An upcoming doula training session in a Mi'kmaw community aims to bring more diversity to Nova Scotia's health-care system while boosting rural access.
The 10 spots for the September workshop at the Paqtnkek Health Centre have filled up, with a huge amount of interest.
Juliana Julian, health director for Paqtnkek Mi'kmaw Nation, about 23 kilometres east of Antigonish, said she's been looking to bring in this type of training for some time.
There are already family members or loved ones in the community known for being really good coaches who provide local women with birth support in an informal way, she said.
"I think that it makes all the difference in the world, having a Mi'kmaw person supporting you during … a big experience. And it's very personal," Julian said.
A doula is a non-medical professional who assists women during pregnancy, labour and after birth.
Julian said most often women will encounter few Mi'kmaw doctors or nurses in the hospital, so having another Indigenous person to provide support could be uniquely comforting.
While the September training isn't specifically from an Indigenous perspective, Julian said having all Mi'kmaw participants means their culture and identity will become entwined in the subject.
"So they are able to kind of share amongst them, and be part of a support network within Mi'kmaw communities," Julian said.
Reclaiming cultural beliefs, traditions
In Canada, Julian said colonization changed many of the ways Indigenous people traditionally operated, including how residential schools took out so much of the family support around childbirth.
"This is an opportunity to reintroduce some of our cultural beliefs and support around birthing. Having a lot of Mi'kmaw individuals in a room will leave opportunities to bring, kind of, that wrap-around care," Julian said.
Besides those coming from Paqtnkek, Julian said she was excited to see a few people taking the training who live off-reserve. There are usually limited resources for Indigenous moms living outside Mi'kmaw communities, especially rural communities outside the Halifax region, so she said this way the new doulas will be an important bridge.
Paqtnkek partnered with Women's Wellness Within for the program. All participants received scholarship funding.
Martha Paynter, chair of Women's Wellness Within, said their group has been working to diversify the Nova Scotia doula community that is still largely white and centred in Halifax.
So far, they have hosted four other training sessions, including in Eskasoni First Nation and Halifax with a focus on bringing in Mi'kmaw and Black doulas.
Paynter said there's increasing evidence showing people have better health outcomes when their health-care support and providers reflect their identity. A recent study showed Black babies have higher survival rates when they are cared for by Black doctors.
Training brings benefits in other facets of life
For Annie Chau, the benefits of bringing sessions like this into Paqtnkek echo far beyond the immediate birthing experience.
Chau is operations manager with the Antigonish Women's Resource Centre & Sexual Assault Services Association, which is also supporting the training session and has worked with Paqtnkek often over the years.
To really help prevent gender-based or sexual violence, Chau said she's learned from the community that it's vital to start at the beginning and involve as many family members and as much loving support as possible.
"We also have to think about the health of the family. You know, how children are supported, what kind of employment opportunities there are … we can't isolate that issue," she said.
If parents can talk about and recognize healthy relationships with their new baby and family, as well as how they share responsibilities and roles, Chau said that communication is "foundational to how we talk about consent."
The doula training runs Sept.14-16 at the Paqtnkek Health Centre, with COVID-19 restrictions in place.
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