Local midwifery community sees diverse clients
Mona Abdel-Fattah’s Arabic roots serve her well
When Mona Abdel-Fattah became a midwife, she didn’t think there would be many opportunities for her to use her second language in her practice.
The 37-year-old Hamilton woman, who was born in Saudi Arabia, learned Arabic as a child at school but didn’t have a reason to speak it in a clinical setting until 2013.
“It wasn’t surprising, but it was a bit nerve-racking at first,” said Abdel-Fattah, who is believed to be the only Arabic-speaking midwife in Hamilton.
Since 2015, Abdel-Fattah has been
involved in the care of 42 Arabic-speaking women. Last year alone, the clinic where she practises — The Hamilton Midwives on Hughson Street South — had almost 50 Arabic-speaking clients.
Both the community and the clients the clinic serves have shifted since she started there as a student in 2012.
“We had mostly middle class, predominantly Caucasian clients,” Abdel-Fattah said.
But with more than 1,300 Syrians settled in Hamilton last year, she now receives referrals from social service agencies, family doctors and women who’ve passed her name on.
“We’re getting a lot of a broader mix of clients and of course an entire population of Muslim women,” said Abdel-Fattah, who is Muslim herself.
“It’s been really nice to be able to have that language to talk to clients right now because there’s such an influx of Arabic-only speaking clients, so that’s kind of where my passion is at this time.”
It’s been a learning experience for Abdel-Fattah because her clinical use of Arabic required beefing up at first. She moved to Canada with her family at age 10.
But beyond the language, it’s also been enriching to learn about different birth traditions and values, she said.
For example: sharing in muggeli — a traditional, cinnamon-tasting tea with walnuts — with families after birth, or experiencing the Muslim birth rite of an Islamic prayer being the first words spoken to a newborn baby.
But there have also been challenges in helping newcomers navigate a system that is often much different than what they may have witnessed elsewhere.
It took six hours for Abdel-Fattah to help her first Syrian client. She could not get discharged from the hospital with her baby until the family had a car seat.
Now, the clinic has a car seat on hand for people to use if they cannot afford one and do not have a vehicle of their own, she said.
It’s not uncommon for a midwife to dedicate this kind of time to help a client struggling to navigate the system, Abdel-Fattah said. “There are times when we’re spending lots of time around navigating community resources for teen moms or for women who are having issues with mental health.”
Midwives at the Hughson Street South clinic are involved in the Midwives Young Parent Network, which has a goal of improving care and access for pregnant teens, as well as the Shelter Health Network to provide oncall access to prenatal care for homeless and transient women.
Manavi Handa knows well the challenges of working with marginalized populations.
Last winter, the midwife at West End Midwives and professor at Ryerson University provided care to pregnant Syrian refugees at Canada’s largest refugee-receiving hotel in Toronto. Given that she could not speak Arabic, and less than a handful of the thousands who made their way through the hotel could speak English, communication was an issue.
The profession is in “need of a lot more diversity,” said Handa, who has been a midwife for 17 years.
But in situations where a large refugee population is being resettled, even having centralized translation services for health-care providers to access could help lessen the burden on practitioners, she said.
“I know those things sound complicated, but regionally they shouldn’t be so difficult to co-ordinate,” Handa said.
Mona Abdel-Fattah, a Hamilton midwife who speaks Arabic, has worked closely with Syrian refugees. Working with them and others has been an enriching cultural experience, she says.