HALIFAX -- Systemic racism in the healthcare system has inspired a free course for people of colour interested in training to become a doula.

As a mother and woman of colour, Fantanesh Attomsa says she has seen firsthand racial disparities in Nova Scotia’s health system.

“We are often discriminated against in the health care system,” says Attomsa. “We have a higher mortality rate when it comes to birth, labour and delivery.”

That’s one of the reasons that Attomsa became a doula, a non-clinical birth worker who guides and supports expectant mothers, before, during and after the birth of their child.

“It’s important for Black women to have a doula, so that we can advocate for each other,” says Attomsa. “I don’t want birth to happen to you. I want you to basically be in control of the situation.”

National studies show mothers who use doulas are more likely to have healthier babies while experiencing less complications and mistreatment during child birth, but finding support in the Maritimes from someone of a similar ethnic background isn’t easy.

“The doula work force or volunteer force is incredibly white, and that has implications for people who receive that support,” says Martha Paynter, chair of Wellness Within.

Cultivating that diversity in the doula profession is the motivator behind a free Black doula training program offered by non-profit Wellness Within.

Currently there are more than 50 people on the waiting list.

“I think this extreme demand is a testament to how badly this support is needed,” says Paynter.

It’s a start to reducing the racial gap, but Paynter says the real change needs to start the post-secondary level and above.

“It’s up to schools of nursing, schools of social work, schools of medicine. It’s their responsibility to actively promote, secure and retain students who are Black, Indigenous and other racialized groups,” says Paynter.

So every expectant parent, regardless of race, can receive the support they need during life’s most magnificent moment.

Training has been postponed in light of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in the Halifax area, but you can find more about the doula training program on their website.