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A helping hand after childbirth

Cheryl Montour has raised five of her own children and six grandchildren. Now, she wants to offer support to new mothers and families in the first weeks of a child’s life. Courtesy Cheryl Montour

When a new baby is born, there’s a flurry of excitement. 

Family members want to meet the little one for the first time, everybody wants to see photos, and even acquaintances on Facebook are demanding news about the name. 

It’s easy in the hustle and bustle of newborn life for the feelings and well-being of new parents to fall to the wayside as they battle sleepless nights and complicated postpartum care.

That’s why community member Cheryl Montour has launched a new pilot program named “Helping Hands” aiming to support new mothers and families in the first six weeks after childbirth. 

“It’s for the mother and the parents to get that special bonding time with their baby. I’m able to go to their house and clean, do laundry, whatever they need, do errands, maybe watch other children,” she said. “There’s also a closing ceremony where they can have a pelvic steam or herbal bath and a massage, like a bone closing, which is like a ceremony that closes your healing process and opens you up for motherhood.”

Under the initiative, 40 hours of support will be offered, as well as a basket of items to help new parents, including reusable diapers, wipes, diaper cream, nipple cream, and gift cards to local food businesses. 

She secured funding from Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS) to operate the initiative for two months, with the possibility of extending it if there’s adequate demand from families. 

“In the past, we had our extended families living together. We used to naturally take care of our family members, if our daughters or our cousins had babies,” Montour said. “But now, most of the time, those helpers already have jobs too. It’s so expensive to live. There’s not even enough time to be dedicated to somebody.”

Montour said that she is passionate about the intersections of culture and motherhood, having received training from Indigenous midwives in Mexico. She hopes that her initiative will allow new mothers to feel supported within the community, contributing to the overall goal of early childhood care being offered by and for community members.

“I know how difficult it can be in those first couple of weeks, especially if you have other children. You’re trying to focus and make sure everyone gets the same amount of time from you and your newborn is relying on you. It’s difficult,” she said. “Especially if you don’t have help in the house, regardless of the reason.”

Montour said she’s already received positive feedback on her initiative, including from Konwati’shatstenhsherawi’s, a group based in the community made up of trained birth workers providing support before and during the birth process.

“This is such a need in the community, and from our perspective, the work we’ve done thus far in bringing awareness to even midwifery and natural births is just getting the ball rolling,” said Jody Jacobs, a trained birth helper with Konwati’shatstenhsherawi’s. 

“We’re so proud of Cheryl and excited to see this project be a complementary service that we can work together for the betterment of our community.”

Jessie Beauvais, who is currently completing her birth helper training with Konwati’shatstenhsherawi’s, emphasized the importance of connection between caregivers and new parents. 

“To be able to be there in those moments when they are so vulnerable is an amazing feeling,” Beauvais said. “Being in the moment myself is amazing and the best, but being on the other side of helping and supporting someone give birth is something else. It’s so fulfilling for my heart and soul.”

Jacobs said that it is imperative for community-led initiatives to be prioritized so that families are able to access the right kind of support. 

“It’s healing. It’s really about taking back ownership of who we are, our family structures, our family connections, our units, and how to be a community to one another,” she said. 

Joy-Marie Canadian, who previously shared her traumatic birth experience at Anna Laberge with The Eastern Door last year, said that initiatives like these have the power to completely change the birth experience for new mothers. 

“It would be wonderful, because so many people don’t feel comfortable leaving the community to seek help,” she said.

Canadian said support from the community members can prevent trauma during and after the birthing experience.

“I wouldn’t have gotten hurt if I had the support. It made me wish I had a doula from town, because my rights weren’t being met, my needs weren’t being met,” she said. “When I was at my most vulnerable I could barely talk to explain what I wanted or the help that I needed. To have this in town, a safe space with people we know and people who cherish our children, who appreciate our babies, is wonderful.”

For those who have very recently given birth or who will be giving birth soon, community members can contact Helping Hands at 450-632-6134. Konwati’shatstenhsherawi’s is also accepting new clients and can be contacted at konwatishatstenhsherawis@gmail.com.

Montour encourages all new parents to reach out, regardless of whether it’s their first child or if they’re an experienced mom.

“Don’t be shy to ask for help,” she said. “Everybody can use it.”

evedcable@gmail.com

This article was originally published in print on February 9 in issue 33.06 of The Eastern Door.

Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.