Midwifery services in Fort McMurray, Alta., have expanded since the community's first midwife started working two years ago — but they are struggling to keep up with the growing demand.
Maddie Amyotte, a registered midwife in Fort McMurray, gets calls every day asking if she'll take on more clients.
"The demand is growing as people become more familiar with midwifery services," said Amyotte.
Debbie Mpofu became the first midwife in Fort McMurray in 2020. Since then, midwifery has expanded to two practices with five midwives.
But there are currently more than 40 families on the wait list for midwifery services in Fort McMurray, Amyotte said.
Caitlin Downie, mother of 8-month-old Ash, said using a midwife was empowering.
Downie's had long wait times with obstetricians in Fort McMurray, then felt rushed through appointments. She hoped a midwife would have more time to spend with her to have a better conversation about her health and the birth.
"Being able to have that more empowered decision-making around your pregnancy and your birth, that's really what I think women are gravitating toward," said Downie.
Midwives offer different options, such as less medicalized births and home births. There's also a high level of continuance of care because midwives do home visits, she added.
More women across Alberta are gravitating toward midwives, said Chelsea Miklos, president of the Alberta Association of Midwives.
In 2021, 10.6 per cent of births were attended by midwives, according to the Alberta Association of Midwives.
Since midwifery was funded in Alberta in 2009, there's been a steady year-over-year increase in the number of people accessing the care, Miklos said.
"Once people have access to services, then the number of people who desire that service goes up — just because they know they actually have access to it," she said.
Amyotte attributes the growth in popularity, in part, to word of mouth.
When people apply for midwifery services, they are asked why they want to use a midwife. The No. 1 answer is that they've heard positive reviews from friends and family, she said.
There are other potential reasons, such as few family doctors working in Fort McMurray, or parents not being happy with the level of prenatal care offered by doctors, that makes midwifery more attractive, she said.
"A lot of people in Fort McMurray don't have a lot of family supports or a big social support network, so the opportunity for them to have more one-on-one personalized care is a really big attraction," said Amyotte.
Funding for midwives is increasing and people have better access to midwifery care, but wait lists can still be long, Miklos said.
"My sense is that there's still pretty significant unmet demand everywhere," she said.
There are about 2,200 Albertans who have requested access to midwifery care, but haven't been able to get it for various reasons, such as too much demand for the available midwives, or there being no midwife in a community, she explained.
Amyotte will travel to communities near Fort McMurray, including Janvier, Alta., and Fort McKay, Alta., every month to provide care to people in their homes.
She said it's especially important for Janvier, because it can be difficult for people to come to Fort McMurray for every appointment and prenatal visit.
Over the next few years, the biggest struggle will be recruiting and retaining new midwives into the region to keep up with demand, Amyotte said, adding it's especially important if midwives continue to visit surrounding communities.