Sunday, August 18, 2013

Native American's for Reproductive Rights

          I've really given this a lot of thought.  When I made the choice to become a midwife, one of the first things my mother-in-law asked me was whether or not I was allowed to do abortions.  At the time, I'd never really thought about it.  I have always been a supporter of women's rights, but suddenly I was faced with this personal question.  It also gave me insight into what little she new about midwifery.  What struck me most was..."really this is all you care about and want to know about the wonderful world of midwifery?"  I told her, "no I would not be doing abortions."  As I went through the midwifery program, she asked little about my work.  One day while sitting around the dinner table with my sister-in-law and mother-in-law, they began to discuss their disgust with Planned Parenthood and New Mexico's history of late-term abortions...I held my tongue.  Obviously, my way of thinking and support of women's rights was not going to be welcomed at this table.  However, even though I kept quite for the most part, I did add a few bits of information at times, like how women could get low cost women's health care at Planned Parenthood.
           This very conversation prompted a discussion between my husband and I.  Would I perform an abortion?   I dug deep into my Navajo teachings and came to the conclusion that my role as a midwife is here to support life. If you know anything about the Navajo way of life, we are not suppose to be around death.  Furthermore, thinking back to all the prayers done on my behalf, why would I chose to tempt what was done for me?  I also thought that those chosen to do this work of performing abortions have a role here on earth as well.  I thought of our life cycle and all the many unexplainable things that happen here.  Despite my personal beliefs, I strongly stand with women who have to make the hardest decision of their lives to terminate a pregnancy. I understand that each woman has her own set of unique unexplainable circumstances.
         Recently...I was horrified to hear that an amazing physician and birth center was made the target of an out-of-state anti-aborition organization.  This group called the "Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust" went to his home and terrorized his family.  The funny thing is, they call this "peaceful picketing"..I don't know about you, but when is it peaceful for a mop of protesters to come to your home, show pictures of dead babies, and shout "baby killer?"  They also went to a birth center in Albuquerque and did the same thing while a woman was in labor. What was suppose to be a peaceful birth, turned into something else.  I did think for a second..perhaps I could post pictures of their faces on signs and show dead Native American's and call them out in being part of thousands of deaths in Indian Country due to their pre- and post colonial ways?...I could call it "Survivors of Columbus".......Anyway, you get my point......... This organization is also pushing a 20 week Abortion ban ordinance in Albuquerque.  What most people don't know about late term abortions is this...they have a medical indication.  Meaning after the 20 week anatomy ultrasound, they found the baby could not survive outside of the womb.  Meaning they were missing vital organs for survival.  My thoughts are this, how can we even think of making a woman carry a baby to 40 weeks knowing it will not survive outside the womb? This in itself tells me, women are still not valued, we are still viewed by some just as a vessel for childbirth.
          The other issue I have with this way of getting their message across and who is supporting this ordinance is it is completely religiously motivated.  It get's me thinking back to all the things done to Native American women over the last century that have been all for the call of "RELIGION." Our wombs have been subjected to Catholicism, government dictatorship and assimilation. So even though my personal beliefs about abortion...are my personal beliefs on abortion, I am familiar with this war being waged over our wombs.  It is this very reason why we as Native American women should stand together to support a woman's right to her own body.

             I resent the scare tactics currently being used to propagate an audience, while using the faces of  respected women's health providers as targets.  While thinking about writing this blog, I even considered the ramifications for writing a HONEST response to what is going on in Albuquerque.  I think those very thoughts are what an organization like theirs hopes to instill in the women of New Mexico....FEAR... I hope that if they do decide to come protesting on my lawn because of my support of a women's right to her own body, that my Native brothers and sisters would see them for what they are, but would also meet them at the gate in numbers larger then they have ever seen.  We are not just one, we are many.  I am also aware that I may lose some readers because of this honest, post, as that my beliefs do not align with yours...and yes I make it a point to speak up about things more spiritual, however this has waded heavy on my mind all week....and if you haven't noticed, I'm terrible at being silent.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Conversations with a Native Community

           With summer drawing to an end, I'm finally feeling the spark to write again.  It's been a busy couple of months with many ups and downs.  It seems that since I've set my journey into motion a couple of years ago when I first applied to midwifery school, I've spent a lot of time in transition. I've gotten used to the constant movement of my daily life and it seems like my family as adapted to it as well.  I find myself finally working closer to home, which has been yet another transition we are all adapting to.  The positive aspects of this change are obvious, spending more time with my family and actually not having to pack for overnight work weekends anymore.  I've also taken up running again, one of my favorite activities.  I know some women exercise to lose weight and like all women this too is a wonderful motivator for myself.  However, running is an opportunity to see how strong my mind is and how far I can push myself. It's also a reminder how lucky we are to live in the country where rock formations, sunsets, and dirt roads are what accompany me on my runs.
              There are many amazing experiences I would like to write about, however the presentation I gave in Jicarilla Apache on Native American women's health is what continues to come up in my mind.     I was delighted to finally have the opportunity to discuss our health statistics with a Native American community. It was actually the first opportunity I've had since becoming a midwife to finally share what I know with an Indigenous community. Upon arrival I was greeted with unfamiliar glances and a nod.  As that I have grown up on the rez, this sort of "hello" is what I'm familiar with.  I smile and find a place to sit and listen to a friend of mines presentation on depression in Native American women.  What strikes me many women are there.  I've never seen a larger crowd of Native American women at a health conference in their own community.  This is a topic of discussion with community health workers and educators.."How do we engage the community to attend health conferences we've brought to their own communities?"  In any case, I was happy to see a wonderful turn out.
                I first started with describing the varies women's health perspectives and why it's important to understand the differences, as that it will affect how we as women access, receive, and respond to healthcare. I also compared it to an indigenous perspective

A Feminist Perspective

A feminist approach to women's health care using a health-oriented, normalizing model allows normalcy to be validated.  This paradigm enables assessment, diagnosis, and treatment that is women-centered and that values her standpoint, background, ethnicity, and culture..

An Indigenous Perspective

To live in a manner that works towards creating and maintaining balance, harmony, beauty, and order.

          I asked the women if they new what the differences were.  Of course I didn't expect a lot of participation, however I wanted to engage these women to really think about this.  I did tell them one difference was that western medicine today typically concentrates on defining and treating illness, disease, and pathology.  Our indigenous perspective takes into account our own cultural perspectives on our own health, rather then someone else telling us what our health should be.
          I focused my next topic on health disparities and I asked the women if they have ever heard this term before or new what it meant.  I can tell you no body new what it meant or has every heard it before.  This I find interesting because we as healthcare providers hear it all the time, at conferences and at University presentations on rural health.  I told these women, that this term is commonly used to describe your health.  At all the conferences I've attend on Native American women's health this is a reoccurring theme as to why our health outcomes are not as good as they should be.  I was not surprised that our communities are not aware of how we as Native Americans are being described to the larger spectrum of healthcare intellectuals.  How are we suppose to make impacts on Native American health if the community them selves are not part of this conversation?  This is the problem I see with IHS, the way it is set up is not to allow for communities to empower themselves to make positive changes, it is set up to spoon feed our communities vaccinations, screenings, and health information.  

             I then talked about the top 5 causes of death in Native American women...and surprise, surprise, they never new this information about themselves.  I also made sure to compare it from 2003 and to 2009.

Leading Causes of Death in Native American Women

Heart Disease 19.6%
Cancer 17.6%
Unintentional Injuries 8.8%
Diabetes 6.9%
Stroke 5.1%

Cancer 19.4%
Heart Disease 17.1%
Unintentional Injuries 8.5%
Diabetes 5.4%
Chronic Liver Disease 4.9%

            I emphasized that Native American women are the only ethnic group where death from chronic liver disease is in the top 10 causes of death.  All of the leading causes of death are preventable and I described why community health programs are aimed at implementing certain health initiatives. Diabetes prevention, Get Fit, early intervention programs for children, smoking cessation, and alcohol prevention education & treatment.
             The more I learn, I feel like the curtain has been lifted and I can see the strings of the puppet show.  I have many moments of realization that the odds are stacked against us and it's no wonder we are not thriving.  I wonder how little old me fit's into this equation to make an impact on the communities that need it the most, while maintaining a level of humbleness and balance.  Some one has described me as a visionary, at which I know this to be true about myself.  I find myself scavenging for the tools necessary to do the work at hand and much of the time I feel like a novus to the business of midwifery and political agendas of my cohorts.  I search for honest friendships and deep conversations. I know deep down there is not enough of me to go around and that I need to save some of it for myself.