Fifty years ago, most Canadian woman went to a hospital to give birth. There, they would be attended by a doctor, usually a male. But many mothers-to-be wanted something different.
They wanted something more personalized and less institutional than the standard birthing practices of the time. They wanted to be partners in the birthing process instead of the low rung on the hierarchical ladder of routinized medical care. They wanted to birth with less of the technological intervention that was increasingly the norm in birthing care. In1994 they got their wish, when Ontario became the first province in Canada to incorporate midwifery into the healthcare system. Now, expectant mothers in Ontario have the option to give birth at home or in a hospital, and they can have a doctor or a midwife attending. Most of all, no matter which route the mother chooses, the birthing process in Ontario is fully government funded.
In the August issue of the Canadian Review of Sociology, authors Nadya Burton and Rachel Ariss explore the legacy of midwifery as a social movement in Ontario. They focus in particular on ways in which diversity and social justice are intertwined with midwifery. Burton notes that, historically, the linking of diversity and midwifery “became an important part of the push for regulation and funding [of midwifery as a standard practice.]” As Ariss wryly adds, “Giving birth doesn’t have to be a pathology – it’s something women can do.”
The study highlights ways in which diversity (of practitioners as well as clientele) and social justice are important aspects of Ontario midwifery as it has shifted from a grassroots social movement to a fully funded and integrated healthcare profession.