Why midwives deserve more

My son was born in August 2013.

Pregnancy is scary… labour is scary… caring for a newborn is scary. Like most mums I know, I’m constantly wondering “is this normal?” or “am I doing this right?”

Imagine if you had someone to reassure you, offer you advice and tell you “it’s not easy, but you are doing an amazing job.” Someone who doesn’t pass judgement on your parenting methods or abilities. Someone to offer you tips and tricks that will keep you sane when you haven’t slept, showered or eaten. Well I was lucky enough to have that someone — my midwife.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I decided to choose a midwife instead of an obstetrician but I met my midwives, Rhea Wilson and Sarah Cross, when I was only six weeks pregnant and was with them until six weeks after my son was born.

imageLike many pregnant women I know, I may have been a little paranoid, crazy, uncertain (the list goes on) and I don’t know how many times I called or paged them with questions or concerns while they talked me off the ledge… especially when I had to have an emergency root canal in my second trimester. Unlike doctors, midwives are available to their clients 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And unlike most medical offices where you are in the waiting room longer then the exam room, at my appointments I could sit and chat with them for an hour if I wanted to, armed with my list of questions.

I got to see both sides of pregnancy care when at 32 weeks I was transferred to a high risk OB at McMaster Children’s hospital because of a heart condition I suffered triggered by the pregnancy. Everyone at Mac was amazing but the high risk clinic is busy, the doctors are in high demand and it just didn’t feel the same as when I got to ‘hang out’ with Rhea and Sarah.

In the end I had a great birth at Mac and got to keep my midwives in a  supportive role. Jack was born one week early, after about six hours of active labour. I really wanted a natural birth and decided to do hypnobirthing where you focus on breathing, meditation and relaxation. My husband will say how calm and beautiful my labour was but I’m not sure that’s how I would describe it. At one point I remember thinking “gah why did I decide to do this?!” image

My midwife, Sarah, was at my side for my entire labour, encouraging me. I’m pretty sure I squeezed her hand more than my husband’s. And when Jack’s heart rate dropped near the end, she coached me to push him out in only six minutes. I truly mean it when I say I couldn’t have done it without her.

There aren’t many occupations that involves the kind of relationship like the one between a midwife and her client. And it really is a relationship. I spent 40 weeks getting to know these two women during a special and important part of my life. It was hard to say good bye at the end of it all.

Of all the mums I’ve met and shared birth stories with in the last few months I’m surprised at how many decided to have midwives. There’s a funny saying that once you pee on the stick the first call you make is not to your husband, but to the midwives because there’s so few of them it’s really hard to be cared for by one.

image Many people are surprised when I tell them that my midwives were covered by our healthcare. That you don’t have to have a home birth or do it drug free. There are almost 700 midwives in Ontario, they have privileges at most hospitals and since midwifery became a regulated health profession in 1994, 150,000 babies have been born under their care. Basically they are baby experts and can do everything a doctor can as long as you have a healthy and normal pregnancy and delivery. They even visit you at home for checkups postpartum.

But based on my experience I think it’s fair to say they aren’t properly compensated for the work they do. One pay equity expert says while other healthcare professionals have received pay increases there’s a pay gap for midwives of about $94,000 based on their value. Despite this my midwives say, like I’m sure most of them would, they catch babies and help other women because they love it and it’s rewarding. But any woman who has been looked after by a midwife will agree that they should be justly rewarded for the work they do.

imageEven though I’m no longer a client, we still keep in touch over Facebook. So when Rhea told me this week that they are continuing to fight these pay gaps by announcing Wednesday that the Association of Ontario Midwives is filing an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario regarding pay equity I wanted to show my support by sharing my story.

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Kegs aren’t just for beer

You’ve heard of a keg of beer but what about a keg of wine? A Brock University grad has invented a way to serve a true sparkling wine from a tap. I interviewed Rakesh Mahra for a story I did for CHCH news but I wanted to share it here also — especially since I haven’t blogged in forever. It’s hard to blog about wine when you are pregnant :)

Mahra invented a special system of dispensing sparkling wine just like beer. It preserves the bubbles in the keg as the glasses are filled. 

“You just put the keg into your keg system, draft system or cellar and it’s a simple draft line just like beer,” Mahra says. 

It sounds simple but it took him more than a year to get it right. 

“I thought it was going to be easy but it was not that easy, trust me,” he laughs. ” I went through hundreds and hundreds of trials. 

He came up with the idea for his Contraband Sparkling Wine while studying in Bordeaux a few years ago — wanting to find a way to keep bubbly from going flat. He funded it all himself… A bit scary for someone just out of school. 

It’s pretty cool considering that normally when you open a bottle of sparkling it starts to go flat within minutes but with his system the last glass is just as bubbly as the first and the wine will last for several weeks. 

His concept was met with some skepticism at first — bubbly from a keg doesn’t sound very posh and there IS something lovely about the pop of that cork — but now he has kegs in Toronto’s Globe Bistro and Zooma Zooma Cafe in Jordan.  And he hopes more restaurants will jump on board. 

Mahra had to design special equipment, that he now has a secret patent for, because sparkling wine has 5 to 6 times more carbonation than beer.

The 20 litre keg costs $450 — it works out to $17.50 a bottle — and will pour about 130 glasses. He makes the wine from 100 percent Riesling grapes from Featherstone winery so it is VQA. I didn’t try it but my camera man did :) and I know how much Rakesh loves sparkling… In our wine class last year he always found a way to scam a second glass. 

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On the Crush Pad

It’s that time of year again… Niagara Wine Festival is around the corner! Nothing says Fall like sipping wine on a crisp evening in Montebello Park in St. Catharines during wine fest. I love it and have been every year since I was a kid… well not the wine part of course… but to Grape and Wine festivities — like the parade. I remember putting out blankets and lawn chairs with my family downtown super early when I was a kid to get a good spot to watch the floats go by.

And Niagara Wine Festival means grape harvest time! Recently I was at Vineland Estates for a tasting with some family visiting from England. Lucky for us, winemaker Brian Schmidt and his crew were out on the crush pad.

They were bringing in Riesling grapes — my favourite varietal and if you haven’t tried the Rieslings at Vineland Estates you MUST! Delicious! We watched the harvester dump a huge lot of them into the press (check out the picture below). It was pretty awsome to watch and let me tell you there’s a lot of sweat and muscle that goes into it!

The juice that is pressed from the grapes is pretty murky and brown looking (the glass on the right). We drank it and it’s almost like apple cider. After a few days it looks more like wine, just a bit cloudier (the glass on the left, 2 days after being pressed).

Harvest is a few weeks early this year because of the hot, dry summer we had. The lack of rain had many growers and winemakers watering and worrying about crop damage. Vineland Estates had 3 people watering, by hand, every day since the end of June to make sure none of the younger vines suffered.

That wasn’t the only challenge this year. You’ll remember the summer-like conditions in March which caused a lot of the buds and leaves to come out on the vines. That had a lot of growers worrying and running wind machines to make sure there was no frost damage. But despite these challenges, it looks like it’s going to be a great year. The fruit is much smaller and the crop size is down about 25-30% but I’m told the quality should be exceptional — more sugars and more concentrated flavours (my mouth is watering already).

Make sure you check out the Niagara Wine Fesitval at the end of the month. There is so much going on, both at the park and at the wineries, and it’s a great opportunity to sample and learn about different wines. For more info check out the Niagara Wine Festival website.


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100 Marks White Merlot

Earlier this week I took a trip to wine country and stopped off to visit my friend Jeff Hundertmark, the winemaker at Marynissen Estates. He’s been making wine at Marynissen since 2007 but has recently launched his first virtual winery. It’s called “100 Marks Wine” — a clever play on his last name and the labels are pretty sleek looking (check out the picture).

Jeff has just released his 2010 vintage. He’s produced a Pinot Noir — 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Gamay, aged in New American Oak for 15 months. It’s a beautiful wine, lots of fruit and acidity. He’s also released a white wine — a White Merlot — and it is delicious.

He told me I would love this white and he was absolutely right. It’s golden in colour, with a slight hint of pink, and it has this great fruity/acidity — Jeff describes it as strawberries with lime squeezed on top.  He told me he wanted to make an aromatic white wine for his wife Kimberly. Only a few wineries in Niagara make a White Merlot.

I interviewed Jeff back in 2009 for a profile I was writing on Niagara winemakers and he told me then how much he loved Merlot. He reminded me of that interview when we were tasting his wine so I had to dig up the article:

“Winemaker’s Picks: If you had to pick one grape varietal to drink, what would it be? Merlot. It can produce a great red wine but it can also produce a really good rose and a white wine. So if I only have one grape variety that would be the one because I could produce all three styles.”

I can remember sitting at a picnic table with Jeff that day, in the vineyard at Marynissen, talking about how he wanted to make a White Merlot… and now three years later he’s done it.


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Get Fresh in the Valley

There’s a really great wine event coming up later this month — “Get Fresh in the Valley” — and it’s as fun as it sounds!

It’s a passport program that celebrates Spring, hosted by Twenty Valley Tourism Association. You can purchase a passport and visit the 23 participating wineries to sample new vintage wines and each wine is paired with a spring-inspired appetizer.

And you won’t go home empty handed. Each winery will be giving away the recipe. So you get the chance to assemble your own “Get Fresh Spring Cookbook” by collecting recipe cards at each stop along the way.

Last year each winery handed out packages of seeds for a vegetable or herb that was used in their appetizers. It was fun and inspired me to plant my first garden last Spring.

Get Fresh in the Valley takes place April 28th and 29th and May 5th and 6th, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Passports are $35 each and are on sale at participating wineries or online at www.twentyvalley.ca. You can check out the website for a list of the wineries involved.


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Exploring the World’s Wine Regions

Last month I began a journey exploring the wine regions of the world. I decided to sign up for a wine course at Brock University and every Wednesday we “travel” to a different country. It’s now known as “Wine Wednesday.” I have always been interested in learning about Ontario wines and rarely do I miss a local festival or event — but hand me a wine list with a lack of local choices and I am a bit lost.

I was out touring and tasting on New Year’s eve and there on the tasting bar at one of the wineries was a pamphlet for the courses at Brock. Leaning more about something I love seemed like a great way to start the new year, so I signed up.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I arrived at the first class with my notebook and pen and I was a bit nervous. But when I sat down at a desk with 8 glasses of wine and a glass of sparkling in front of me I was super excited.

Each class we swirl, smell, sip, compare and talk about the wines before we learn what they are and how much they cost. It’s laid back and feels sort of like drinking and talking about wine with a group of friends on a Friday night. And we always start each class with a cheers and some bubbles.

So far we have explored British Columbia, South Africa, Ontario, Chile, Bordeaux and Burgundy.

British Columbia has just over 9,000 acres, to put that in perspective California has more than 520,000. And the growing season is short but there’s lots of heat and sun. One of the varieties that does the best there is Syrah and my favourite wine from our BC class was Black Hills Estate Winery 2009 Syrah.

South Africa has some of the oldest viticultural soils in the world and thousands of different plant species. The wine industry supports the biodiversity and there is a heavy focus on sustainable farming. The Cape’s winegrowing regions are influenced by the Atlantic and Indian oceans and the sea breezes help create nice fresh, focused wines. Chenin blanc is the most widely cultivated variety.

I was already familiar with Carmenere – Chile’s signature grape — but didn’t know 95 percent of the world’s Carmenere is planted in Chile. Chile has some of the largest organic vineyards in the world and a few of the wines we tried were made with organic grapes. I also discovered a delicious sparkling — Cono Sur Sparkling Brut — from the Bio Bio Valley. It has a bit of Riesling which makes it nice and crisp. You can pick it up in the LCBO for $13.95.

February is France month and that deserves a post of its own once we have finished exploring.


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Wine vs. Beer at Niagara College

There’s a fun event happening at Niagara College this week called “Caps, Corks and Forks.” It’s a competition — wine vs. beer – that includes a 5 course meal prepared by the culinary students… and teams of wine and beer students provide pairings for each course. Diners are then asked to vote on the best pairing for each course. The host of the TV show The Thirsty Traveler is the MC. Here’s the release:

NIAGARA COLLEGE – The battle between grapes and hops has begun, as students from the college’s Teaching Winery and Teaching Brewery vie for ultimate supremacy at the Canadian Food and Wine Institute’s new signature event, Caps, Corks and Forks.

To take place on Feb. 2, 2012 at Benchmark , a teaching restaurant on the college’s Niagara-on-the-Lake campus, the event will feature an elegant five-course meal prepared by NC’s top culinary students under the guidance of chef professor Tony DeLuca. Each course will be paired with both a beer brewed by a team of the college’s Brewmaster students and an Ontario VQA wine carefully selected by a team of the college’s Wine students. Guests will vote on which pairing was best after each course to determine the winner.

Kevin Brauch, host of TV show The Thirsty Traveler, will be the master of ceremonies for the evening.

“Caps, Corks and Forks was designed to showcase all three specialties of the CFWI – wine, beer and food,” Jon Ogryzlo, dean of the CFWI.
“The fact that it will take place in our newly renovated Benchmark restaurant – to reopen in late January – which will feature a new bar, and wine and food pairings on the menu, makes it all the more meaningful.”

While weeks away, Caps, Corks and Forks is already stirring up a playful rivalry between the CFWI’s wine team and its beer team, who have been making a sport of pointing out the superiority of their own beverages and the perceived inferiority of the other’s.
“Crush a bunch of grapes, put them in a bucket and see what happens,” said Brewmaster professor Jon Downing about how to make wine.
“Browse beer recipe pages online for a while, add or subtract one to several ingredients at random to your selection,” said Jennifer Wilhelm, instructor and coordinator, Wine programs, about how to make beer.
The culinary team, according to chef professor Tony DeLuca, has decided to maintain a “dignified neutrality.”

A limited number of seats are still available. Tickets are $79. For ticket information contact Benchmark at 905-641-2252 ext. 4619.

The Canadian Food and Wine Institute, located on Niagara College’s Niagara-on-the-Lake campus, is the college’s centre for food wine and beer education. It is home to Benchmark, the college’s teaching restaurant, as well as the Teaching Winery and Teaching Brewery.


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