By Joanne McQuarrie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

For more than 11 years, Jenna McGrath has been assisting families as a doula with the birth of their children.

This work is an extension of McGrath’s other chosen paths as a registered massage therapist (RMT), a sports injury therapist and a yoga instructor. 

“My own birthing experience is what led me to become the nurturing caregiver that I am,” McGrath said.

“I lost my first pregnancy. I birthed my first baby that didn’t come home with me.”

McGrath was praised by an attending nurse for her calm breathing during that time.

“I transformed that into, ‘How can I bring healing to others?’” she said.

“I placed that grief into a place to build me up and assist others.”

She described becoming a doula as “a very convenient process.”

“There’s one weekend of teaching followed by required ready and training. There are three certification births. You attend a birth offered free of charge, and you have nurses and doctors sign off on your role.”

McGrath became a doula with the focus of supporting loss but it evolved into something more.

“In reality I’m helping families birth their healthy babies on a regular basis,” she said.

At the same time, if there are complications that result in heartache and loss, she said, “I can assist them, having gone through it myself.”

To date, McGrath has assisted with about 70 births “from high-risk vaginal birth after a cesarean, to twin pregnancy, premature babies and everything in between.”

“I rely on my RMT designation and (being a) yoga instructor,” she said.

Some people choose to have a doula for their first pregnancy, and some wait for their second pregnancy before giving her a call.

The connection between McGrath and families she assists starts soon into a pregnancy. 

“We meet when they’re early pregnant and establish a relationship and rapport right from the get-go,” she said.

“It’s about eight-to-10 months prior to the birth. I support them with information and resources.”

McGrath accepts two clients a month, maximum.

“You’re on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” she said.

“It sometimes leaves my support network wondering if I’ll be in attendance.”

Being on call is very handy, considering there have been times when a baby is born an hour after the mom arrives at the hospital.

McGrath has had much longer waits too.

“I’ve been in a hospital up to 60 hours,” she said.

Her attention doesn’t finish at the hospital; McGrath provides postpartum care too. 

McGrath assists families in both Jasper and Hinton.

“Being in small-town Jasper, these families have to go to Hinton to give birth,” she said.

“It’s an increased logistic to plan for.” 

She offers a free consultation for people interested in her services as a doula.

Doulas can be a complement to services a midwife provides.

To be a midwife requires a four-year undergraduate degree and registration with the Alberta Association of Midwives and the College of Midwives of Alberta.

“Midwives have quite a wide scope of practice,” said Chelsea Miklos, a midwife and president of the Alberta Association of Midwives.

“Most of us provide care from early pregnancy—the first two, three months… all the way (through). It’s almost a year from start to finish, about six weeks after birth.”

Miklos said there are three core values in midwifery. One is continuity of care.

“You and the person know each other well; you develop a relationship over time,” she said.

The second is choosing a birthplace, with the three main options being hospital birth, home birth and a birth centre.

The third core value is informed choice.

The person having the baby is the primary decision maker,” Miklos said.

“We provide clinical recommendations. People continue to make choices for their own care.”

Miklos lauded the important role doulas have in assisting with pregnancies.

“We encourage people to work with doulas,” she said.

“They don’t provide clinical care, but they are amazing. Doulas have a very positive impact on birth outcomes.” 

In fact, Miklos said studies have shown when a doula assists with a pregnancy, they reduce cesarean section rates and decrease the trauma of birth.

Alberta has four birth centres, but midwifery has not yet made its way to Jasper or West Yellowhead.

“The majority of people who hire me are people who are interested in midwifery,” McGrath said.

“It’s not available in the West Yellowhead region. Our region and Hinton residents don’t have access to the same choices in care… as people in the rest of the province. Increased advocacy is needed so the province hears West Yellowhead is interested in having the choice of midwifery.”

This item is reprinted with permission from Jasper Fitzhugh, Jasper, Alberta. See article HERE.

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