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06 Feb, Monday
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Montreal Families

The Role of the Doula

Becoming pregnant is an exciting time in a woman’s life but it can also be a stressful journey, with many questions and concerns about the upcoming childbirth. Doulas are trained to offer women physical and emotional support before, during and after childbirth.

When Iskra Kaneva was pregnant with her second child, she worried about who would be by her side when she delivered. With no other family in Montreal (she immigrated from Bulgaria five years ago), Kavena knew that her husband would have to stay at home and look after their son.

“I was a little bit worried about how I would manage when it came time to deliver,” she said. “If it happened at night, would I have to go to the hospital alone?”

So she turned to a social worker at the Cote des Neiges CLSC, who told her about the services provided by doulas. “I didn’t know what a doula was,” she said.

Kavena went online and discovered that doulas are trained birth companions who provide physical and emotional support to women before, during and after childbirth. Doulas are not midwives and do not provide medical care. Instead, they offer other kinds of advice and support.

Rivka Cymbalist is a doula who trains and certifies others in this field. Her course consists of 80 hours of class time where students study the basics of anatomy and physiology of birth, massage and breastfeeding. They also learn about the challenges that can arise during pregnancy, childbirth and post partum. Before certification, students must also be present at a number of births.

Cymbalist says she teaches her students how to help a woman through the challenges she faces after becoming pregnant and to understand the advice given by medical professionals.

The services of a doula can cost anywhere from $300 to $1,200. Cymbalist also runs a volunteer, free-of-charge doula service called Montreal Birth Companions. The service was started to help low-income women who are alone or don’t have family to help them during pregnancy. Last year, Montreal Birth Companions served 50 women.

“This is my baby project,” Cymbalist says. “We’ve helped women who have come from the Congo, Chad or Cameroon, and have had some horrific experiences…a lot of them have been raped by soldiers but still have the baby,” she said. “It is an amazing gift when doulas can help these women through their pregnancy.”

Most were referred by the Diet Dispensary, a volunteer organization that provides nutritional counselling, prenatal and breastfeeding classes.

Stephanie Elliott, 21, has been following Cymbalist’s doula certification course since October. She, along with another student, is the doula who attended to Kaneva.

“When we are working with clients, it is our primary function to make sure they have the best birth experience they can have,” Elliott said. “It is important that throughout the birth they feel as if they are in a safe place. We help them with prenatal preparation for the birth, attendance at the birth and then post partum follow up to make sure they are okay.”

For Kaneva, her doulas were there exactly when she needed them. When her water broke at 4 a.m. one snowy day in March, she called one of her doulas, who met her at the hospital at 4:30 a.m. “The other doula came and they stayed with me before and during the labour and massaged me. I was so happy to have them there.”

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