Nova Scotia

Prenatal classes at IWK help bring expecting parents out of 'the dark'

The drop-in sessions are helping to fill the void left after the Nova Scotia Health Authority cancelled both in-person and online prenatal classes.

Drop-in sessions started in October — but limited funding means service will end in June

Adrienne Kehler is a doula and lamaze educator who is teaching prenatal sessions at the IWK Health Centre. (Emma Smith/CBC)

For Geervani Gangaraju, everything is different this time around.

The Dartmouth woman moved to Nova Scotia from India four years ago and is 37 weeks pregnant with her second child.

In addition to navigating an entirely new health-care system, Gangaraju is thousands of kilometres away from the assistance and encouragement of her extended family.

At first, while searching for support and credible information about pregnancy and birth, Gangaraju found herself scouring online "mommy forums."

"There is so much unwanted stuff on there literally scaring people to how difficult birth is," she said.  

Thanks to new drop-in prenatal education classes at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, Gangaraju said she's been able to cut back on seeking information online and find the positive information she was craving. 

She's among a growing number of expecting parents accessing a service that's helping to fill some of the gap created when the Nova Scotia Health Authority phased out both in-person and online prenatal classes.

Gangaraju said she drops in for information every time she has a prenatal appointment at the IWK. (Emma Smith/CBC)

Gangaraju said the sessions are a source of support. Sometimes, she'll show up to a class just to meet other parents. 

"I just like to sit there and hear them out because sometimes you can come across questions that you won't even think of and then you suddenly go, 'Oh, yes, yes!'" she said.

Since October, registered doula Adrienne Kehler has been talking with nervous parents about their hopes and fears as they near delivery day. 

But limited funding means the drop-in sessions will only be around until June.

The IWK said the service is offered through a temporary grant, and at this point, there are no plans to continue it.

Anna MacLean said it was a struggle to find prenatal information after the NSHA cancelled in-person and online prenatal classes. (Emma Smith/CBC)

That's disappointing for Anna MacLean, who's expecting her first child any day.

"I'm just still so grateful for it, and I hope to see it continue because it's not only preparing me for labour and delivery, I feel a little bit more grounded as a woman, as a mother," she said during a session at the IWK last week.

She said before she came across the drop-in sessions, she had a hard time finding prenatal resources. Like Gangaraju, she turned to the internet, watching YouTube videos that had garnered the most hits.

"I did think that it was a struggle to amalgamate all those resources in a way that worked for me ... Sometimes I did feel like I was in the dark," she said. 

She said finding Kehler has been "a miracle."

The drop-in sessions are offered Monday to Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to noon. (Emma Smith/CBC)

Kehler is a certified lamaze educator and doula, and hosts the drop-in sessions four mornings a week from 8:30 a.m. to noon. She said anywhere from one to eight people typically show up, and numbers are growing as the word gets out.

Each session is tailored to participants' needs, said Kehler, and cover everything from the process of birth, to how to manage pain and what happens once the baby is born. 

"Not everybody who comes in here is from Canada originally," said Kehler. "So then you're needing to understand culture and the significance of that and maybe English is their third or fourth language. So I have lots of visuals and I can adapt and change to what their needs are."

Kehler's position ends in June. (Emma Smith/CBC)

Late last year, NSHA cancelled the Welcome to Parenting website, which offered prenatal information to parents. Four years earlier, it phased out in-person prenatal classes.

The health authority said there was little interest in either option, but it's a move that doesn't sit well with many parents. 

Kehler didn't want to comment on the health authority's decision, but said working with parents has given her a good idea of what kind of prenatal education works — and what doesn't. 

"Having options for the educational care is essential," she said. "My goal is that people are actually going to apply what they learned in the nitty gritty and the beauty and the crazy of birth.

"And so in order for that to happen, I know that [parents] need to have exposure to information over a long course of time."

With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning

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