Verena Aegerter

Bernadette’s Take
on Verena Aegerter Ebsary
St. John’s, Newfoundland

photo (7)The Ebsary family trying out a traditional toboggan. (All photos courtesy of Vereny Ebsary, except when otherwise stated)

We Swiss like to help other nations in need. Canada for instance, a country that has a birth rate of 1.6 children per woman, one of the lowest birth rates in the world.

That is why Switzerland sent Verena Aegerter to Canada. She is a midwife.

This is not exactly how Verena tells the story, though. She messed up my story line by saying that when she came to Canada for the first time in 1992, she had not been a midwife yet but a registered nurse.

photo (8)Verena and Rosine Welti, the first Swiss midwife in Northern Newfoundland and Verena’s mentor.

Listen, it is still a good story.
On her first trip to Canada which led her from Vancouver right across the country, she met Tom Ebsary, her future husband, in Newfoundland.

For understandable reasons, she was interested in working as a nurse there but at the time, that was not easy. She was told that her chances to get a working visa for Newfoundland would be higher if she were a midwife.

IMG_6474 - CopyThe fishing village of St. Lunaire-Griquet in Northern Newfoundland where Verena and Tom lived before they moved to St. Anthony. (Photo B. Calonego)

So she went back to Switzerland and trained to become a midwife. She also trained to become an ER nurse.

During those years, Verena (46) and Tom spent the summers in Newfoundland, a large island on the East coast, and the rest of the year in Switzerland.

In 1999, Verena was ready to bring lots of Canadian babies into this world.
Finally she got her working visa.

IMG_3291View of the town of St. Anthony. Maybe you can see the hospital, it is a square yellowish building. Sorry, you will need a magnifying glass. (Photo B. Calonego)

“I was told that in the North of Newfoundland, they need midwives”, Verena says. “So I got a job as a midwife at the hospital in the town of St. Anthony which is the most Northern hospital on the island.”

Dear reader, you have to know that life is rough in the North of Newfoundland. The winters there are harsh and never ending, with snow storms and white outs – and polar bears wandering across the frozen sea into the villages.

DarkTickle3Polar bears near where Verena used to live in St. Lunaire-Griquet. The photo was taken last winter. (Photo

“I was afraid to be outside walking in the dark because of the polar bears”, Verena recalls. “But at the beginning, it was a great adventure. I realised how hostile nature can be. At the same time, I was fascinated by it.”

photo (10)This was Verena and Tom’s first house in St, Lunaire-Griquet, about half an hour drive from St. Anthony in Newfoundland.

“I understood that under these extreme conditions, nature is something that humans fought against rather than wanted to protect”, she says.

That people would be snowed in for days after a storm or that Verena could not drive home and had to stay overnight at the hospital- this was not something that happens in Switzerland.

photo (6)These were frequent visitors in Verena’s backyard. They had their babies without Verena’s help.

When Verena started working at the hospital in St. Anthony, it was a challenge. She had worked as a midwife only for one year in Switzerland and was not experienced. But she learnt a lot from the other five midwives at the hospital, who all came from Great Britain.
And in Switzerland, Verena had met Rosine Welti, a Swiss lady who had been a midwife in Northern Newfoundland for many years. From her, Verena got a lot of useful advice about being a midwife in this remote area.

During birth, the delivery room was always crowded. “The mother of the patient was there and the mother-in-law, beside the husband, of course”, Verena says. “That was a real culture shock for me. But we tried to be as family-friendly as possible.”

photo (12)Verena’s daughter Meret pushing Sophia in a “Northern baby carriage.”

Verena did not have to assist home births in St. Anthony and area, the women were told to go to the hospital. If they lived in the South of Labrador, they had to move into the hospital three weeks before the expected date of delivery.

After almost ten years on the Northern Peninsula – interrupted by a one-year unpaid leave back in Switzerland -, Verena, her husband and their two kids moved to St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador.

IMG_3918 - CopyScene in the village of St.Lunaire-Griquet near St. Anthony where Verena used to live. (Photo B. Calonego)

No more babies: Verena is working now in a nursing home.

But she often thinks of her time up in the North when she had to ski or snowshoe her way through the wilderness.

(Here comes the CanSwiss Quiz)

Here are the Can-Swiss Quiz questions:

What gift do you bring home from Canada (or Switzerland)?

From Canada: Local arts and crafts.
From Switzerland: Chocolates and swatches

What product(s) do you miss most in Canada (or in Switzerland)?

In Canada: Ragusa (chocolate) and puff pastry.
In Switzerland: Hershey’s chocolate chips,
soft brown sugar

St.Johns10 - CopyToday, Verena lives in St. John’s but not in one of these jellybean houses.
(Photo B. Calonego)

Which are the 3 qualities you cherish most in Swiss men or women?

I find lots of Swiss people are very dependable, they have a large general knowledge and a lot of common sense and they are modest about it.

Which are the 3 qualities you cherish most in Canadian men or women?

Many of the people around me are very openminded and laidback, they are not prejudiced and very easy to get along with.

What triggered a culture shock for you in Canada?

I was amazed to find some very different methods and approaches in obstetric and other medical care, but what is “right” and “healthy” in one place does not necessarily need to be seen as such in the other places!

Which Canadian or Swiss personality fascinates you?

Canada: environmentalist David Suzuki
Switzerland: Meret Oppenheim (1913 – 1985), a German-born Swiss Surrealist artist and photographer.

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