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

August 18, 2018

Early morning apprehensions could be a response to the taut energies of the first quarter Moon in Scorpio. It isn’t easy being the center of attention while also craving solitude. By daybreak the Moon is approaching an engaging sextile with Mars…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

August 2018

A fantastic shopping and educational experience for the whole family! Vendors come from New England, across the US, and many foreign countries to exhibit minerals, fossils, gemstones, jewelry,...

Cost: $8 adults, under 13 free

Where:
Eastern States Exposition
1305 Memorial Ave.
West Springfield, MA  01089
View map »


Sponsor: LLD Productions, Inc.
Telephone: 505-867-0425
Contact Name: Regina Aumente
Website »

More information

Readings, healings, vendors, presentations.

Cost: Free

Where:
Hilton Garden Inn
85 Glastonbury Blvd.
South Glastonbury, CT  06066
View map »


Website »

More information

During the weekend of August 10-12, 2018 we will gather again at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts for the 44th Annual NOFA SC. This immersive annual gathering is an opportunity to come...

Cost: See website

Where:
Hampshire College
Amherst, MA


Sponsor: Northeast Organic Farming Association
Telephone: 774-262-7986
Contact Name: Marjorie Bailey
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

August 13 - 17, 9am - 1pm Instructor: Peyton Pugmire For student entering grades 6-8 iPhones are amazing, but you know what’s even more amazing? You! During this imaginative week...

Cost: $250

Where:
Creative Spirit
80 Washington Street
Marblehead, MA  01945
View map »


Sponsor: Creative Spirit
Telephone: 781-797-0389
Website »

More information

August 13 - 16 Juan Li has been teaching Daoist energy practices for the last 27 years. He has created a sequence of practices based on the I Ching, adapted to the emotional and mental...

Cost: $950 single retreat; $1650 for both retreats (8/16)

Where:
Angels’ Rest Retreat
63 North County Road
Leyden, MA  01337
View map »


Sponsor: Tao Retreats
Telephone: 212-243-6771
Contact Name: Sharon Smith
Website »

More information

August 13 - 14 This fun and exciting healing workshop guarantees you valuable knowledge and powerful skills to keep you in a higher vibration of energy and flowing with infinite intelligence and...

Where:
Royal Plaza Best Western
Marlborough, MA


Sponsor: Geozuwa
Telephone: 646-606-9935
Website »

More information

August 13 - 21 With NLP training and master healer certification. This course is specifically designed for healers of every modality. For information call (646) 606-9935 or visit...

Where:
Marlboro, MA


Telephone: 646-606-9935
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

August 14 - 24 For millennia people have entered the wilderness to encounter Spirit and seek their direction, purpose, or medicine. If you are seeking guidance and renewal, or you’re...

Cost: $1295

Where:
Somerset Lake
P.O. Box 48
Putney, VT  05346
View map »


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

More information

What better way to end a busy day than with a little bliss. We'll support your body right where it is today and help you to open your spine to find more movement and flexibility. Begin and end...

Cost: $18

Where:
Body Love Wellness Center
484 Bedford St
East Bridgewater, MA  02333
View map »


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

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Yoga is an ancient behavioral practice that allows for the development and enhancement of mind-body skills and behavioral factors including physical functioning, self-regulation of internal...

Cost: Free

Where:
CIC Cambridge
One Broadway
Charles Conference Room, 14th Floor
Cambridge, MA  02142
View map »


Sponsor: CIC Wellness
Telephone: 617-953-0674
Contact Name: Shakti Rowan
Website »

More information

Barbara Macias will present an information workshop on the benefits of essential oils. A demonstration of the oils will be included. Please RSVP at katboston@comcast.net

Cost: Free

Where:
NBA Business Center
145 Washington Street
Route 53
Norwell, MA  02061
View map »


Sponsor: Mind Balance Hypnosis
Telephone: 339-788-1193
Contact Name: Kathryn Caruso

More information

Relax and restore this summer with free outdoor yoga classes on historic Rogers Field! We’re packing the lawn with yogis of all levels for yoga led by experienced practitioners from Dragonfly...

Cost: Free

Where:
Rogers Field
Devens, MA


Sponsor: Dragonfly Wellness Center
Telephone: 978-487-7181
Contact Name: Anne Ferguson
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

August 16 - 19 Magnetic-harmonic vibrational therapist, Jay Emmanuel, A.K., N.S.,V.M. shares powerful energy techniques that use the forces of sounds produced by the human voice in combination...

Cost: Please see our website

Where:
Eastover Estate & Retreat Center
430 East St.
Lenox, MA  01240
View map »


Telephone: 866-264-5139
Contact Name: Yingxing Wang
Website »

More information

August 16 - 19 Juan Li has been teaching Daoist energy practices for the last 27 years. He has created a sequence of practices based on the I Ching, adapted to the emotional and mental...

Cost: $950 single retreat; $1650 for both retreats (8/13)

Where:
Angels’ Rest Retreat
63 North County Road
Leyden, MA  01337
View map »


Sponsor: Tao Retreats
Telephone: 212-243-6771
Contact Name: Sharon Smith
Website »

More information

Daily practice for peace, healing, Christ mindedness, meditation, awakening.

Where:
Milton, MA


Telephone: 617-696-5685
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

With June Edward, “The Massachusette Medium” This is a mediumship gallery with June Edward, the “Massachusetts Medium!” Have you ever wanted to talk to someone on the...

Cost: $55 on Eventbrite, $60 at door

Where:
Plymouth Lodge AF & AM
116 S Meadow Rd
Plymouth, MA  02360
View map »


Sponsor: June Edward “The Massachusetts Medium”
Telephone: 508-259-1231
Contact Name: June Edward
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Guide: Peyton Pugmire Ages 16+ Like meditating with a paintbrush! Escape your stress and routine and re-connect with yourself, your heart and soul - one brushstroke at a time. This fun...

Cost: $85 (includes cost of all supplies)

Where:
Creative Spirit
80 Washington Street
Marblehead, MA  01945
View map »


Telephone: 781-797-0389
Contact Name: Peyton Pugmire
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags