Finding out you’re pregnant can be one of the most exciting, yet nerve wracking times of your life. There are so many things to consider! What colour will we paint the baby’s room? What is the safest car seat? We need to research the best stroller, crib, video monitor and diaper pail! Arrrgghhhh – how will we ever choose the perfect name?!?
Unfortunately, in those early days, many families do not think about how and where they want to birth until much later on. In the Calgary area, that delay can result in taking many options off the table.
To better understand, let’s take a look at the three types of caregivers available to us, along with the philosophies and type of care you can expect from each:
Newsflash! Today’s midwives are not voodoo witch doctors delivering babies of hippies! To become a midwife in Canada involves taking a 4 year university program specializing in low risk pregnancy and birth. If complications develop at any stage of your care, you would need to be transferred to a doctor and while they are careful to transfer care before an emergency arises, they do carry all kinds of medical equipment for resuscitation, etc. should that become necessary. Their care is very woman centred, with you being the one in charge of the decisions. Prenatal appointments are often long enough to answer all of your questions without feeling rushed (you could expect your appointment to last between 30 min to an hour).
They do tend to have a more natural style, so would not be right for someone who desires a more medical approach. They are the ONLY care providers to attend births outside of a hospital (as in at home or a birth centre) and also the only ones who support waterbirth. They have hospital privileges at all four Calgary hospitals if that’s where you prefer to be. Depending on the practice, most midwives work in tandem or teams of 4, sharing call time. During labour, one midwife will oversee most of your care with an additional midwife called in for the actual birth so that one can attend to the mother and the other to the baby.
Family practice/maternity physicians
Unfortunately, many family doctors are no longer attending births. It used to be that your regular doctor who treated your coughs and colds would also deliver your baby. However, life on call while trying to run an office practice is difficult. More often in Calgary, we see these family doctors deciding to either specialize in maternity care or leave birth alone all together. Those who specialize often join with about 7 other doctors in maternity clinics and they share patients and on call time. They also only take on low risk patients and would need to consult with an obstetrician for high risk situations or hand over care if an assisted birth was necessary (forceps, vacuum, c-section). Clinic visits are typically only allotted 15 minutes. Family practice doctors tend to have a low intervention rate during birth.
These doctors have the highest level of training and can handle high risk pregnancies and all types of assisted deliveries (think vacuum, forceps and cesarean births). Some also take care of many other women's health issues (infertility, reproductive system problems, cancer, etc.). If your health is complex or if you develop pregnancy complications, you will require an obstetrician, but they also see low risk patients as well. They too work in group clinics, sharing patients and call time. Clinic visits are also short - roughly 15 minutes. Usually during labour, care is provided by the hospital residents with an obstetrician always circulating the hospital floor. Some tend to have less lenient protocols/procedures (for example, continuous fetal monitoring is mandatory with some obstetricians). Statistically speaking, they have a higher intervention rate, however keep in mind they are also seeing the highest risk patients.
So as you can see, your care and birth can look quite different dependent on which caregiver you choose. If your dream was to birth your baby in one of the fancy tubs at the birth centre, you would need a midwife. They book up extremely fast! My joke is that after peeing on the pregnancy test stick and seeing a positive result, you should call and book the midwife before telling your partner, parents or BFF!
Pro tip: Ask to be put on a waiting list if the midwives are full as spots sometimes open up even in late pregnancy
Alternatively, if you would feel the most secure utilizing using a more medical approach, you will want to get on board with the best maternity clinics or obstetricians early as they are swamped too. While your family doctor might look after you in early pregnancy, they will often transfer your care some time in the second trimester. They usually have a certain group they refer to and most if not all doctors have privileges at only one hospital.
Pro tip: Some clinics take self referrals. If you have a preference to birth at a certain hospital, make sure you are in the right stream to land up there. For example, if you wish to birth at Foothills, but your doctor is in SW Calgary, chances are you will be referred to a clinic with privileges at Rockyview.
Whichever way you decide to birth, consider adding a doula to the mix. Having someone there to support you through birth, always ready to comfort and encourage you on can be one of the best things you do for yourself. Your partner will thank you too! Contact us for the best doulas in Calgary!
Please know that just as in ANY profession, there are wonderful and not-so-wonderful caregivers in each category. I don’t believe all midwives are nothing but unicorns and rainbows, nor am I anti-doctor. These are silly myths that for some reason exist in our profession. I have enjoyed the privilege of supporting my clients under the care of each of them! And you can bet your bottom dollar that no matter who you choose, I will diligently and harmoniously work alongside them to provide you with the best birth experience.
You may wonder why so much fuss about how you give birth? All that matters in the end is that you have a healthy mom and healthy baby, right? True. But you must acknowledge that a healthy mom includes her emotional well-being. As quoted from birthtalk.org, “The aim of ‘healthy mother, healthy baby’ must include the mother’s emotional health. Why? Because our emotional health affects how we parent. How we relate to our partner. How we feel about ourselves. It can affect everything. Emotional health in childbirth matters.”
Stay tuned for part 2 where locations to give birth in Calgary will be discussed!
Tracy is a mother, birth doula and childbirth educator. She lives in the Calgary, AB area with her husband, three kids and her lazy cat.