Midwife in Mont-Joli, Que. postpones retirement because of worker shortage

Christine St-Onge was supposed to be enjoying her first taste of retirement this spring.

Instead, she has decided to postpone her leave until the fall to ensure mothers in Mont-Joli, in the Lower Saint Lawrence region, will continue to have access to midwifery services.

"[I'm doing it] for my team and for women who want a different kind of follow-up —  otherwise the service would have been in jeopardy," she said.

There are normally four midwives at the Colette-Julien birthing home. With one employee off on medical leave, St-Onge pushed off her retirement date until September 15 to ensure 24/7 continuous service is maintained.

"It didn't feel right leaving at this time and having to tell women 'we can't follow you anymore'," said St-Onge, who has practised since 1997.

Thanks to these extra months, women like Julie Raymond, from Rimouski, Que., will be able to receive services at the birthing home.

"I'm extremely grateful that Christine made this choice," said Raymond, who is pregnant with her fourth child.

Without St-Onge's presence, it would have been impossible for Raymond to know whether a midwife was going to be available for when she goes into labour.

Simon Turcotte/Radio-Canada

"Just having to imagine I'd be in that situation — without having that option — is upsetting," she said.

Raymond and other patients have been informed, however, that on certain days during the summer it will not be possible to do a home birth, if only one midwife is on call.

They'd instead have to go to the hospital in Rimouski, where the midwife will can be assisted by a nurse.

Province-wide shortage

The Lower Saint Lawrence region isn't an isolated case.

According to the Regroupement Les Sages-femmes du Québec, Quebec's association of midwives, there are currently 160 midwives practising in Quebec, and there'd need to be 30 more to cover the province.

This doesn't account for new birthing home projects.

Only one university in Quebec, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières (UQTR), offers the midwifery bachelor's degree, which takes four-and-a-half years to complete.

Fifteen to 20 students graduate every year.

Two of this year's graduates will be heading to Mont-Joli to ensure staffing during summer vacations.

Health officials with the CISSS du Bas-Saint-Laurent said another midwife who is on maternity leave will return in September and will make up for St-Onge's departure.

St-Onge has assisted in more than 800 births over her career.

Simon Turcotte/Radio-Canada

"I'm not tired of working, I just have other projects," said the 59-year-old, who intends to turn her attention to international aid projects, training midwives in Africa and Asia.

Her presence in Mont-Joli has come full circle. She has even delivered babies from women she herself helped bring into the world.

"When a young woman arrives and tells me 'You were there when I was born', now that's continuity," St-Onge said.