Jem Hewitt-Kehihel has always had an interest in the “natural side of everything.” So when she learned she was expecting her first child, she knew she wanted to pursue a natural childbirth. After deciding to have her baby at Scarborough and Rouge Hospital (SRH) using a midwife through Diversity Midwives, Jem also learned about another service that would prove to be invaluable during her labour and delivery – the Hospital Birth Doula Program.
Launched in 2010, the Hospital Birth Doula Program is the first formal, non-volunteer based doula program at an Ontario hospital. Under this program, expectant mothers can request a doula to be present during their labour and delivery. Although doula services are not covered by provincial health insurance in Ontario, through this unique collaboration, patients are able to pay less than the normal rate for a doula.
“As a non-medical support role, doulas provide a truly unique service to expectant parents,” said Stefanie Antunes, founder and chief doula and educator at Discover Birth, which partners with SRH on the Hospital Birth Doula Program.
“Doulas draw on their knowledge and experience to provide emotional support, physical comfort, and to help facilitate communication with caregivers so that patients have all the information they need in order to have the most satisfying birth experience. Doulas can provide reassurance and perspective to the mom and her partner, make suggestions for labour progress and help with relaxation, massage, positioning, and other techniques for comfort.”
For Jem, who gave birth to her son Idriss Mateo on August 23, 2016, the support she received from every member of her health care team was outstanding; however, it was her “absolutely amazing” doula Rhondda Smiley, who stood out in so many ways.
“She used a special Mexican wrap, called a Rebozo, to help with pressure, and was there throughout every single contraction pouring water over my chest, which felt like a soothing tide going in and coming out,” explains Jem, who had a water birth in the water birth tub at the Birchmount site.
Jem also valued Rhondda’s strength and compassion. “My husband wasn’t able to be in the country for the birth of our baby, so I had my mother and two girlfriends present, one of whom was pregnant,” she said.
“Rhondda was so understanding about this and even offered some coaching advice to my pregnant friend. As well, when the baby was in some distress during my labour, Rhondda stayed calm and helped to walk me through the various options until we ultimately chose to continue with the water birth.”
However, one of the most emotional moments for Jem came right after Idriss’ birth.
“Rhondda held my face in her hands, and, with a big smile on her face, told me ‘you did it. You are an amazing woman.’
“I truly would not have been able to have a natural birth without her.”