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Orthodox midwives look to service their community

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Rivky Meldung, back, and Gemma Greenberg are Orthodox midwives who practice at Uptown Midwives & Family Wellness, a holistic clinic in Toronto. (Barbara Silverstein photo)

Missing a night of sleep is pretty routine for Rivky Meldung and Gemma Greenberg. They are midwives and when they’re on call, they have to be available for childbirths 24/7.

The women are two of the 800-plus midwives who practice in Ontario. But Meldung and Greenberg are unique: they’re Orthodox Jews.

“We are the only frum midwives in all of Ontario,” Meldung said.

She and Greenberg are part of Uptown Midwives & Family Wellness, an interdisciplinary holistic clinic that also offers chiropractics, counselling, education, nursing, physiotherapy, naturopathic medicine and lactation consultation.

“It’s culturally sensitive to Jewish and Orthodox women,” Meldung said.

“We felt a responsibly to our community to create something to make these women’s lives easier regarding wellness,” Greenberg explained. “Orthodox women have more babies than the general population.”

She said they chose the clinic – which opened in August and is located near Bathurst Street and Lawrence Avenue, a neighbourhood with a large Orthodox population – because they felt there was a gap in midwifery services in this area. “We wanted to be centralized in the Jewish community. There are a lot of very Orthodox women who don’t drive,” added Greenberg.

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Meldung and Greenberg have also introduced a new educational program. They have a government grant to run prenatal classes geared toward Orthodox women. The classes – four sessions are put on four times a year – include guest speakers from the community who talk about such diverse topics as labour, pain management, as well as physical, mental and sexual health.

The multidisciplinary component of Uptown Midwives is unusual, Greenberg said. “We wanted to be part of starting something new. We wanted to do something different from other practices that are out there.”

These services are about family wellness and having all the disciplines under one roof is a convenience, Meldung said. “We work with a wonderful group of people who are sensitive to the needs of Orthodox women.”

Meldung and Greenberg were both born in England, where midwifery is more established than in Canada. “In Britain, the labour rooms are run by midwives,” Meldung said.

One of the advantages of midwifery is that the pregnant woman will know the person who assists in the birth of her child, because throughout her pregnancy, she is looked after by two or three of the midwives in their group, Greenberg said.

Two midwives are present for every birth, even when they take place in a hospital – one for the mother and the other to look after the baby.

Both women work out of North York General Hospital and consult with physicians in the event of complications.

About 85 per cent of women choose to have hospital births, because they want the option of pain relief, Meldung said. Epidurals are only administered by physicians.

Hospitals also give people a feeling of security,” Meldung added. “We are equally happy to deliver in the hospital, or at home. Women should be able to have their babies where they feel most comfortable.”

Meldung had her five children at home. “Home births are safe because we monitor the women carefully and we transfer them to the hospital when there are any abnormal signs,” she said.

Greenberg, a mother of four, has also experienced home births. She said midwives come well-prepared when births take place at home. “We have all kinds of medical equipment – oxygen tanks, suction machines, IV and monitoring equipment, etc.,” said Greenberg.

“But we don’t take any chances at home. We only stay at home when everything is perfect.”

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