Traditional Indigenous births are experiencing a resurgence nationwide, and recent government investments are a clear sign more and more people are getting on board with natural, home births in the Indigenous tradition, a pair of local midwives said Tuesday night.
“It’s a long-standing tradition in Kahnawake, and for a long time, you were encouraged to have a natural birth,” said Kahnawake midwife Jody Jacobs, whose kids are now 31, 29 and 26. “It meant you would have a support system around you, and with the support of a midwife, or a doula, it made it a lot easier and often, it makes the mother feel more comfortable.”
A doula acts as a coach of sorts for pregnant women, offering them advice and a path forward through the confusion of pregnancy and childbirth, which is often physically and emotionally overwhelming.
“A doula will hand you the road map and will give you the tools to get to the end of the journey,” Jacobs said, while a midwife will support the mother giving birth before, during and after the birth. “The care encompasses the whole woman.”
Fellow local midwife Kanorarihtha Albany agreed. She birthed the first three of her four daughters naturally – but in the hospital. The fourth daughter was born at home, also naturally.
“It’s night and day, the difference between the two,” Albany said. “If I knew then what I know now, I would have birthed all four of them at home,” she said of her daughters aged 12, 10, 6 and 3. “I was much more comfortable at home and everything just felt more comfortable.”
Traditional home births in an Indigenous community do not resemble the hospital experience that many non-Natives go through when birthing their children, Jacobs said.
“In a hospital, it’s often just the mother and maybe one other person, with nurses and doctors,” Jacobs explained. “In Indigenous communities, often you’ll have a house full of women supporting the mother and helping her, allowing her to focus on birthing the child and looking after her. Maybe one person is doing laundry, another will be making her food, and yet another will be looking after her other children, if needed. It’s remarkable and allows the mother to concentrate on birthing her child.”
With more community members embracing traditions, such as traditional naming ceremonies, and others, it makes sense more community members would also be opting for traditional home births, Jacobs added.
Both added that natural, home births aren’t for everyone – anyone requiring medical supervision should definitely go to the hospital, but Albany said it’s been so long since she assisted in a hospital birth “that I can’t remember the last time I was in a hospital for a birth. It’s been at least since the (COVID-19) pandemic started,” she said.
They’re not the only ones in favour of returning to their roots. Last week, it was reported the government invested $225,000 in natural birthing in Atlantic Canada and this week, further investment into traditional birthing came in Sturgeon Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan. In February 2022, the community celebrated the first midwife-assisted traditional birth in the community in decades. The federal Indigenous Services department invested $350,000 toward the construction of SLFN's birthing centre—one of many partner-led health initiatives that focus on midwifery.
Indigenous Services minister Patty Hajdu said increasing cultural safety for Indigenous women is one of the government’s main priorities.
“We will continue to work with all partners to increase cultural safety and respect for Indigenous people in Canada's health-care systems,” she said. “Likewise, the investments made toward the establishment of expanding support for Indigenous midwifery and doula initiatives are an important step to expanding access to culturally safe spaces.”
Marc Lalonde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Iori:wase