'I wish they could have done this sooner': Nunavut mothers celebrate new escort policy

For many mothers, giving birth can be both an overwhelmingly joyous and terrifying experience.

But imagine being 21-years-old, about to give birth to your first child, and being 1,300 kilometres from your partner and your family — all in a city you've never been to before.

That's the situation Kaitlin Tulurialik found herself in five years ago.

Tulurialik is originally from the remote fly-in community of Kugaaruk, Nunavut. Like many communities across Canada's North, Kugaaruk doesn't have a hospital, so pregnant women are flown to Yellowknife to give birth — often alone.

"It was so hard for me and so depressing because it felt like I had no one around me," Tulurialik says.

Earlier this week, Health Canada announced it would be making changes to the Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) for Inuit and First Nations to fund non-medical escorts for pregnant Indigenous women. Until now, governments declined to pay for travel escorts for northern women with uncomplicated pregnancies who had to travel to give birth.

It's a change that's being celebrated by women and health advocates across the North, including Tulurialik.

"I only wish they would have done it sooner. It would have been a really great experience if my mom was with me."

In 2015, at 36 weeks pregnant, Tulurialik knew she would be sent from Kugaaruk to Yellowknife to await the arrival of her son. She says she asked at her community health centre if her mother could go with her, but was refused.

For a little over a month before her son's birth, Tulurialik stayed at the Kitikmeot Larga House in Yellowknife. It's a boarding home for Nunavut residents awaiting medical treatment in the N.W.T. capital and pregnant women are forced to stay there for weeks before giving birth.

It was an anxious and lonely time, Tulurialik says.

You don't really know people that much and you feel so isolated," she said. "It was depressing. I had no one around."

Tulurialik said the loneliness hit her hardest on her birthday. She said she walked down to the boarding home's cafeteria and got a cupcake. She then ate it alone in her room.

Now, three years later, Tulurialik is ecstatic about the new federal funding for escorts. She hopes to have another baby — this time with her mother by her side.