On an early morning over nine years ago, I was awoken by the tell-tale signs of labour. I was 39-weeks pregnant with my second daughter and was extremely nervous, because my first birth experience had been very traumatic. I was anxious, but that feeling subsided when my Indigenous Midwife arrived at the hospital and said, “I offered tobacco for you and your baby before I came to see you today.”
With my Indigenous Midwife as my primary healthcare provider, and my mom as my doula by my side, I had a beautiful natural birth that was both life-altering and empowering. My mom was an incredible support to me throughout the labour, reminding me to “talk to my baby” as we were working together, reminding me to trust that the grandmothers and grandfathers were watching over us. She was a natural doula who had travelled extensively throughout the United States and Canada attending Indigenous ceremonies, and had also spent some time at Ina May Gaskin’s farm. My mom is a pillar of strength who is often called to the births and bedsides of family and friends. She is a community doula.
After my daughter was born in 2006, I became a certified doula and began supporting women in labour. In 2010, I was accepted into the UCN Kanaci Otinawawasowin Bachelor of Midwifery program. Currently, I am working as a Registered Midwife in Winnipeg’s core area. As a Midwife, I am in the unique position of providing care for families in homes, birth centers and hospitals. I often work in collaboration with a variety of healthcare providers and community agencies. Through my community-based experience and the guidance of mentors, I have come to recognize the value of building relationships to help facilitate woman-centered, culturally-appropriate care during pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period.
These experiences have also shown me that there is a great need for culturally-appropriate resources that are designed to respond to the specific needs of Indigenous women in regards to pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding in Manitoba. In saying that, it is important to acknowledge that there are many champions within the community who are working towards addressing that need.
As an Indigenous woman, it is also important for me to acknowledge the historical impacts of colonization and patriarchal policies which have resulted in the loss of birth knowledge in Indigenous communities. Prior to colonization, birth was a community event and women were supported by Indigenous midwives and women’s helpers or doulas. Currently, women living in Indigenous communities in Manitoba are evacuated at 36 weeks in order to give birth in an urban center. The expecting mother leaves the support of her family and community for 4-6 weeks and often gives birth alone.
In addition to the removal of birthing from Indigenous communities, it is important to consider the intergenerational effects that the trauma of residential schools and the 60’s scoop has had on Indigenous families. With an increasing number of Indigenous babies and children in the care of Child and Family Services, Indigenous women are seeking out healing for themselves and their families through culturally-based programming and culturally-appropriate resources. They are yearning to reclaim traditional knowledge surrounding pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and parenting. A culmination of many factors have led to the development of the Manitoba Indigenous Doula Initiative. As a primary healthcare provider, I recognize how my clients benefit from being supported by a doula. An Indigenous doula is a specially trained birth companion who provides support for women and families during pregnancy, labour, and after birth. A doula does not perform any clinical procedures; rather, they provide emotional, physical and spiritual support. This level of support can lead to healthier pregnancies, a more positive and empowering birth experience, and increased breastfeeding and bonding in the postpartum period.
The positive potential for this initiative to empower and support women and families in the period surrounding this sacred time is immeasurable.Our Indigenous-led Doula Initiative envisions a full-spectrum doula training program that will encourage traditional approaches to healthy pregnancies, healthy sexuality, culturally-appropriate childbirth education, and breastfeeding and parenting support through community-based programming. The Manitoba Indigenous Doula Initiative envisions a program that will be a step towards the healing and strengthening of Indigenous families and communities for many generations to come.