Ontario charity providing free doula support at risk of shutting its doors

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Ontario charity providing free doula support at risk of closing
WATCH: An Ontario based charity offering free doula services to clients in underserved communities including newcomers and women fleeing domestic violence is at risk of closing. Caryn Lieberman explains – Nov 2, 2023

When Carolyn Tangasi came to Canada last October from Kenya, she was eight months pregnant and alone.

“I didn’t know what to do. I was really going through a very hard time,” she said while cradling her new son.

Tangasi was referred to Birth Mark, which offers free-of-charge, full-spectrum, reproductive doula care and complementary perinatal support services, provided by a team of more than 50 providers. Clients are referred through allied community partners, including food security programs and shelters.

“We started with birth and postpartum. … That slowly grew and became bigger and we started offering more services. We added abortion doula services. … We started to see the increase of clients and our donor was on board and we were able to continue to grow and do that work,” said Gillian Cullen, founder and CEO.

“Now we’re an integral part of the reproductive health care system in Toronto and Hamilton and our vision is to have doulas for everybody,” she added.

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Tangasi credits Birth Mark with helping her to feed and clothe her baby.

“Besides doula services, they have helped my son with diapers, clothing and lactation services,” she said.

Operating as a charity, Birth Mark relies on the generosity of donors to be able to offer its many services. Cullen said she recently learned the main donor is redirecting its funds, putting the future of Birth Mark in jeopardy.

“The family that was supporting us is no longer able to do so and it came almost as a shock to our organization,” Cullen said.

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Cullen said the vast majority of its operating budget comes from that single donor.

“There’s nobody here to take our place so what that means is there’s going to be thousands of people that are going to be impacted,” she said.

Cullen said she is concerned for the clients who otherwise would not be able to access such critical services.

“They’re newcomers that are coming here, leaving family, leaving violence, fleeing all sorts of different situations. They’re coming here alone. And we have clients that are maybe struggling in other parts of their lives. We have folks that maybe are looking working through addiction, homelessness, food insecurity, single parents,” she said.

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“With our support, they’re able to understand their rights. They’re able to have a better understanding on how to navigate our complicated systems.”

Mother of triplets Sarah Ombija was introduced to Birth Mark while pregnant with her fourth baby.

“I got the services of the Doula and so she was with me just before I had the baby … and that was the most beautiful support because I don’t have family, like aunties and friends, here in Canada as a newcomer and Birth Mark was the aunties and the neighbours,” she said.

Ombija said she received clothing, diapers, wipes and anything she needed to take care of her new baby boy thanks to the team at Birth Mark.

“I didn’t have a job and they supported me with everything by the time I was going to give birth I was comfortable. I didn’t miss home because they were my home,” she said.

Nikita Gambhir, a birth, postpartum and abortion support doula, said she will meet clients wherever they need her.

“If they are accessing postpartum support or abortion support, for example, we will come into their homes and support with baby feeding. Whatever choice they’re making, we’re really walking them through that and helping them transition into parenthood. For birth support, we go wherever they are hospitals, home birth centres, really, all over the city,” she said.

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Cullen is remaining hopeful that new funding will be attained in time to save Birth Mark.

Anyone who may want to donate or support Birth Mark, she said, is encouraged to visit its website.

“We’re in a time of transition. We’re in a time of change. We’re going to refocus on doula care, which is how we started,” she said. “We are making a call to our cities, Toronto, Hamilton, Ontario, to see how we can continue this work and make sure that there is no gaps left and we really bridged the gaps in reproductive health care over the last five years.”

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