When lifelong birth junkie, naturopathic doctor, and labour doula Corinne Brown gave birth to her first baby, she didn’t imagine an emergency cesarean in hospital.
With an education from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto, Brown was working out of a midwifery clinic offering naturopathic services to pregnant mothers. She also became a labour doula.
During the home birth she had planned, Brown’s midwife discovered the baby was in breech (positioned to be born feet-first). After 24 hours of natural labour, the home birth wasn’t happening. “I was devastated,” says Brown. “I’m helping all these women to have these beautiful birth experiences and then I wind up with a c-section?”
After the heartbreak of her own delivery, Brown became anxious. “I knew having a c-section once increased your risk of having a c-section again,” she explains. “Finding a provider who would support me in a natural birth after that was tricky.”
Love Your Labour was born. Brown created a system that women could follow to prepare themselves for a natural birth. “I basically became obsessed with research,” says Brown. “I dove into all my old naturopathic obstetric stuff, textbooks, notes, research articles, calling peers and colleagues who were doing prenatal natural obstetrics. I thought I must’ve missed something.” It evolved into a four-step natural-labour preparation system.
Within seven weeks postpartum, Brown was back to part-time clinic hours, often with her new baby in tow. “I started to implement [in my practice] the things that I had picked up with that super intensive research period of about three or four weeks.”
She says all the women who were going through these births were having these amazing birth experiences. “They’re all smooth and efficient. The midwives’ job was so easy, the women were so thrilled, the partners were empowered and excited about everything, it was just awesome.”
Two years later Brown became pregnant with her second child and used the four-step herself. The whole point of creating it was so she could avoid another c-section. Working through all the protocols in the program herself, Brown finally had that natural birth.
“I knew I needed to tell everyone about this,” says Brown. “I needed to scream this from the rooftops.” She compiled all her information into a comprehensive digital four-module training program and members-only community called Love Your Labour (LYL).
The program maximizes the chance of giving birth naturally and minimizes the risk of c-section, interventions, or complications. Brown believes those interventions are often used unnecessarily. She holds free weekly live webinars on natural labour preparation. Over 20,000 women have attended the webinar. To date, about 1,500 women have been through the LYL program.
Leaving Halifax to do her naturopathic studies in Toronto led Brown to starting her own business and launching LYL. She’s spent time with her inspiration, the mother of modern midwifery Ina May Gaskin, at The Farm (a self-sustaining co-operative community in Tennessee), and interviewed breastfeeding guru Dr. Jack Newman. She’s also experienced the trifecta of birth experiences herself: emergency c-section, natural hospital delivery, and at-home birth.
“When I think about my home birth I still get goosebumps; it was an ecstatic birth experience,” she recalls. “That is how birth is actually designed to be. It’s an extreme high after the baby is born, when all the hormones are undisrupted.”
Twelve years (and three kids) after leaving, Brown has returned to Halifax and is continuing to work on her business. After watching Brown’s free webinar, 32-year-old Stephanie Small, from Amherst, N.S. knew she really wanted to do the program while pregnant with her first baby.
“I think Corinne herself, there’s just something about her,” says Small. “She’s so knowledgeable and just the way she presents herself, she’s so confident… calm and cool and collected. That’s how I wanted to be and that is not how I was feeling.”
She says the information Brown presented in the webinar was information that she, until that point, wanted to ignore. “I felt that learning about it was so overwhelming that I didn’t know where to start or how to navigate all that information and she made it really accessible,” says Small. “I had planned to just wing it. Just show up in labour and hope for the best. That’s not normally something I would do.”
Small says the biggest thing she got out of the LYL program was the mental preparation. “It totally changed my mindset about labour and how I was going to look at this big event in my life. That was huge for me. It was so empowering, instead of being afraid I was almost pumped for labour.”
Brown says healthy, low-risk women need options. “In a normal healthy birth, women should be able to go through this experience start to finish without feeling pressure to have unnecessary medical interventions, “ says Brown. “It’s such a deeply important experience, more so maybe than some women even realize.”
Brown says her vision for the future is to have Nova Scotia “completely crawling” with midwives.
That vision is a long ways off. Robyn Berman is a midwife with the only midwifery practice in Halifax, the IWK Community Midwives. She works alongside five other midwives.
“We are not meeting the demand there is for our care, currently,” says Berman. “I would say for all of the people that we are taking into care, for the past several years, probably the same number of people end up on our waitlist.”
The midwives offer prenatal care, labour and delivery, and postpartum care for low-risk pregnancies. “One of the biggest tenets of that care that we offer is informed decision making,” Berman says. They collaborate with doctors, nurses, and specialists.
“Every single test, bloodwork, or ultrasound, anything those people would have access to with their family doctor or OB, they have equal access when they’re under our care,” she adds. “The way we work is fluid and seamless… We’re well integrated into the IWK. But of course we’d love to offer care to people who are looking for it.”
Berman feels that vulnerable people, newcomers to Canada, and low-income people especially benefit from midwifery.
“We know that those folks have better outcomes when they’re in midwifery care but we just don’t have enough midwives or enough support from the provincial government to expand our service,” she says. “That’s been the single thing that’s holding us back.”