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Health

New collective looks to change reproductive healthcare in NWT

Last modified: March 2, 2021 at 11:47am


Sabrina Flack was just a teenager when she attended her first birth.

It was the mother of a close friend, and the two were there to support her throughout the labour and delivery.

“It was this really wild situation,” Flack remembers with a chuckle. “We were 15, so we were giggling a lot, and we were making her mom laugh.

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“She laughed the baby out, basically, is what she would tell us afterwards.”

Flack recalls the experience as the moment a seed was planted. Ever since, she has had a deep passion for reproductive health and wellness.

“I find that reproductive health is an area where people are really left in the dark,” she explains.

“Having someone to be by your side and help, just being a continuous presence, someone who’s available to answer your questions, to provide comfort, and just be there for you – that’s a really important thing in all areas of health, but especially in pregnancy.”

Flack has worked for nearly two years as a trained doula, providing support to families throughout the pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum periods.

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After moving to Yellowknife in 2020, she started a practice called Moon Sprout Birthwork. February marked its first anniversary.

“I came here and there was one doula actively practising,” Flack says. “I saw it as a great opportunity, a great place to make my business flourish, and it seemed like there was a high demand for that.”

Doula work is built on trust and relationships with clients.

Flack offers a variety of services, from helping expectant parents prepare for a baby, to advocating on their behalf with healthcare providers during delivery, to supporting them once the baby is born.

Flack with babies she witnessed coming into the world. Photo: Submitted

“What I provide as a doula is someone who, from whatever point they hire me, is the same person that they see throughout their pregnancy,” Flack says.

“I am with them from the moment they ask me to be there until a few hours after baby is born. And then the next day, I come visit them at the hospital. So there’s a familiar face.”

It’s been a busy first year for Moon Sprout Birthwork. Alongside the regular pressures of starting a new business, Flack had to adjust to more virtual care during Covid-19. She’s also noticing challenges in Yellowknife.

“Not a lot of people know what a doula is, or a birth worker is, so there’s a lot of campaigning to be done around that so that people actually know that this service is here and it’s something that’s available to them,” Flack says.

“On that note, we’re not covered by any insurance, so it’s not the most accessible thing to get. I provide a sliding scale and I try to really honour and meet people where they’re at. Of course, it’s part of how I pay my rent and bills, so there’s only so much that I can go down to the lower end.

“’I’ve had clients speak to me about a lack of culturally safe and culturally appropriate programming around pregnancy … or being medevaced for birth. Birth is a very spiritually special and sacred time, and there is a lot to be said about people finding a sense of belonging within their communities during that time. To have to leave your community can be really difficult.”

A new collective

To address some of these challenges, Flack and others passionate about birth work in the territory have formed the new Northern Birthwork Collective.

Flack said the group began in earnest last June, amid a surge of activism related to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“There was a lot within the perinatal health and wellness community about the need for more Black doulas, the need for more Indigenous doulas, the need for more doulas that are trained in cultural safety,” Flack told Cabin Radio.

“We started talking about all the gaps and we’re like, instead of just talking about all the gaps, what can we do?”

After a first meeting on Flack’s front lawn, the group set to work establishing a shared goal: making perinatal and reproductive health support more accessible in the NWT.

They are now an official project of MakeWay, formerly known as Tides Canada, with a steering committee of five members. Flack and co-founder Degha Scott serve as staff.  

The logo for the Northern Birthwork Collective, designed by Isis Essery.

“All the ways that we want to see accessibility happening in the world, we are trying to mirror that in the way that we’re going to eventually provide services,” said Flack.

While the Collective is in its preliminary stages, its members have a long list of ideas. They eventually hope to provide subsidized or free doula services in communities and host childbirth education classes.

Flack hopes to launch some programming this fall.

“It’s a lot of work to be done and we are trying to do it mindfully while also knowing that these are services the community deserves to have,” Flack said. “It’s been exciting.”

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