Pioneering a Birth Movement in Alberta

Midwifery in Alberta has a long and complicated history. In fact, before 1998, midwifery was not a registered practice in the province despite its longstanding importance and deep roots across all cultures. The early pioneer midwives practiced anyway,  knowing that they were providing a valuable service to women. In addition to the stress of being a midwife in the first place, some even had to defend themselves in court. While they succeeded in their defense, the health system continued to block them from hospital admitting privileges, failing to recognize them as legitimate practitioners.

In 1998, midwifery was officially recognized by the Province of Alberta, but was still not publicly funded. The midwives organized themselves around that context. First they collaborated with Alberta Health Services in the deployment of an experimental birth centre in the Westview Health Centre in the town of Stony Plain. A group of midwives based in Spruce Grove banded together and called themselves the Westside Midwives. They quickly became one of the most active group making use of the Westview Health Centre, proving the demand for this amenity.

Multiple Strategies of Organizing and Advocating

On Sept 1 2011, the Westview Health Centre shut down its maternity care services. In anticipation of this closure, the Westside Midwives had purchased a property in West Edmonton to become the home of the Lucina Birth Centre. The new facility was completed and made immediately available so that the women who were planning to give birth at Westview before the closure could seamlessly transition to Lucina.

The group of midwives rebranded themselves as the Lucina Midwives, who to this day continue to provide midwife services at the Lucina Centre, as well as in homes and hospitals throughout the Edmonton region.

Concurrent to the Lucina Centre’s creation, the Association for Safe Alternative Childbirth (ASAC) worked tirelessly to organize and advocate with the province to get midwifery funded so that women would not need to pay out of pocket. Despite the complexity and confusion of the lobbying and licensing process, and the often clumsy and disorganized actions of government, the midwives were finally able to guide the province to deploy a workable model for midwifery care.

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In 2011, the Westside Midwives became the Lucina Midwives and opened the Lucina Centre, pictured here

Lucina Midwives Birth Issues Articles 1

A 2009 article in Birth Issues detailing the history of midwifery advocacy in Alberta

Reducing Friction on Multiple Levels

The proliferation of midwifery has many benefits. Above all, it reduces the number of complications in birth, resulting in massive reduction of hospital and physician costs for the medical system. Countless studies have shown that midwives reduce the rate of labor induction and cesarean sections, lower risk for episiotomy, decrease the rate of preterm birth and infant mortality, and effectively transition support in the days after birth.

Beyond these tangible cost-saving benefits, midwives and doulas empower women. Women are built to give birth. Meanwhile, our medical systems have pathologized pregnancy. Midwives and doulas help women to navigate their pregnancy safely, allowing them to understand the various challenges that may arise by understanding their own power as mothers. Informed mothers make effective decisions proactively about various contingencies. The goal is that when confronting difficult challenges such as anesthesia, inductions, or surgery, mothers are not taken off guard and forced, due to fear or expediency, to give their power away to the institution of the hospital and clinicians.

I really love out-of-hospital births. Home birth and birth centre birth gives us more freedom and allows the women to feel that they are in a really warm, welcoming, safe space.

Carly Beaulieu, Practice Lead, Lucina Midwives

Cowork Provides a Local Hub

Demand for the Lucina Centre grew quickly. By 2022, the midwives had assisted in more than 3000 births at the Lucina Centre and thousands more in homes and at hospitals. As they also provided clinic services for newborns and expectant mothers, the midwives sought an east-end location to service their clients. They found that Sparrow Cowork’s Gibbard Block location was a perfect fit and they moved in February 2022. Beyond servicing their clients, the presence of Lucina helped proliferate a small cohort of healers and therapists at Gibbard Block, including a chiropractor and massage therapists equipped to support pregnant women and small children.

Cultivating Leaders of Leaders

While Lucina’s footprint in the Sparrow network is quite small, their impact is large. First, the Lucina story is that of a group of women who accompany, support, and empower mothers through the sacred process of childbirth. Second, they also hold space for other women in their practice as midwives and doulas to become leaders and champions supporting mothers in childbirth. Third, the Lucina Midwives are key historical leaders in advocating for provincial legislation and resources to be made available for all women.

These stories are demonstrations of the principle that entrepreneurs are the scarce resource. These are amazing people who do amazing work. They are leaders who enable other leaders. And they are rare. They inspire us and are the perfect embodiment of Sparrow Capital’s values, goals, and guiding principles.

We strive to support business leaders, but more than that to support leaders who are able to coordinate other groups of leaders. The leadership is the thing that is scarce.

Sparrow Capital Co-founder, Antoine Palmer

Sparrow Capital seeks to support business leaders, but more than that to support leaders who are able to coordinate other groups of leaders. The leadership is the thing that is scarce. Even scarcer are the people in the community who have already, of their own initiative, taken it upon themselves to coordinate other leaders, providing a layer of meta-leadership that is intangible and extremely valuable. Wherever we can find leadership, let alone meta-leadership, we want to cultivate it and we want to create efficiencies that help those leaders do what they are trying to do. They are allies to us. And when we do find meta-leadership, we do everything in our power to bring them into the Sparrow Network. These leaders are rooted in the mycelia of their community and bring a far greater potential than a bunch of individual uncoordinated leaders.

Birth is a grounding part of all of our experience. It’s orienting, it’s human, and it makes us remember where we come from. It is perhaps the most meta-organizing principle of all, or rather, it’s a priori to all of our lives and existence. If we want to support entrepreneurs and the whole stack of functions that feed into and out of entrepreneurship, that means supporting mothers, motherhood, and healthy families. Our whole ecosystem requires this. People need to be safe and cared for and our communities need to get better at creating paths for people, not just in this generation but in the transitions between generations. Sparrow Capital is proud to support Lucina Midwives and their robust contributions to Edmonton’s communities.

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