Ideally, pregnant women living on the North Island who are low-risk would give birth in or near their home communities. Those working on achieving this goal point to the positive difference that can make.
Consider this scenario: with two weeks to delivery date, a prospective mom leaves her community and travels south where she checks into a hotel. It is affordable for those on an inadequate budget, but not ideal; central with fast food outlets nearby. The expectant mom is alone – her partner and family cannot be with her. Her toddlers are at home, maybe without the support she would like them to have. She misses them terribly. Eventually the pregnant mom delivers and makes the long trip home with her newborn baby.
Contrast this with a partner being present for the birth in the family’s community with a support system nearby or in attendance. In this situation, the mother-to-be has stayed in her own home in the weeks prior to delivery, with access to home-cooked meals and enjoying the routine of life. Her grandmother, mother, aunty and best friend are able to visit with her during early labour in her home. She knows her toddlers are safe because she saw them just this morning and they will soon get to meet their new little sibling.
Birthing close to home is particularly important within communities which have endured traumas associated with assimilation and colonization, racism and systemic poverty. Community health can be restored in part by supporting birthing closer to home. The joy and affirmation of new babies, the lineage and sense of identity inherent in having your community listed on the birth certificate, the naming of children as part of their cultural tradition, are all experiences that would benefit the communities and the families of the North Island.
An opportunity exists now, with a confluence of factors, including passionate advocates, the newly formed Community of Practice, North Island Division, and the openness of Island Health personnel to patient-centred health practices, for birthing closer to home to become more common. With all the goodwill, collaboration and life lessons properly harnessed, positive changes are afoot in this area.
Professionals want to establish local practices that are culturally safe. This definition of cultural safety is one Lisa Tabobondung, a manager with Aboriginal Health, recommends: “It is recognizing there are differences and respecting those differences. It’s gaining knowledge about self and others in order to understand those differences. Through truly listening and learning together in a way that maintains the dignity of each individual, an authentic relationship of trust, respect and collaboration will ensure improved access to health care services, improved health outcomes and healthier working relationships.”
Island Health also wants to strengthen the expertise of nurses and doctors by fostering greater exposure to obstetrics, thus enhancing the services available to birthing moms.
These efforts could bode well for supporting more babies being born closer to home.
Thanks to all those who provided input into this column. Please feel free to send ideas for future columns to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notes: By the way, congratulations to Mount Waddington Transit and North Island Services Society on the acquisition of two new buses! This model will allow people using wheelchairs to sit closer behind the driver for increased feelings of security. Mount Waddington Transit is uniquely tailored to North Island needs, with routes and schedules that link to ferries, and drivers who really work at assisting people who have transportation challenges. Call Transit Coordinator Mary Mavis for more information at 250-956-3151.
A few other resources to be aware of:
•Training Opportunities: For health-related programs that will allow you to work on the North Island where there is a shortage of health professionals, check out www.nic.bc.ca/programs/health_care/ or call North Island College Information/Registration (toll-free in BC): 1-800-715-0914.
•A Nurses’ line to get help with identifying symptoms and to obtain advice is available by dialling 811. People who have hearing problems can access the telephone service from a TTY service or by dialling 711.
•The HealthLink BC website has information on more than 4,000 health topics, including over-the-counter and prescription drugs, and how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. www.healthlinkbc.ca.
Barb Park is coordinator of the Mount Waddington Health Network, which advocates for North Islanders across a spectrum of health and social services issues. email@example.com.