Sunday November 13, 2016

Traditional birth: Indigenous doula program includes ceremony for expectant mothers

Melissa Brown, 36, is a Navajo/Anishinaabe registered midwife, practising in Winnipeg's core area.

Melissa Brown, 36, is a Navajo/Anishinaabe registered midwife, practising in Winnipeg's core area. (Submitted by Tasha Spillett)

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This episode originally aired on April 17, 2016

A new initiative aims to return the miracle of birth back to women and communities.

The Manitoba Indigenous Doula Initiative will train students to support pregnant Indigenous women with traditional beliefs and ceremonies. Students will receive regular doula training, but will also be able to offer mothers traditional ceremonies, smudges and other spiritual support.

"The model of care for midwifery and for doulas is looking at somebody from a holistic perspective," said Melissa Brown, a registered midwife, doula and the project leader.

Melissa Brown

Melissa Brown works out of the Mount Carmel Clinic in Winnipeg. (Supplied by Melissa Brown)

She explained that a doula is a specially trained birth companion that provides emotional, physical and spiritual support to expectant mothers but does not provide clinical skills. She pointed out that a registered midwife is a primary health care provider and can perform clinical skills.

"Prior to colonization we had women's helpers," she explained. "They weren't called doulas, they were called aunties. So women gave birth supported by her sisters and her friends and the community midwife and women's helpers."

Community support system

Brown said some of the ceremonies she has integrated into her practice include the placenta ceremony.

"We show it to the moms and say, 'This is how powerful you are. Your body grew this beautiful organ that connects you and your baby and this is how your baby grew,'" she said, and added moms are encouraged to take the placenta home.

Depending on cultural practice, a male family member will either tie the placenta to a tree or a community ceremony will be held as it is buried in the earth.

"Essentially, making a promise that they are going to do whatever they can to support that baby and the mom." 

Brown said a current federal policy forces women who live in remote communities to be evacuated at 36 weeks to cities like Winnipeg or Thompson. Where they finish their pregnancy and give birth away from home, often alone.

"It really bothers me to think of these women going through an already stressful experience alone and that's not the way we were meant to give birth," she said.

Brown added they hope to train women in Winnipeg, and have a system in place so that every woman who is evacuated is supported and connected with resources.

"The ultimate solution is to return birth to communities so that women can give birth in their own communities."