Meet Hamilton's first Arabic-speaking midwife

When Mona Abdel-Fattah applied for her first midwife job she mentioned that she knew Arabic and about Islamic culture, but claims she was told "you won't use that" by the practice. 

That was four years ago. 

Now, Hamilton's only Arabic-speaking midwife says her knowledge of the language is more important than ever because it allows her "to provide better care for these clients." 

"They have a huge appreciation for hearing the information in their own language and I think it is especially comforting for them in labour," she said. 

The 37-year-old midwife has been working with Arabic-speaking clients, who don't know English, for the last three years, after noticing a gap in the care being provided to new immigrants and Syrian refugees. 

With more people coming in from the Middle East and over 1,000 Syrian refugees living in Hamilton, Abdel-Fattah says demand for her services has grown. 

"There is a huge gap with Arabic-speakers who work as midwives," said Salimah Moffett, board member at Refuge: Hamilton Centre for Newcomer Health. 

"There's lots of Iranian midwives who speak Pashto... I think that's because there's a lack of understanding that midwifery is a viable profession. Many Arabic-speakers' parents didn't grow up in Canada so they don't know about midwifery and they don't understand the benefits because we don't have the title of doctor in front of our name and we aren't nurses either."

Since there's a lack of midwives who can communicate this way, a quarter of Abdel-Fattah's clients rely on her to bridge the language barrier and guide them through Canada's healthcare system — a landscape often foreign to them. 

"I think that they disclose more to me than they might have if they are talking to someone through translation," she said. "There are some sensitive things that they might not want to disclose if they were having to say it through a third party." 

First Arabic-speaking client

Her first Arabic-speaking woman she helped was from Salé, Morocco. 

"I was pregnant and I needed to know everything about my pregnancy, and I can't speak English," said Imane Larhrissi Cibari. "I was very interested in my case, my baby, everything and she gave me all the information about my case in Arabic."

'They have a huge appreciation for hearing the information in their own language and I think it is especially comforting for them in labour.' - Mona Abdel-Fattah

Larhrissi Cibari recalls this being crucial for her psychological health. She even used Abdel-Fattah again for her second pregnancy. 

"I was curious and I had a lot of questions. I needed answers," she added. "Even if she didn't know the word, she tried to look for the word on Google translator, so she tried to give me more information and details."

'Rapport, trust and an ongoing relationship'

The Dundas, Ont. resident learned to speak Arabic growing up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, before coming to Canada in 1997. 

But she says that while she became proficient in Arabic from living in the Middle East, she had to brush up on medical terminology, which was different from day-to-day speaking.  

"It's been quite the journey," she said. 

Language helps her establish "a rapport, trust and an ongoing relationship" with her clients, many of whom keep in touch with her after being discharged from her care. 

"It helps, too, for them to have someone in the community that they can call and ask questions when they're dealing with a healthcare system that is unfamiliar and a city that is completely unfamiliar too." 

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