Sheila Wiersema is not only a massage therapist, she’s also the only trained labour support provider in Rainy River District.
A labour support provider, also known as a “doula,” is a non-medical assistant who provides physical, emotional, and informational support during childbirth.
“I’ve always found pregnancy and massage interesting,” Wiersema noted, citing studies on the effects of massage for women in labour have revealed it decreased the women’s pain, anxiety, and depression.
After practising massage therapy in Fort Frances for several years, Wiersema researched upgrading her massage techniques to assist women in childbirth and enrolled in a labour support provider course in Toronto.
“I already knew massage, I had to learn how to incorporate that for pregnant woman, like certain positions and what areas to massage,” she explained.
Having never experienced the pains of labour herself, she discovered how to provide relief for women during childbirth.
Wiersema noted she will do whatever she can to attend to the emotional and physical needs of women in labour, whether it be getting them a drink of water or massaging a part of the body.
Since offering this service to clients in the district for nearly a year now, she also has offered up some of her knowledge to couples participating in pre-natal classes.
“Sometimes the husbands don’t know how they can help, but I show them some things they can do,” she remarked.
She explained a touch that offers reassurance, such as cradling the woman, wiping her brow, or massage strokes, can be beneficial during labour.
“It helps increase relaxation, to help conserve energy, and to provide relief from muscle discomfort,” Wiersema noted.
The men are taught there are a number of places to focus massage for their partner, including the feet, hands, neck, shoulders, and lower back.
Wiersema also demonstrates different positions, some using the birth ball, for the couples to try that could offer comfort during labour.
Many of these are upright positions, or positions involving rocking or swaying movements.
“The longer a woman can stay upright, the better because it uses gravity to help dilation,” Wiersema explained, noting these concepts of movement and massage during childbirth are relatively new since for years women have dealt with contractions laying in a hospital bed.
Wiersema admitted sometimes couples seem a little nervous about the techniques because they don’t understand them, but most seem interested and curious.
“All the clients I’ve had seem happy with the results and I’ve gotten good feedback,” she said.
One of her recent clients, Jennifer L’Hirondelle and her husband, Troy, highly recommend Wiersema’s service to other expectant couples.
“We had a really good experience and I’m sure it wouldn’t have been the same without her there,” L’Hirondelle stressed, adding having moved from Vancouver to Fort Frances a few years ago, they were surprised to find a labour support provider in the area.
“Doulas are really popular in Vancouver and I had read a lot of good things about them,” she noted. “And we heard a lot of good things about [Wiersema], so we got in contact with her right away.”
If she is hired, Wiersema said she gets to know her client and follows up with them prior to the delivery. She stays in the room throughout the process—up until two hours after the birth—to offer assistance.
“I do whatever they want me to do,” she remarked. “But the partner is the primary person and I’m there as a secondary. I can coach the husbands through it, if they want.
“The purpose is to have all the concentration on the mom.”
L’Hirondelle, a first-time mom, said Wiersema was extremely supportive of everything they wanted to do throughout the labour.
“It made me confident in how I wanted to do things . . . and she wanted to be sure I didn’t regret anything,” she added.
She noted Wiersema’s massage techniques were a sure relief for her lower back pain.
“I spent almost the entire time on the [birth] ball, which was really good because I was able to tilt my hips and redirect any of the pain,” she remarked.
And while her husband and mother were involved in the process leading up to the birth, Wiersema was able to give them a break at times and she often conversed with the nurses—sometimes reminding them of L’Hirondelle’s pain medication preferences.
“I was comfortable having her in the room . . . she was really helpful,” L’Hirondelle said, noting the cost of hiring Wiersema was definitely worth it.
“It’s more expensive to get one in the city,” she remarked. “It’s a big city perk for a small city price.”
Wiersema stressed everything is done in a professional and confidential manner.
“The more help you can give the mom in labour, the more she can enjoy every aspect of the experience,” she remarked.
People interested in massage during labour, or if they have any questions, can contact Wiersema at 274-4414. They will not be charged unless she is hired.