Native Mothers Need Native Midwives

birth

Dear Governor Joseph Talachy and/or Pueblo of Pojoaque Council,
I am writing to you in support of Nicolle Gonzales, the Changing Woman Initiative, and the Birth Center in Pojoaque.
I have been a labor and delivery nurse, birth doula and postpartum doula for the past 13 years. I have worked all over the country, including for nine months as a travel nurse in women’s health (labor and postpartum) on the Navajo Nation in Chinle, AZ.
My experience working in Chinle changed me forever, but also created within me a longing to support a better model of care.

When I worked in Chinle, every single midwife working there was white, Anglo-Saxon, and English-speaking. While women of Chinle are blessed to receive nursing care from their own people, there were NO Native American midwives serving them, nor Native American obstetricians overseeing their care. The facilities where Native American women came to receive care were created, designed and run by the Indian Health Services, a federal agency run by the U.S. government.

Working at Chinle, I started to wonder: what is the significance of a lack of representation in healthcare FOR Native American women, BY Native American women? And another question that affects us all …

What is the significance of truly culturally competent healthcare (rather than the bare minimum of staff competency training)?

How do women’s supported and empowered births and experiences of early motherhood transform their lives, their families’ lives, and their communities?
How does supportive birth enhance community resilience?
I know that you are familiar with the data about the risks of being a Native American woman … they are more likely to raped, assaulted, or killed by intimate partner violence than any other group of women. While Native American women go missing or murdered at horrific rates, their stories are rarely featured in the media. There STILL exists no comprehensive data collection system regarding the number of missing and murdered Native American women. They literally disappear in the night.
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH BIRTH AND WOMEN’S HEALTH?
Over the years, study after study has shown that continuous
presence and support for a laboring woman improves her birth outcomes. Continuous, woman-to-woman (also known as doula-) support, lowers a laboring mother’s risk of a Cesarean birth, decreases her desire for analgesia or anesthesia, and increases her baby’s Apgar scores.
Most significantly, continuous labor (doula) support, enhances a woman’s perception of her birth and her ability to bond with her baby — benefits that will impact the rest of her and her baby’s life.

The benefits of doula support have the GREATEST impact when they are provided to women who are most at risk – teen mothers, women who are financially and socially vulnerable, women who experience high levels of stress in their daily lives, and women of color. Native American women, one of the most at-risk populations in the country, would be MOST likely to benefit from this kind of support.

To my knowledge, other than Nicolle’s work, there is no doula or midwifery program or training model that currently exists to meet the specific needs of Native American women. There is no model or program that nurtures the peer-to-peer or woman-to-woman support that Native mothers need. There are only a handful of Native American midwives practicing in the United States or Indian Country today.

 

LET ME TELL YOU A TRUE STORY.
When a teenaged, Native American mother, walks barefoot into a hospital, she meets a midwife who doesn’t look like her. This midwife looks this young woman up and down. She asks her why she didn’t attend her prenatal visits, why she isn’t taking prenatal vitamins, why she went back to a boyfriend who beat her up. Her tone of voice is short. Her language is condescending, and culturally insensitive.

While this encounter could have been an opportunity for this pregnant woman to receive valuable, and possibly life-saving, information, instead she and her concerns are dismissed.

While this woman may have received medical treatment, she walks away from this encounter feeling disrespected. She learns that she does not wish to seek out care if this is her only option, not unless it is an absolute emergency. She learns that she is not valued, or welcomed.
THE BIRTH CENTER IN POJOAQUE will provide a model for the kind of care this woman would have needed. It will provide sensitive, culturally-attentive care that GOES BEYOND meeting a pregnant woman’s basic medical needs. This Birth Center will care for her WHOLE self: the holistic emotional, mental, and spiritual support she needs in order to thrive in new motherhood.
This birth center will be a sanctuary where women can gather and welcome new mothers most in need of these spaces. These new mothers will be welcomed into the sacred realm of mothering. The key word, is WELCOMED.

They will be welcomed regardless of the circumstances surrounding their pregnancies, what trauma they’ve experienced, or pain they carry. They will be supported, heard, held, affirmed and loved.

THIS is this kind of support that can change a new mother’s life.

THIS is the kind of support that will fortify a new mother as she confronts the challenges of motherhood, and of Native womanhood.

THIS will allow her to become a role model herself, so that she can support and strengthen the fellow women of her community.

THE BIRTH CENTER IN POJOAQUE will be a place where young women can learn that Native American women are not expendable. They will learn that they, Native American women, are far too valuable to go missing in the night.
A young mother will learn, then teach, then remember – to be a Native Woman is to be beautiful, resilient, and unique. To be a Native Woman is to be SACRED, and worthy of the greatest care.

As women give birth to babies, so they give birth to communities.

We gratefully ask for your support as Nicolle gives birth to the future of your community.

Sincerely,

Kate Novotny

PLEASE LEARN MORE ABOUT NICOLLE AT HER WEBSITE, THE CHANGING WOMAN INITIATIVE.

PLEASE WRITE YOUR OWN STORY IN SUPPORT OF BIRTH CENTER IN POJOAQUE, TO Governor Joseph Talachy and/or Pueblo of Pojoaque Council, at rsanchez@pojoaque.org.

 

FEATURED ARTWORK VIA NICOLLE GONZALES.

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