06/10/2013 13:23 EDT | Updated 08/10/2013 05:12 EDT

Quebec women desperate for midwives go underground

Christina Mercurio is 28 weeks pregnant and even though she’s been on waiting lists to be assigned a midwife since she was just 3.5 weeks along, her phone still hasn’t rung.

She had her first two children in hospital, and the experiences left her with a lot of questions about having a baby in the hospital.

“Especially on my second birth, where you’re expected to go faster. They’re missing rooms, hurry, hurry up,” she told Daybreak host Mike Finnerty this morning.

“They say, until 30-32 weeks, there’s a little bit of hope left for you to get the call,” she said. But she didn’t want to wait and see.

In her desperation to have more comfortable surroundings and a more natural birth, Mercurio sought the help of an underground midwife — one who isn’t licensed by the province of Quebec to practice.

“It’s not illegal for me, but it’s illegal for the midwife,” Mercurio said Monday morning.

Midwifery was legalized in 1999 in Quebec after a protracted battle with the provincial government.

The midwifery bachelor’s program at the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières began that same year.

Still, there are too few of them in Quebec to accommodate the demand, according to president of Quebec’s midwives’ association Claudia Faille, who said a low salary deters women from pursuing the field.

“Midwives are very underpaid and that’s not a good way to attract midwives into the profession,” Faille said Monday morning.

Midwives in Quebec have been in contract negotiation talks with the Quebec government since June 2011; despite having met 23 times since September 2012, talks between the two parties have stalled.

A small victory was won last week when, on June 4, the province’s national assembly passed a motion recognizing the contributions midwives make to the Quebec health-care system by “responding to the needs of women, families and Quebec communities.”

It’s a first step, though the association’s members have voiced their displeasure with the pace of negotiations by protesting outside of the national assembly. Faille cited a 2010 CROP poll that indicated 26 per cent of women would choose to give birth outside a hospital if given the option.

“Women are wanting midwives,” Faille said.

Her organization is also calling on the government to better inform Quebecers about the benefits of using midwives.

Currently, the only legal way women can have midwives deliver their babies is by using birthing centres, which are attached to the government’s Centres de santé et services sociaux and require the approval of the linked hospital’s chief obstetrician.

“It wouldn’t be legal if it wasn’t safe,” Faille said.