The Toronto Birth Centre: One thousand births and counting
Toronto-area families are celebrating one big milestone today: since opening its doors in January 2014, the Toronto Birth Centre has been the birthplace for 1,000 babies, all caught by midwives.
I had the pleasure and privilege of attending the very first birth at the Toronto Birth Centre, a beautiful water birth in the Cedar room. Every birth is extraordinary, but this one felt extra special. The parents were excited and thrilled to be part of the momentous occasion; and, as midwives, we knew we had participated in a truly historic event.
I was still floating on a wave of elation when I attended a meeting immediately after the birth with midwifery stakeholders from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, the College of Midwives of Ontario, and the Midwifery Education Program. Everyone in attendance at the meeting was eager and excited to hear about the experience.
I remember telling them that while midwives are accustomed to meeting clients’ needs in whatever ways we can, in whatever space we’re in, the birth centre facilitates that philosophy. At hospital births, you can hold space for your clients within the room, but outside of the room, all types of activities are going on—not always positive.
The birth centre is a joyful and focused place, with every detail designed by midwives for clients to experience birth as a normal life event. Both inside and outside of the birthing rooms, the space is welcoming to the labouring client, their chosen support people and the midwives and students. From the large community kitchen, to the beautiful and symbolic murals by Christi Belcourt in each of the rooms, to the accessibility of birth balls and slings and tubs, the birth centre sends the message, “birth is normal,” “birth happens here.”
The Toronto Birth Centre is dedicated to providing a culturally safe space for Indigenous families and families from all communities to give birth. This community-based, midwife-led centre located in the heart of downtown Toronto is the realization of a vision and the commitment of Seventh Generation Midwives Toronto. It had the backing of countless midwives and supporters who dreamed of this centre and those who worked tirelessly to make it a bricks and mortar reality.
When the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care announced that it would fund the TBC and the Ottawa Birth and Wellness Centre, someone coined the wonderful phrase “now normal birth has an address.” It’s located on busy street, in a diverse, residential neighbourhood and the sign is obvious to anyone who passes by. I imagine the day when a child walking home from school with friends will point to the TBC and say “I was born there.”
The Toronto Birth Centre has literally put normal birth on the ground floor; this visibility is one way the birth centre has the potential to powerfully shift the way our society views birth. Each of the 1,000 births that has happened there, and all of the thousands to come, are also part of this shift.
Elizabeth Brandeis, RM, President