AM & RM Partnerships: Second to None

Originally published in Ontario Midwife, spring 2015.

When Faith Pegahmagabow attended her daughter’s labour more than 20 years ago to provide support, she was struck by a feeling of having her hands tied— unsure what to do, unable to help. She was also struck by a feeling that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Though she was able to attend her daughter’s labour (unlike her husband, who had not been allowed to attend when Faith gave birth to their daughter) “there was no advancement in terms of birthing. I wanted her to be comfortable in her birthing; they wanted her in bed, and I’m thinking, ‘There’s got to be a better way than this’.”

Until the early 1990s, Pegahmagabow didn’t know what a midwife was. Ten years later, she was part of the first class enrolled through the Aboriginal Midwifery Training Program at Six Nations. Her daughter’s birth experience, combined with attending a presentation by some midwives from Six Nations, sparked Pegahmagabow’s interest in birth and midwifery—and ultimately set her on her path to becoming a midwife herself.

Originally intending to work as a midwife with a possible clinic in her own home, life threw a few bumps in the road. After finishing the midwifery program, Pegahmagabow returned to her community in Parry Sound, only to find she’d lost her home in a fire, dashing her dreams of providing birthing services in her home to her community. As the only midwife in the area, Pegahmagabow struggled with the idea of working in isolation.

Instead, she worked as a community health worker and used her midwifery skills when she could. “I would provide prenatal support to moms who were interested— using my knowledge to give women information.”

Pegahmagabow now gets to put her training and skills as a midwife to use as a second attendant working with midwife Judy Rogers whose new practice, Midwives of Georgian Bay opened in Parry Sound in 2014. Prior to the practice opening, Rogers had been in the community to put out “feelers,” Pegahmagabow says, and gave a presentation at a local high school. Pegahmagabow’s niece, who worked at the school, invited her to attend, which led to the two midwives meeting.

Pegahmagabow’s role involves attending home births with Rogers, assisting with set up and throughout labour, and taking over baby monitoring once labour is over. “Being a second attendant fits my lifestyle right now,” says Pegahmagabow, who is now raising three of her grandchildren aged 10, eight and six years.

Though in her early sixties, Pegahmagabow’s future holds many possibilities, including providing primary care as a midwife, given the recent funding commitment for Aboriginal midwives made by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. “I would like to reintroduce traditional home birthing back into our Anishinabek communities, as well as the use of traditional medicines used in a woman’s childbearing life,” she says. “I would like to be able to practice, to rebuild my home and to offer women a place to birth with me as their midwife.”