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The Indigenous Birth Support Worker Program Update

By Marilyn Black

Oct 3, 2019

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“My great-great-grandma Poundmaker (Beaudry – name changed in Residential School) was a midwife and my great grandma Chapan Neva Mirasty worked at the “Indian Hospital” in North Battleford, where she got recruited by the nurses to deliver and help with the babies on the tipi side of the hospital. Because of the DTI Indigenous Birth Support Worker Program, I am able to carry on the legacy of caring for our mothers and our children.” – Dalanie Wahobin.

Dumont Technical Institute (DTI), Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) and Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC) have partnered to deliver an Indigenous Birth Support Worker Program. This exciting and innovative program, which answers the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Calls to Actions through increased support for Indigenous expectant mothers, families and communities.

The rationale for naming this program ‘Indigenous Birth Support Worker’ is due to the certification process and criteria which are intended to provide consistency throughout the SHA regions. The term, birth support worker, is also more culturally responsive based on the feedback during conversations with Indigenous women.

The impetus behind the program included media reports on forced/coerced tubal ligations cases involving Indigenous women (see for example, a CBC feature, “Indigenous women coerced into sterilizations across Canada: Senator Yvonne Boyer). Several brave Indigenous women came forward with common birth experiences that included feeling powerless, silenced, isolated, and discriminated against. The SHA conducted an external review and as a response, began the process of developing ways to include traditional Indigenous birth teachings, ceremonies and Indigenous representation within the maternal health-care team.

The six-week Indigenous Birth Support Worker Program, offered at DTI Saskatoon, admitted its first cohort of nine students this month. These include three Métis and six First Nations students. The SHA has committed to hiring up to eight Indigenous Birth Support Workers upon approval and successful completion of the program.

Birth support workers (or doulas) are also known as birthing coaches and postpartum supporters. They are non-medical personnel who assist women before, during and after childbirth. The goal is to help the pregnant mother to feel safe, comfortable, and be well-informed to voice opinions, ask questions, make requests or participate in cultural traditions and ceremonies. The birth support workers also provide the much needed emotional, and physical support and advocacy to not only the mother but also the father and surrounding family.

Historically, Indigenous birth support workers were integral to the labour, delivery and postpartum care for women and their babies. With the incorporation of European child birthing practices, Indigenous birth support and midwifery practices diminished significantly and in some cases were lost, mostly in urban populations. Today there is an increasing acknowledgement, within the SHA, of inadequate support for Indigenous women and parenting. SHA identifies this and is supportive of what DTI has to offer for training and support in this field. Below are some of the voices of the IBSW students about their experiences:

Angela Tomkins

I am a mother of two daughters and one day I will hopefully be blessed as a grandmother, but until then I will live my life assisting all my sisters.  A strong support system is a major benefit for our Indigenous women. These teaching will spread to our men and children. We are paving the way for the next generation, and connecting the bridge between the clinical and traditional worlds for our women, our sisters

Delores Dumais

I am really happy. It is fulfilling for myself to see how far we have come within this short time! I am happy that there is such an amazing and awesome program because a lot of women out there need this type of support.

Kiona Sanderson

As a Nehiyaw eskiwew, who is a new mother, I am super excited to be a part of this program that will spark change in health care for our indigenous mothers and families. I’m excited to be that support network for mothers.

Jennifer Gardiner

If I have learned anything on this journey it is that “to be a helper you must have a hollow bone” which means that we needed to be healed to help others and that is why this opportunity is so amazing. We are not only learning an incredible amount of skills and knowledge to equip us to be amazing advocates and supports for women during birth, but we are doing all the work to help us to be free of our own trauma and pains so that we can fully be there for our clients. This program is the missing piece for Indigenous women in our province who require health services. We are bridge between our people and health care.

Keara Laverty

I have a learning disability and I got teased in school because I learn differently than others. Not having kids myself, my only experience with kids was through my nieces and nephews, as well as babysitting. With no actual experience in the birthing process I thought long and hard about taking this course. This program has inspired me to learn more and teach others about how you can help someone just by being there and sitting with them, listen to what they are saying and help them heal from things that happened to them. A big part of this course that impacted me was the healing ceremony. Just being able to sit and tell my story, about what happened to me, made it feel like I was being heard and listened to. This course is very memorable, not on how many new friends you make, but on the amount of knowledge you learn, and that you further your knowledge even more with each day. Also, the support system you develop on this incredible journey that I am on with all the instructors and coordinators who have made it possible for ladies to be a part of this incredible experience.

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