For Native Mothers, A Way To Give Birth That Overcomes Trauma

A birthing center opening next year in New Mexico will provide a safe place for women to heal through their traditions.


Published:

Nicolle Gonzales, a Navajo midwife and mother of three, is establishing a Native-led birthing center in New Mexico.

photo by Sarah van Gelder

Nicolle Gonzales has the stamina of a long-distance runner, which she is, and the authority that comes from guiding nervous mothers-to-be through difficult labor. Her confidence was hard-won: She is a survivor of sexual abuse who gave birth to her first child at age 20 in a noisy hospital room, crowded with relatives and attended by a doctor who wouldn’t answer her questions. She lost so much blood that she nearly lost consciousness.

“That birth was traumatic and loud,” she said. The feeling of being out of control carried over into her early mothering. “I just didn’t feel connected to being a mom for the first couple years.”

Today Gonzales, who is Navajo, lives with her Tewa husband and three children in the San Ildefonso Pueblo, north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. In the years after that difficult birth, she trained to become a midwife and developed a deeper understanding of what had happened to her.

“When I talk to non-Native health care providers, they say, ‘All my Native ladies are great. They don’t talk. They come in and do what I tell them,’” Gonzales explained. “I want that to end,” she said. “Our women are important. Where we birth and how we birth is important.”

She believes that a birthing center that supports the young mothers’ practice of their traditions could help make the difference between more trauma and healing. That’s why the Changing Woman Initiative, which Gonzales founded, has worked for years to build a Native-run birthing center where women and their families will find empowerment and healing when they are most vulnerable. Gonzales and her collaborators intend to open the birthing and wellness center in the Tewa community of Pojoaque Pueblo in the summer of 2018.

Trauma is widespread throughout the United States, where six in ten people have experienced some form of early childhood trauma, according to a report by the National Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention. Native American populations also live with the effects of centuries of displacement, massacres, starvation, and the forced removal of children from families. Native women are also more likely to be victims of domestic violence; they are more likely to be trafficked, and experience rape and sexual assault at more than twice the national rate.

Gonzales knows these facts all too well. But after speaking at conferences about Native American issues for years, she wants to see action. “There is little discussion about solutions, and there is little notice given to the Native voices about our own communities,” she said.

For Gonzales, addressing these issues requires reincorporating culture, traditional belief systems, and language to bring life back to Native communities. Her birthing center is a place where that can happen.

She imagines a welcoming place with photos of grandmothers on the wall, cedar burning, drumming, and a space for ceremonies. She envisions the family and community gathering at the center to welcome the newborn baby, who would hear the words of his or her native language before any others.

“Birth is a lot like a ceremony,” Gonzales said. “There’s sacrifice, there’s pain, and there’s healing.” During traditional dances, women learn how strong they can be.

“The Corn Dance is in August. You dance nonstop, without shoes, and it’s hot, and you’re exhausted,” she said. “I tell the mothers in labor, this is like the Corn Dance. You’re tired, but you’re listening to that drum, and the baby’s gonna be here!”

Gonzales has found that pregnancy is a time when many women who are in abusive relationships, who smoke, or abuse drugs or alcohol are open to change. “In our Navajo culture, teaching our mind is very powerful. We talk about hozho, which is walking in beauty, or being positive, and we understand that what we say can manifest into reality,” she said.

“I had one woman who was so traumatized, she came into the office shaking,” she continued. “There was sweat on her lip, and she was like, ‘What are you going to do to me?’” The birthing process can trigger abuse trauma, Gonzales said, because the women feel out of control.

Giving birth on their own terms feels like a victory, Gonzales said. “They feel in control. You see the shift through the whole pregnancy as that confidence sets in.” A mother who feels her own strength and the support and love of others can in turn offer her children the love and support that will put them on a solid footing for life.

Sarah van Gelder wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Sarah visited Nicolle Gonzales during the road trip that resulted in The Revolution Where You Live: Stories from a 12,000-Mile Journey Through a New America (Berrett Koehler 2017). Portions of this article were excerpted and adapted from that book. Sarah is co-founder and columnist at YES!, an author, and public speaker. Read more about her book here and follow her on Twitter @sarahvangelder.

This article was republished from YES! Magazine.

See also:
Maya Midwives As Social Workers In A Machista Society
Some “Unrecognized” Tribes Still Waiting After 130 Years

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

May 25, 2018

Take notes as thoughts and feelings are unusually profound. An early morning trine between Jupiter and Neptune offers a rich communion between minds and hearts. Mental Mercury’s ensuing trine with Pluto deepens curiosity and gives insights into life’s…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

May 2018

Spend a day in conversation with angels! Heal and empower yourself with the energy of angels. You will learn the special healing gift that each of nine healing angels brings and how this relates...

Cost: $111

Where:
Be Well Studios
3358 White Mountain Highway
North Conway, NH  03860
View map »


Sponsor: Pathway Of Joy
Telephone: 207-329-7192
Contact Name: Linda Huitt
Website »

More information

Do you desire more connection and intimacy? Do you want to increase the quality of your intimacy? Does fear of rejection, misinterpretation or expectations hold you back from initiating?...

Cost: $187 per person

Where:
Watertown Center for Healing Arts
22 Mount Auburn St
Watertown, MA
View map »


Sponsor: Conscious Intimacy
Telephone: 415-244-1652
Contact Name: Brynn Bishop
Website »

More information

With Dido Nydick A Restorative Yoga practice to experience relaxation for well-being. Each class will consist of a reclining pose sequence designed to restore the nervous system and help release...

Cost: $25

Where:
YogaLife Institute of NH
6 Chestnut Street
Lower Level
Exeter, NH  03833
View map »


Sponsor: YogaLife Institute of NH
Telephone: 603-867-3969
Contact Name: Alice Bentley
Website »

More information

Sunday yoga is back! Hatha Yoga with meditation to get you ready to tackle your spring intentions. Sign up for series or drop in. 

Cost: $75/5 classes; drop in $17.00

Where:
Dragonfly Wellness Center
176 Jackson Rd
Devens, MA
View map »


Sponsor: Dragonfly Wellness Center
Telephone: 978-227-8297
Contact Name: Anita Perry
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
No Events

Feel the bliss of opening your spine, while being totally supported and meticulously aligned. Great for sciatica and low back pain! Classes also held Saturday mornings.

Cost: $18 drop in

Where:
Bliss Through Yoga
484 Bedford St
East Bridgewater, MA  02333
View map »


Sponsor: Bliss Through Yoga
Telephone: 508-331-3564
Contact Name: Janice
Website »

More information

8 Week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Course with Erin Woo Tuesdays, May 1 - June 19, 6–8:30 pm *Includes an all day retreat on Saturday, June 9 from 9 am - 4 pm Come explore the...

Cost: $290

Where:
Balance Bethlehem
2087 Main Street
Bethlehem, NH  03574
View map »


Sponsor: Balance Bethlehem
Telephone: 603-869-2125
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
No Events

YogaLife studio would like to offer this opportunity to slow it down, step back, notice your breath and sit quietly in community. Join us Thursdays from 5:40-6:30 PM. No Yoga...

Cost: Free

Where:
YogaLife Institute
6 Chestnut Street
Suite A
Exeter, MA  03833
View map »


Telephone: 603-969-8968
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

May 25 - 27 The heroic and shamanic journeys weave throughout human history. Each requires the protagonist to journey into another order of reality, a landscape of magic and mystery…...

Cost: $325 – includes food

Where:
Putney, VT  05346


Sponsor: Circles of Air and Stone
Telephone: 802-387-6624
Contact Name: Sparrow Hart
Website »

More information

Designed to prepare individuals who are interested in helping themselves and others in a rewarding career as a Professional Certified Hypnotist/Hypnotherapist. Live demonstration, supervised...

Cost: $1995 ppd. (Early Bird by 5/14 - $1795)

Where:
Women of Wisdom
118 Washington Street
North Easton, MA  02356
View map »


Sponsor: Women of Wisdom
Telephone: 508-230-3680
Contact Name: Women of Wisdom
Website »

More information

Dominic Boag is one of the UK’s finest psychic mediums. Dominic has been taking his events to audiences across Scotland. He is the Scottish Sun’s Psychic and writes his own column named...

Where:
American Legion Post 440
295 California St.
Newton, MA  02458
View map »


Sponsor: Greater Boston Church of Spiritualism
Telephone: 617-861-1440
Website »

More information

May 25 - 28, 2018 Save the date! Four days of learning, earth healing, music, meditation, dance and delicious organic food! All are welcome!

Where:
Old King Farm
567 Money Hole Road
Benson, VT  05743
View map »


Telephone: 802-537-3460
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
No Events
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags