Lo­cal mid­wifery com­mu­nity sees di­verse clients

Mona Ab­del-Fat­tah’s Ara­bic roots serve her well

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - NATALIE PADDON The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor

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.

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