There are many nights when Rachel Wisselink is woken mid-slumber from the familiar hum of her trusty pager. Sometimes it’s a false alarm – usually indigestion or false contractions – but in many cases the buzzing indicates that a new baby is ready to be born.
Even though it can make it difficult for the new mother to get her healthy quota of z’s, the 29-year-old Langley resident wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love what I do,” said Wisselink, a registered midwife, who practices at Grove Midwifery in Walnut Grove with four other midwives.
A quick glance at her office/lunchroom wall, peppered with an abundance of ‘thank you’ notes and baby photos shows she’s been a busy lady.
It also clear that for Wisselink, midwifery isn’t just a career path – it’s her calling.
“I have this opportunity to connect with women at such a pivotal time in their life and be a part of their birth experience… birth is such a miracle.”
In B.C., registered midwives offer primary maternity care to healthy pregnant women and their newborn babies from early pregnancy, through labour and birth, until around eight weeks post partum. While obstetricians are still the most common choice in Canada for expectant mothers, midwifery care is quickly becoming mainstream. Wisselink encourages women here in Langley to make that first appointment as early as possible.
“As soon as you pee on an stick and get that positive sign, you should really give us a call,” she said, noting her practice is already booked for mid-June deliveries.
“It (midwifery care) has become more and more popular in recent years. One person gets a midwife and then recommends them to their friends and their friends recommend it and so on…”
Despite the increased popularity of midwifery care in recent years, there is still a significant chunk of the population that’s unaware midwifery care is even an option. “Many people think they have to pay for it, that we only do home births or that we’re really crunchy – I don’t think people really understand how it works within the medical model,” said Wisselink.
One might say Wisselink was destined to become a midwife. Growing up on a dairy farm in Smithers, B.C., she became familiar with the birds and the bees at a young age. In addition to helping her parents with her four younger siblings, there were plenty of babies being born of the four-legged variety.
“I just loved the whole process of birth on the farm with all the cows and other animals,” noted Wisselink, whose mother – a former RN Nurse – suggested she pursue a career in midwifery care.
“When she said why don’t you try midwifery so you can do babies, birth and breastfeeding all the time? I was like sure, why not?” At just 18 and fresh out of high school, Wisselink was the youngest admitted into UBC’s brand new midwifery program.
The intensive curriculum would take four years to complete and deliver plenty of hands-on practice – quite literally. Wisselink can’t exactly pinpoint the first delivery she assisted at – with more than 500 babies delivered in seven years, one can’t really blame her.
Still, there are plenty of experiences etched in her memory. For her practicum, she delivered babies in two Third World Countries – Pakistan and Uganda. The trip proved both educational and enlightening.
“The women would come in to the hospital with a razor to cut the cord and some plastic to put under them in the delivery room – once the baby was born, we’d use the end of our rubber glove to tie off the cord.”
While the baby business is 95 per cent happy, there is a dark side, she notes.
“I haven’t been at a birth here in Canada where the baby has died, but have had patients who go on to have early miscarriages … it’s hard, especially when you have this woman sobbing on the phone about her loss and there’s really nothing you can do or say to make her feel better.”
A year and a half ago, Wisselink gave birth to her daughter, Anaya – an experience that has given her a deeper understanding of pregnancy and birth – one that goes beyond anything she learned in class or in the line of duty.
“It didn’t go as planned – both Anaya and I had an infection and the decision was made for a Caesarean section, which wasn’t in my birth plan at all,” said Wisselink.
“It was a very difficult time for us, but I think the story I have has helped me to connect with women on more of an emotional level – even though I had attended hundreds of births over the years, I feel can really relate to what they’re going through… especially when things don’t go as planned.”
It is Wisselink’s hope that each of her clients, no matter how tough the pregnancy, birth or child is, comes through that process feeling empowered. “Women are incredible and what they go through to bring another human being in the world and raise them is amazing. I hope that every mother, whether they are 14 or 94 knows that.”
For more information about Grove Midwifery, visit www.grovemidwiferycare.com. Feature as published in the Langley Times’ special section ‘Our Langley, Our People.’