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Indigenous birthworker providing culturally sensitive care to pregnant women in Yellowknife

Treiva Plamondon is changing the way Indigenous women in the Northwest Territories experience childbirth.
Hay River’s Treiva Plamondon holds a baby in Yellowknife, where she now works as a full-time Indigenous birthworker with Northern Birthwork Collective. Plamondon provides culturally sensitive support to women before, during and after their pregnancies. Photo courtesy of Treiva Plamondon

Treiva Plamondon is changing the way Indigenous women in the Northwest Territories experience childbirth.

This year, the 24-year-old from Hay River became a full-time birthworker with the Northern Birthworkers Cooperative. She offers culturally sensitive support to Indigenous women before, during and after their pregnancies.

“With my full-time job now, I have the capacity to spend more time with these people and kind of adjust their care to what they need more than what’s convenient for me,” she said from Yellowknife, where she provides her services to women from across the territory.

Plamondon, who is Métis, said she has been fascinated by birth since she was a young girl. She credits her early interest in the subject to the Alaskan malamutes that her grandmother bred when she was growing up. She recalls being filled with curiosity whenever one of the large dogs had a litter.

“I never really thought of it until recently, about where my interest came from, but I really think that was my first memory of being interested in this kind of work,” she said. “I feel like it was just something that was just always a part of me.”

Plamondon got her first hands-on experience in Grade 12, when she began shadowing the midwives who had recently returned to Hay River. It was under the tutelage of those midwives that she witnessed childbirth for the first time.

“When I found out that Hay River was getting midwives, I took that as an opportunity to reach out to them and ask if I can learn from them,” she said. “They were new and developing their program still, but they took time to allow me to shadow them.

“With the consent of parents, they asked if I could join in on some of their prenatal appointments and postpartum appointments, and then eventually there was two families that allowed me into their actual birth room as they were giving birth when I was in high school, in grade 12 in 2017. That’s really where it started, just shadowing the midwives in Hay River and then kind of just like falling into the role as a support person.”

Plamondon aims to become a midwife one day, but in the meantime will provide another very important type of a service as a birthworker. Birthworkers, also known as doulas, are are trained professionals who support families and individuals during pregnancy, birth and postpartum by providing emotional, physical and informational support. They also provide support in situations involving abortion and miscarriage.

’Trust our bodies’

Plamondon’s services are tailored specifically to Indigenous women in the territory, who she said must contend with factors like generational trauma and a lack of resources in addition to the usual challenges of pregnancy.

“Even living in Hay river, we have a lack of resources and it’s one of the larger communities in the Northwest Territories,” she said. “I’m still learning traditions and things, and I think we’re all on our own little journey, but I want to help families connect to traditions and ceremonies for birth throughout their reproductive care. There’s so many things that our ancestors used to do that aren’t practised today.”

Plamondon loves her work, but admits there are some difficult aspects to the job, which requires her to be on-call for her clients over a period of up to 38 weeks.

She has yet to experience loss in her role, but recognizes that it may happen, and that it will be “a really hard experience.”

“These people need support and I’m ready to support them if they need that,” she said.

Humble about the impact of her work, Plamondon acknowledged that she gets “really good feedback” from the parents she works with. She said that when she encounters them in other contexts, they’re often eager to provide updates about their children, and some have even asked her to help out when they next have children.

She hopes to continue effecting positive change in the NWT medical industry until, one day, women can more easily give birth in small communities, without having to travel to larger centres, such as Hay River and Yellowknife, for care.

“For many years, women birthed on the land and whether it was in the middle of the ice or in a teepee as they were travelling to their next camp, women did it and there was no worries about their births,” she said. “We’ve created this worrisomeness about birth, and we’ve made it so medicalized, it’s as though it’s a disease, but it’s not. It’s a natural process and we’ve been doing it like everywhere. The whole world’s been doing it forever.

“We’ve forgotten to trust our bodies and I really hope that that, one day, we can have people birthing in their communities again.”