On a sunny Thursday afternoon in late August, parents with babies and children in tow, gathered at the Hodge Podge Community Garden in Bridgewater to honour and say goodbye to Maren Dietze, one of the first midwives to work in the Nova Scotia health care system.
Dietze, a midwife from First South, is moving to France this September. She and her practice partner Leslie Niblett have served Queens and Lunenburg Counties, as well as clients from as far away from Shelburne, since 2009.
Mothers at the event reminisced about their times spent with Dietze, some becoming teary-eyed as they spoke about some of the difficult times Dietze helped them navigate along with the happy ones.
Chris Sanford, a mother from Laconia, recalled how Dietze diagnosed her with Preclampsia - a pregnancy complication that can be fatal for baby and mother if untreated - before many practitioners would have noticed.
Sanford's blood pressure spiked but was not considered at a dangerous level. Still Dietze administered a blood test and diagnosed her. Sanford was induced and Dietze helped her labour for 24 hours before her partner stepped in to continue with the delivery.
"It would have been traumatizing if I had not had Maren's support and (the other midwife)," said Sanford. "The continuity of care was really critical in a lot of ways."
Bridgewater mother Amanda Rhyno wanted to have a midwife as well as a home birth with no pain medication or intervention, but because of an emergency, Rhyno had to give birth via emergency c-section in Halifax.
"Maren wasn't able to be with me so she sent a midwife to be with me as soon as my baby was born," said Rhyno. "The midwife just showed up, it was amazing, I didn't have to do anything."
Once she and her baby were out of the hospital, Dietze made all of the home visits and helped her breastfeed, something her daughter struggled with because she was small and weak at the time.
As Rhyno's now three-year-old daughter Journey played with another toddler, Rhyno pulled her aside and explained to her that Dietze is the one who helped her learn how to eat.
"She just came every day until it was under control, even Easter Sunday at our apartment," Rhyno told LighthouseNOW.
Jenna Kilfoil of Dayspring came to the picnic with her two-year-old and five-month-old. The little baby, Noelle, was delivered by Dietze and her son was delivered by a midwife who filled in for Dietze when she took a year off from work.
Kilfoil spoke fondly of the care she received by the midwives, saying it wasn't like going to the doctor, but rather like having a friend.
"It feels like a pretty personal, intimate thing bringing your kid into the world and having someone you know be there and Maren was so excited during labour, very calm and reassuring, but she was just so pleased and so excited. It was a very calming presence," said Kilfoil.
"I'm sad to see her go," she added.
Serving the community
Dietze, who is from Germany, was originally a dancer. After giving birth to her first two children, women and anatomy inspired Dietze to get into midwifery. After gaining certification in 2000 through a four-year program at Oxford University, Dietze moved to Northern Quebec in 2002 where she served in Inuit communities.
She moved to Nova Scotia's South Shore in 2004 where midwifery wasn't an option under the healthcare system, but rather patients had to pay up to $2,000 out of pocket for a delivery and weeks of aftercare. Because of that, most of Dietze's clients were from Halifax.
"Maybe four or five people a year [were from the South Shore], and I think that mostly had to do with the financial aspect because rural Nova Scotia is not wealthy," she said.
She also wasn't allowed to deliver in hospital at the time either because she worked outside the system, though she could provide support at the hospital and assist in getting the mothers discharged early.
Dietze was a part of a movement to convince the Nova Scotia government to build a framework for having midwives as primary caregivers and helped establish three model sites for midwives, including one on the South Shore.
Once her services were covered under the healthcare system in 2009, women on the South Shore jumped on board. Dietze has delivered around 240 babies on the South Shore since then, which she laughs "is not that many."
"In the second year we were at full case load," she said.
Every year Dietze and her practice partner have to turn away women seeking their services. They can only take 30 to 35 patients each, per year. They often aim to take on vulnerable women as patients, meaning women for one reason or another who may be uncomfortable with not knowing a doctor prior to delivery or one who may not want to go to a hospital, although they deliver babies both at the South Shore Regional Hospital and at home.
Right now the only clinic is her and her partner's which is at the Fisherman's Memorial Hospital in Lunenburg. She says clinics in Liverpool or Shelburne would cut down on drive times for patients and that there is "no reason" not to have them.
"I think we can do better in terms of providing prenatal and post-natal care closer to home. We look at Queens County and into Shelburne County where the demographics in terms of of families who live on low budgets, there's quite a few out there ... who find it hard to have to travel to Lunenburg and Bridgewater," she said.
Dietze says she'd like to see at least four midwives on the South Shore as she believes there is a need for them. She believes having double the midwives would provide women with more options but also lessen the burden of doctors as midwives are also primary healthcare providers.
"I feel women should be the central decision makers for their care," she said.
Leaving behind stories
Dietze is moving to France for family reasons, saying all of her children are in Europe now. She says she will continue practicing overseas but laughs that her French is not as good as her English so that will be a challenge.
A lot has changed since she started her practice here. Attitudes to midwifery and misconceptions have all but disappeared and Dietze says she has even had patients who moved to the South Shore to start a family because they knew they wanted to start it with a midwife.
"There was an openness towards it but there was a skepticism," said Dietze. "Education was needed to inform people of what modern, today's midwifery looks like."
When asked if she has any stories she could share, she told LighthouseNOW the South Shore is so small that it would be impossible to tell any without someone knowing who was who. However, it is those stories and people she will miss the most.
"I have a lot of stories in my mind, it's hard to leave this area and all those stories behind though I think I will remember them," she said.