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Year of the Nurse and the Midwife: Birth during the pandemic

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A new mother holds her child as the father looks over them.
Baby Lou was born May 2, 2020 to parents Mike Ringdahl and Jessica Belyea. (Photo credit: Cindy Black Birth Photography)

The World Health Organization has designated 2020 the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife.

As part of this year-long celebration, Northern Health is highlighting a different story about nurses or midwives each month. For July, our story features how midwives Sarah Hilbert-West and Rachel Wardle helped first-time mom Jessica Belyea successfully deliver baby Lou at home.

Jessica's midwife-attended birth

Giving birth at home in her bathtub, attended by midwives wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE), was definitely not part of Jessica Belyea’s original birth plan.

But the experience, although surreal, left her feeling well cared for, supported, and very fortunate.

And most importantly, Jessica and her baby girl Lou, born May 2, are healthy and happy.

“My sister-in-law had a midwife and had a good experience, so I pursued that,” says Jessica, who lives in Prince George. “The cool thing about midwives is that your midwife is there when you go into labour – unlike a doctor, when if they're away, you get whoever’s on call.”

This works because Jessica’s midwives, Sarah Hilbert-West and Rachel Wardle of West Hill Midwifery, work in a team of two, covering each other to provide full availability for their clients.

“You have an established relationship and they know what you’re going for with the birth plan,” says Jessica.

She also notes that Sarah and Rachel were always available to answer questions by text for any concerns Jessica had along the way. “It’s better than going on Google,” says Jessica.

Due to COVID-19-related changes in the maternity ward at the hospital in Prince George, Jessica started considering a home birth.

“The good thing about midwives,” she says, “is that you can have a home birth.”

Jessica went into labour nine days early, but all went well. She had a water birth, as she had planned, with the team from West Hill Midwifery, her doula Cindy Black, and her husband Mike Ringdahl by her side. She was also able to avoid the use of any medication during the delivery.

"They were in head-to-toe PPE in my house,” she says, “which I think is such a reflection of this historical time. I felt so safe with them – Sarah has delivered babies in Africa with HIV and TB, so she said, ‘Don't worry about COVID, I'm meticulous about keeping clean!’”

After the birth, the midwives stayed with Jessica and Mike for hours, making sure she was all right.

“They cleaned up our house and tucked me in bed, which was pretty magical,” says Jessica. “I didn't sleep at all that night, I just stared at my baby. It was such a surreal, crazy thing. Craziest moment of my life so far.”

Jessica notes that she felt well looked after afterwards as well, with check-ups at home from the midwives, and support from Mike.

“The midwives have reduced the checkups a bit because of COVID, and a lot of them are phone call check-ins, but I still feel very supported,” she says.

Would she consider a home birth again?

“Yes, I think being at home is more relaxing,” she says. “I’m glad we were able to stay at home and have it go smoothly. I feel very fortunate.”

Fortunate, indeed! Congratulations to Jessica, Mike, and their beautiful baby Lou!