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Annie is a long-time reader of my blog, and she asked me if I would publish her story today, World Down Syndrome Day.
I just want to include a bit of clarification about what she is describing, since I realize that birth centres are not as common in other provinces and states as they are in Quebec. In Quebec, prenatal care can be provided by an ObGyn or a midwife, with both options fully covered by provincial healthcare. Under the care of a midwife, you can choose to give birth at home, in a hospital (midwives are granted privileges in certain hospitals in their area) or in a birth centre. For those not familiar with birth centres, they are perhaps best described by their French name, which is maison de naissance, or “birth house.” Imagine a beautiful house, with private rooms all decked out for both comfort and function. Many rooms have a bathtub, all have a big, comfy bed, and tucked away in a corner will be the less glamourous accoutrements the midwives need to assist in a safe delivery. A woman’s pregnancy is typically followed by one midwife, and then during labour a second midwife and an assistant join the team. Once baby’s born, you are fed home-cooked food right in bed! As you can imagine, delivering in a birth centre is a lot different than delivering in a hospital.
Annie’s text was originally written in French, so this is my translation.
Ever since my daughter was born two years ago, I’ve wanted to express my appreciation for our birth centre. I feel like today is the perfect moment.
Why now? Because in March, we observe both Quebec’s Intellectual Disability Week and World Down Syndrome Day. As is the case every year, you will hear a lot of talk about diagnosis, about Down Syndrome-screening during pregnancy and the lack of support parents receive when faced with this diagnosis.
So what does World Down Syndrome Day have to do with expressing gratitude for my midwives? As you may have already guessed, I received prenatal care in a birth centre and gave birth there to a daughter with Down Syndrome.
My midwife was the first person, apart from my husband and me, to treat my daughter like any other child, giving her all the necessary care and attention without focussing on her Down Syndrome.
Although a Down Syndrome pregnancy can bring about plenty of complications, our midwives showed great professionalism and compassion when we were faced with the results of our screening. They ensured the necessary follow-up for our baby, and for us as parents. We felt very much that our decision to get an amniocentesis or not would be respected, as would be our decision to keep this special baby. This might seem normal to some, but I have heard from fellow Down Syndrome parents about pressure from those in the medical field to terminate a pregnancy. The support of our midwives didn’t stop once they told us about our elevated risk of Down Syndrome from routine screening tests. Throughout my pregnancy and for many weeks after giving birth, our midwives were there to listen and support us without judgement.
Nobody wishes for a child to have Down Syndrome or any other medical condition, and like most parents, we tried not to think about this potential outcome. Expectant parents are always shocked to hear their pregnancy is at risk, and the attitude of the person delivering the news has a huge impact. We felt that our midwife was accompanying us on our journey rather than just bombarding us with information. I am sure that many doctors are concerned about parents’ well-being and ask them how they are handling the situation, but with midwifery care, I never doubted that my own emotional and mental health were important. Taking the time to listen and to support parents is one of the primary goals of a birth center.
When I was in labour, my midwives and their assistant handled the situation with professionalism. Babies with Down Syndrome often have cardiac abnormalities and other characteristics that can complicate delivery. In our case, the 32-week ultrasound showed no malformations and we knew we were in good hands, which allowed me to concentrate on my labour (which went extremely well) without any stress.
I want to mention something that is unique about delivering with midwives: they let parents meet their baby before they whisk her away. We didn’t discuss Down Syndrome right away, and I’m not quite sure when it was brought up, since I had just given birth to a beautiful little marvel of nature, and my brain was mushy! Before being labelled as having Down Syndrome, I got to meet my daughter as a little person. And that is the best gift our midwives could have given me—a gift that will last my whole life.
In short, it was a very positive birth experience for me, my husband, and my daughter. I don’t think midwives often deliver babies with Down Syndrome, and I think it was a positive experience for them as well.
Today, on World Down Syndrome Day, I want to extend a very special thank you to the two midwives who accompanied me as well as everyone at our birth centre for their open minds and their support. I dream of a day when all parents of children with Down Syndrome can have such a peaceful birth experience.
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