Pilick celebrates 1st community at-home birth in 85 years

Keyaira Gruben gave birth to Truth at home in June, surrounded by family and ceremony. (submitted by Keyaira Gruben - image credit)
Keyaira Gruben gave birth to Truth at home in June, surrounded by family and ceremony. (submitted by Keyaira Gruben - image credit)

A Wolastoqey community in New Brunswick celebrated its first at-home birth in 85 years earlier this summer.

Pilick, Kingsclear First Nation, 15 kilometres west of Fredericton, welcomed baby Truth on June 23 at 12:27 a.m.

He was born at home surrounded by family and the sound of hand drums.

His mother, Keyaira Gruben, said she chose to have an at-home birth because she wanted to feel culturally safe.

"We got to celebrate [this] birth in such a beautiful way," said Gruben, 27.

She said her grandmother told her it was the first at-home birth in their community in 85 years. Opolahsomuwehes (Imelda Perley), a Wolastoqey knowledge keeper who has been working to revitalize the birthing practices for 20 years, said she believes that's true.

Gruden had her daughter Cedar five years ago in hospital and she said they were able to drum her in. But because of COVD-19 restrictions, Gruben wasn't sure how many people could be present in hospital with this birth.

She said by choosing an at-home birth, she had all the supports she needed.

Submitted by Keyaira Gruben
Submitted by Keyaira Gruben

She worked with two midwives throughout her pregnancy. The community also came together to light a sacred fire for the ceremony, sun dancers came to help drum Truth into the world, and Gruben was guided through ceremony by Opolahsomuwehes, who also led a pipe ceremony.

Gruben said the level of support she received was amazing and it didn't stop once her son was born. Neighbours continued to bring food for her family for at least a week and her midwives were able to answer all of her questions and continued to check in on her regularly.

"It was very communal-based and that's what I really wanted to share," said Gruben.

She said during the birth, 15-20 people were in her house to offer support. Gruben said her neighbours told her that when they heard the drumming from their yards, they started to pray for her.

She said she is grateful she was part of revitalizing the birthing ceremonies in her community. Gruben said the ceremony helped remove the fear she had around birthing and hopes it does the same for other Indigenous women.

"Birthing work is so sacred and the birth of a child does affect everyone," said Gruben.

Myfanwy Davies/CBC
Myfanwy Davies/CBC

Opolahsomuwehs said she was grateful to be a part of the ceremony. She said birthing ceremonies help bring the community together.

Opolahsomuwehs said at one time Wabanaki communities would help celebrate the birth of a child and share in the responsibility in raising that child and that with the birth of Truth, she has seen a revitalization of that. Opolahsomuwehs said when she requested bear fur for the ceremony, someone sent some from Newfoundland. She also requested fire keepers for the ceremony and Pilick community members came quickly.

"It was absolutely amazing," said Opolahsomuwehs.

She hopes more Indigenous communities can experience the power of in community births and said she will continue to push for a Wabanaki doula program.