26 if you didn’t properly train for it, but your face does not turn purple, you do not have veins bursting out of your head, there is no tissue tearing that takes place, it doesn’t last 12+ hours, and you don’t have to avoid stairs, weights, or jarring movements until your body heals. Props to all mothers out there!
This is a photo of my nephew holding his baby sister. All he wants to do is be with her.
When my nephew was born, I was devastated that I couldn’t be there to support my sister because I was writing my final exams in my first-year of naturopathic medicine at CCNM. I’ll never forget getting the phone call from my brother-in-law 10 minutes before I went in to write my nutrition exam that I was an aunt to a beautiful baby boy! I could barely focus on nutrition when all I wanted to do was hold that little munchkin. Needless to say, when my sister told me she was going to be due with her second baby around the holidays this year, I was elated that there was a good chance that I could be there for her, but obviously, labour is an unpredictable life event and you never know when the little baby will be ready to come. I had my fingers crossed our entire Christmas break that my sister would give birth so I could experience it. The baby never came. So I packed up my things and headed back to Toronto for the new academic term. Then on Wednesday this week, I was sitting in class and I received a message from my sister mentioning that she started having contractions in the early morning. I didn’t know what to do with myself, because I wasn’t sure if I could make it all the way to Sudbury in time for the new arrival. Thanks to all of my amazing friends and people I go to school with, I was encouraged to at least try to make it back up North for the delivery. When I called my sister, she told me she was taking a nap, having a bath, going to her midwife appointment and that the baby wasn’t going to come anytime soon. So I called every car rental company in the GTA until one of them allowed me to rent me a car ASAP. I was a mess trying to gather some of my belongings and get there in time. Thank goodness the roads were clear on my commute up North – it was the most nerve wracking drive of my life because I kept thinking I was going to miss the delivery. I kid you not, by the time I got right into the city of Sudbury, I received a phone call from my mom saying that my sister and brother-in-law just left for the hospital. By the time I arrived at the hospital, it wasn’t until about 5 hours later that the baby arrived so I got to witness it all!
The media depicts labour and delivery as a fast, stressful, wretched experience when in reality it is quite different. Now, I did mention that my sister made it look easy, so don’t take this as the average experience. She was bouncing on the yoga ball, moving around, drinking electrolyte beverages, resting and consuming power bars for the first few hours to keep her body strong. My sister also opted to have a midwife deliver her baby, instead of a medical doctor. In Ontario, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care covers the entire cost of either a midwife or medical doctor for each pregnant woman. Midwives are in high demand in Ontario! If you know you are pregnant and want the care of a midwife, it is essential that you contact a midwife ASAP to secure midwife care or get put on a wait list for midwife care during your pregnancy.
What is a midwife?
The word ‘midwife’ literally means “with-woman”. So yes, even if you are a man, you are still called a midwife (fun fact: in Ontario, there is one registered male midwife). When a woman registers with a midwife, midwives provide care for pregnant women throughout their entire pregnancy, and continue providing care to both mom and baby for the first six weeks following birth. Midwives are able to develop deep relationships with their clients, and are available 24 hours a day should any concern arise during pre- or post-partum. If you hire a midwife, you have the option of delivering your baby either at a hospital or in the comfort of your home.
This is a photo of the two midwives that provided the first home visit for my sister and niece 12 hours after she was back at home post-delivery where they are providing physical assessments on my sister and the baby, along with educating my sister, brother-in-law and my mom on what to expect within the first few days.
When I arrived at the hospital for my sister’s delivery, her midwife was in the room ready to go throughout the entire labour and delivery. Her midwife did not leave the room and her calm nature greatly set the tone for the entire delivery, keeping my sister (and myself) very calm. She supported my sister through breathing, relaxation, comfort and empowered by sisters experience by offering her options on how my sister wanted to progress with the delivery.
Midwives receive highly specialized pregnancy and delivery training through a four-year university degree (only offered at three Ontario universities), whereby they can administer a range of natural and pharmaceutical pain relief options, including access to epidurals in hospital, hydrotherapy techniques, massage and other methods. They additionally must complete a series of apprenticeships (shadowing placements) with a senior midwife before writing their board exams. My sister was lucky because in addition to having her husband, midwife and I present during the entire labour experience, we also had a midwife-in-training who was incredibly knowledgeable in answering all of my questions! After everything I’ve learned about in school, I came loaded with a million questions. This was the best field trip I’ve ever experienced! I’d like to give a big shout out to the Sudbury midwives! Thank you for providing the highest quality care and support for my sister and our whole family.
Even after the delivery, my sister’s midwife provided home-visits for up to 5 days post-partum. She came to my sister’s house and provided physical exams to both my new little niece and to my sister. She offered information on nursing, red flag signs and symptoms to look out for, and how to strengthen both yourself and your baby in the weeks following delivery. You are never alone when you have a midwife which is great because babies don’t come with instruction manuals. Below is a photo of the two midwives performing physical exams on my niece at the first home visit to make sure she is healthy.
How does the care of a midwife differ from the care of a medical doctor during pregnancy?
From what I have been told, medical doctors will be paged towards the end of the labour when the baby is being pushed out of the birth canal. They are not present in the room with you throughout the entire labouring process. You may or may not have the same medical doctor that you saw throughout your pregnancy leading up to your delivery during the actual birth (depending on which doctor is on duty), and medical doctors do not provide home visits or as many follow-up appointments after your delivery. This is not a bad thing, as everyone has the power to make their own healthcare decisions. It is wonderful that in Ontario, you have the option to choose whoever you would like to receive care from during your labour. Whether it be a medical doctor or a midwife, I am happy to live in a province where options are available!
This is a photo of my sister's midwife auscletating heart sounds after delivery. The pink stethoscope is well suited for the occasion.
What is a birth doula?
A birth doula is a labour support person who can offer emotional and physical support to a woman and her family before, during, and after labour. Doula’s are there to support the pregnant woman by ensuring that doctors and medical professionals stick to the birth plan desired by the woman when she is in labour, as labour is an energetically costly experience for each woman and a woman may not be able to fight for her birthing rights during her delivery. A doula will empower women with their birthing options, but doula's cannot serve as the primary care provider for pregnant women. If you choose to have a birth doula, you must also register with either a medical doctor or a midwife during your pregnancy.
How can naturopathic doctors care for a pregnant woman?
Naturopathic doctors care for both men and women before pregnancy by optimizing fertility to ensure the couple desiring to have a child is in a healthy state. Naturopathic doctors also provide care during the pre- and post-partum period to the pregnant woman, their partner and baby. Naturopathic doctors do not deliver babies, so if you receive complementary care from a naturopathic doctor, they can work in collaboration with your midwife or medical doctor to support you and provide medical care during your entire pregnancy, pre- and post-partum.
The Delivery of my Niece
I can’t even begin to explain the feeling of being a part of my sister’s delivery. I was overcome with emotion that I have never experienced in my life before. I consider myself a fairly strong person emotionally, and with that said, there was an undeniable energy taking over the delivery room that I can’t describe. Seeing my niece for the first time was a beautiful moment for everyone in the room. To top it all off, my brother-in-law let me cut the umbilical cord! I was shaking and overcome with happiness. Thank you so much to my sister, brother-in-law and the Sudbury midwives for allowing me to be part of this experience. I am incredibly grateful and I will cherish this moment for the rest of my life. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I feel so empowered to help care for the women, their partner and their babies throughout the entire pregnancy experience one day when I'm a naturopathic doctor.
For more information on midwifery in Ontario, check out this link!
If you have any questions on naturopathic medicine or care you can receive from a naturopathic doctor, midwife or birth doula during your pregnancy, please don’t hesitate to ask and I can provide you with some resources.
Be well and have a wonderful weekend while I bask in the presence of this sweet little angel.