Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Life in the Day of a Native American Midwife

"Every Day is a Good Day"

               As I sit here and write this blog, I find myself thinking about my purpose and wonder how it will all come together.  Please don't mistake this for doubt, but rather honesty.  You see, I have a big dream, at which I work daily to make a reality.  This deep purpose to use indigenous spiritual beliefs to help find solutions to contemporary problems....I think Wilma Mankiller said it best.." the creator provided us with ceremonies to remind us of our place in the universe and our responsibilities as human beings." It is with this view of the world that I see a way for our native people to thrive again.  However, I understand I have a long journey ahead of me, for this is not a task easily attained in a couple of years time, rather a lifetime goal.  For those who do not know me, I'm not a one task kinda gal, nor do I feel approaching this one task at a time will do either.  
                 Just to give you a little insight on what I've been up to I'm happy to say that I've teamed up with Longhouse Media to start making a film about Native American Midwives and the importance of tradition, culture and ceremony in pregnancy and birth.  It will be a documentary that will hopefully be shown on PBS and National Geographic.  No this is not a film that will give away all our ceremonial secrets, rather I hope it will emphasize our unique world view on birth and how important it is to Native American women to birth in a cultural way.  This idea steams from my own experience as a student midwife and the questions I received from my family about my chosen profession.  As much as I love Ina May's work, before entering school, I've never read a thing about her, nor did I view our profession as a "hippie" thing.  However, this was how it was viewed by my family.  It wasn't until I met my dear friend Ursula, that I realized that we had a deep cultural history in midwifery.  You can imagine my surprise, because me..a native woman did not even know this?  I can only blame this on the strong emphasis on the many health policy changes and the emergence of hospitals on our reservations that have taken  Native American midwives out of the picture.  I'm not sure whether it was purposeful and I will not lead you down that path, but hopefully your curiosity will cause you to read about this event.                
           This is actually a very large project and will take 3 years to make.  We are still at the planning phase, but hopefully a website will eventually be set up to view updates on it.  I feel blessed to have met up with Longhouse Media and that they are just as excited as I am about making this movie with me.  Movie making is way left field out of my realm, but I look forward to the story telling and learning about what other tribes are doing to keep birth sacred in a cultural sense.

Longhouse Media

            Additionally, I am also working with some pretty amazing midwives from Espanola to start a birth center.  That also is in the planning phase, we are still working on becoming a non-profit organization and gathering information to make it a sustainable practice in the community.  We happily have hired a project manager to help coordinate all our ideas and talents to make forward progress.  My piece in all this is still gathering cultural and traditional birth knowledge in the surrounding pueblos so that we can provide culturally appropriate care.  This however has proven to be a challenge, as that some tribes have made a decision to not write down their language and that it will only be passed down verbally.  It is also a challenge because it seems few elders remember what those traditional birth practices were before hospitals became part of the picture. 
               These projects are on going, but exciting too.  I love talking to elders about tribal knowledge and cultural practices.  As if these two projects were not enough, my Espanola midwife colleagues and I have agreed to present at a the New Mexico Public Health Association and University of New Mexico Health Disparities Joint Conference.  Basically " Birthing Options in New Mexico: Addressing health disparities through innovative models of midwifery care."  This presentation is not a 2 man presentation, we are teaming up with Women United, Nightingale Midwifery, and Taos Birth Center.  I'm all about collaboration and team work.  I'm also part of a panel of midwives who will be presenting at the ACNM conference in Long Beach, CA to talk about "Bringing Cultural Diversity to Midwifery."
                  I am happy to say that my small stabs at educating the greater public about midwifery and the importance of culturally diversifying midwifery, has not gone un-noticed.  There can now be two more Native American Midwives added to NM.  I am proud to see them stepping up to the task at hand and know that I am not alone in the work that needs to be done.  

     Brittany Simplicio
     Brittany is Navajo and Zuni Pueblo, who grew up in Shiprock, NM.  Like myself she is very dedicated to her work as a Native American student and midwife. Her interest in midwifery was sparked by a fellow midwife who noticed her calm nature with women in labor while she was a student nurse, she also credits her grandmother for being a strong and intelligent role model to look up to, as well as a pediatric nurse. Her desire to make an impact in her community was further intensified when she saw how health care was being delivered to the community and families on the reservation.  Time constraints, decreasing funding, lack of long term providers, and the distrust of the health care system streaming from the historical tribulations of our elders that did and still contribute to the fractionalized health care system today.  
          I am happy to say that she is almost at the end of her 1st year of nurse midwifery school and will soon be catching babies in the fall.  An important thing to understand here, is that she is also the family caretaker and has continued to mentor students while being in midwifery school.  She is currently completing her women's health rotation in Shiprock, NM. Meaning, she is commuting from Albuquerque weekly for this experience to work in her own community.

Nichele Salazar

            Nichele Jicarilla apache from Dulce, NM.  She attributes her interest in midwifery to first always having a passion for obstetrics and women's health.  Growing up on the reservation, she has witnessed how important women are to her community.  She has encountered many single mothers who would go to the clinic for care and only be judged for the life style they lead, rather then be encouraged to be caretakers of their own health.  Nichele was just recently accepted in the Nurse Midwifery Program at UNM and will be starting her journey in May.  She is a mother, wife, and works as a nurse at Lovelace hospital.  She received her Bachelors of Nursing from Georgetown University in Washington D.C. 
              Both of these women are an example of what I talk about in my blogs.  Despite their struggles they have managed to rise above it and strive to make an impact on there communities.  I hope they will also inspire other Native American women to become midwives and take the knowledge they learn back to their communities.  This is why midwifery needs more women from culturally diverse backgrounds, they have very strong desires to not just stay in the cities to work, but to bring it back to their rural communities.  They offer a perspective in Native American women's health care that is lacking now.  They understand first hand what the women on the reservations are dealing with on a daily bases and may have experienced a lifestyle that few have experienced in our profession. Most importantly, they bring hope to a community of women in their Native communities that, despite their struggles, you can still rise above it and give back.  Your life is what you make it and defeat is only when you stop striving towards something better.  

               So you see, my dream may be big and a long journey, but I'm in good company.  Once NM had only 2 Navajo midwives, now will have 4 Native American midwives.  Seeing these two women and what some may call mentoring, but I call friendship, has also given me even more hope.  And incase your wondering about my other duties...yes..being a mother, wife, and midwife commuting to Albuquerque for work several times a week does comprise much of my time.  However, participating in these other activities feeds my spirit and remind me every day that I have the greatest job in the world and I'm always in good company.  Yes..I sleep like the dead when I can, but often sleep is a necessity for my creativity.  At which with my work schedule lately, I've been lacking.  Which is why my blog has been somewhat neglected lately.  
                                           "Every Day is a Good Day"

 options in NM: addressing health disparities through innovative models of midwifery care
 Public Health Association and University of New Mexico National Health Disparities
2012 Joint Conference