The second episode of Working it Out Together explores the positive ripple effect that childbirth creates via a woman within her community. It is about empowerment. It also critically examines, from the perspective of colonization, the effect that western medicine has had on the process of birthing in Indigenous communities across Canada.
We begin with the idea that women’s bodies are designed for childbirth. But the process of childbirth also acts to connect women of a community together. Historically, one woman within the community held a position of great distinction: the midwife. It was the function of traditional midwifery to attend to the emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental health needs of expectant mothers, their newborns, and the families welcoming their newborns. However, with the invasion of western medicine came the belief that birthing was dangerous and thus required powerful people–educated physicians–to control the procedure. Governmental control* of women’s reproduction persisted and midwifery as a whole, across Canada, was outlawed. This disconnected women from their bodies and fathers/families from the process as well.
Traditionally, the cyclical process of birth is seen as a means of renewal and hope, restoring balance to the community at large. The western practice of removing childbirth from the community to the sterile environment of the hospital, isolates women during the procedure, necessarily severing the initial ties between mother, child, and community. This in turn has created yet another social fracture among the people of the community and has disrupted the emotional and social balance in people’s lives for generations.
We are also reminded that historically, midwives attended successful births in very challenging environments, with limited resources, when compared to the living conditions that are more common today. In this context then, trained midwives are able to recognise possible complications that could threaten the health of both mother and child. If suitable medical instrumentation is also available, midwives can make these diagnoses well in advance, thus ensuring proper care for their patients.
The entire scenario further complicates birthing for women who live in the north. Communities that lack birthing centres are forced to fly expectant mothers south to the nearest hospital weeks in advance of their due dates. This removes them from family and friends for weeks at a time. Children are left missing their mothers; fathers and families are left struggling to care for distraught children. This is done because of the “what if” scenario, a plausible argument. However, the added emotional stress this places on a community and/or family, coupled with the financial stress caused by extended hospital stays, could be eased simply by placing trained midwives, with appropriate equipment, in communities.
Episode two follows the journey of Shillene McNaughtan, a mother of three, pregnant with her fourth child. It is Shillene’s belief that the birthing centre at Six Nations is the more suitable location for a natural act of life, rather than attending a hospital for a procedure. In Shillene’s case, we are also reminded of the complications gestational diabetes causes . Gestational diabetes in Indigenous women occurs at a rate five times the national average.
***Spoiler Alert*** Shillene gave birth to a healthy baby boy!
*This episode also touches on the government management of Indigenous reproduction with the forced sterilization of Indigenous women during the 1970’s. I wish we dug deeper into this very dark aspect of colonization in Canada.