Nzinga Wright: Midwife on two wheels

This story is from the dandy ARCHIVE issue 9, 2012. Photo by Molly Crealock.

On December 12, 2018, Doug Ford the Premier of Ontario, announced that his government is cutting funding for the Ontario College of Midwives. He's also cutting funds for other important things like education, including specialized programs such as those that help at-risk youth. Shame on you Premier Ford. And, Merry Christmas, eh? 

Nzinga Wright: Midwife on two wheels

by Kaitlyn Kochany

Nzinga Wright says she’s a bad-ass. She’s a midwife who rides a second-hand single-speed bicycle to client appointments, carrying fetal heart monitors and stethoscopes as she goes. She’s working to empower women about their bodies and their choices during pregnancy. Bad-ass? You better believe it.

Wright has been riding her bike since she was a child. “I’m the oldest of five --  there was a whole tribe of us! -- and it was a family event to go for a bike ride after dinner,” she says. “I’ve never been involved in the political side [of cycling]. It’s more of a lifestyle choice.” After she graduated from the midwifery undergraduate program at Ryerson University, the 22-year-old made a conscious decision get back on her bike. “I took a break from cycling during school, and I could tell the difference between knowing my city then and how I know it now. I go out of my way to ride my bike, because it’s what I feel I comfortable with.”

Harbord Street’s bike lanes get her seal of approval, and she sticks to quieter side streets to stay off busy arterials. “I don’t mind bumpy roads. I just stand up!” she laughs. Despite living in Little Italy, she avoids congested College Street, and she’s wary of doors. “As a cyclist, I now understand that there needs to be a lot more bike lanes. I was cautioned not to ride my bike, and I’ve seen many accidents. Harbord shouldn’t be the only street I can ride my bike on.” Although she bikes as much as she can, she also drives and uses cabs to get around the city. Being on call 24/7 means she needs to be flexible.

Wright became a midwife the same way she became a cyclist -- it was a family affair. “My mom delivered at home, and midwives were the norm of delivering babies.” She laughs as she explains, “I’m a bit of a geek: I love biology and science, and also art, and women’s power, and politics. [Midwifery] empowers women in the medical sphere, specifically about pregnancy, labour and delivery.” Being a midwife allows Wright to explore her diverse interests in a uniquely integrated way: “I like the idea of being a part of a world that fuses women’s empowerment and science.”

Midwives like Nzinga Wright provide complete medical care to healthy women and their babies throughout pregnancy, labour, and six weeks after birth. Their numbers are growing: there are currently about 580 midwives practicing in Ontario; the Association of Ontario Midwives estimates that by 2015, that number will increase to over 1000. These men and women, working in small teams during delivery, assist with births in both home and hospital settings. They bring medical supplies like IVs, forceps, and resuscitation equipment to home births, and in the case of an emergency, work closely with physicians and specialists to provide comprehensive care to both mothers and babies.

Midwifery comes with a lot of responsibility. “It’s a 24-hour on-call job that holds a lot. I really advise to people to do their research, because it’s not easy.” Wright says bluntly, “It’s not all catching babies.” In addition to providing clinical prental care for mothers, midwives attend clinical conferences, client meetings, training courses, obstetrical placements, and other on-the-job educational and administrative duties. Reassuringly, four-year programs at Ryerson, Laurentian and McMaster include a fifth year of mentorship and guidance for new graduates. Folks who are considering midwivfery as a career also need to be comfortable in the medical sphere: “We translate the medical model so that [pregnant women] can understand it and make a decision,” Wright explains. “It’s my responsibility to know all that and pass on that information.”

She’s sunnier when she talks about the opportunities for young people. “The negative hype around new graduates needs to be dismantled – there’s a plethora of opportunities! You just have to open your mind a bit.” She’s optimistic about finding work “It’s like a treasure hunt – just because you have your mind on one thing doesn’t mean you can’t do something else.” A year in the workforce gave her a confidence boost that she wasn’t able to recognize until she talked to someone who just came out of school. “Going into the workforce is like your second degree. It’s your first step towards real independence in the world.”

Wright acknowledges that some new grads get stuck in their “narrow focus” -- some new grads feel obligated to find a job in “their” field -- but she urges young people not to give up. She says that schools harness and encourage certain traits, but “there’s so much more to all of us. You’re going to use what you’ve already learned to keep learning.” She grins as she says, “It’s your career of learning.”


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