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Jeen Kirwen, retiring Quebec midwife, says profession 'not understood'

05/12/2015 06:55 EDT | Updated 05/12/2016 05:59 EDT
A pioneering Quebec midwife who worked in the Eastern Townships for 45 years says she's worried the provincial healthcare system now has too much control over the profession.

Jeen Kirwen, who began working as a midwife 25 years before the practice was legalized, said legalization has "taken a lot of the soul out of midwifery, because now we have to prove how safe we are."

"Our profession is not understood," Kirwen told Quebec AM on Thursday, when asked why she was retiring.

"I just got fed up with all the political stuff."

Kirwen said some midwives now feel uncomfortable with the profession because the healthcare system obliges them to take blood tests, screen for diabetes and monitor for other medical problems. 

She said the heavy hand of the medical world made her doubt the nature of her profession, which originally took on a more observant and motivational role.

Delivering babies in secret

When Kirwen first started out, midwives had to work in secret, and because it was illegal, she learned how to become a midwife on her own.

She bought books from Scotland and spoke to midwife organizations in the country about how they operated.

Kirwen said she didn't realize the importance of keeping quiet until two cases were brought against midwives in the province.

After the cases, Kirwen had a lawyer draw out a consent form that parents of the unborn child could sign.

Kirwen played a large part in helping legalize midwifery in Quebec.

She said after the legal proceedings the midwife organization, le Regroupement Les Sages-femmes du Québec, set out clear protocols for the professionals.

"When legalization happened we had our mission statement, our philosophy. It gave us a more serious look," said Kirwen.

"We weren't just hippy girls playing doctors. We wanted to be serious professionals."

A love for people

Kirwen became a midwife after giving birth to her first child and she felt the "power" in her contractions.

Above all, she said she'll miss holding newborns and the interaction she had with parents.

"I love babies," said Kirwen.

Kirwen said she stopped counting how many babies she delivered after she got to 2,000.

Some facts and figures about midwifery in the province:

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As early as last year, 20 per cent  of midwives in Quebec were unemployed despite there being a great demand for them in the province.

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A report earlier this year showed that only 3 per cent of pregnancies were overseen by midwives.

- Most recently, the Quebec government passed Bill-10, increasing the overall responsibility of midwives in the healthcare system.

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