By Samantha Nephew
Growing up Native, I’ve had to think about what parts of my life are “colonized” and adhere to values different than my own. Recently, I’ve been thinking about the one element that is so fundamental to life and yet status quo is hardly ever broken – birthing.
The Changing Woman Initiative in the southwest brings Indigenous identity and the values of respect and honoring women at the forefront. In cases of normal, healthy pregnancies, there should only be trust allowing our Native women to birth the way they inherently know how.
They say it’s one of life’s most profound, magical and enchanting moments – the moment when a mother holds her brand new baby in her arms for the very first time.
Now, I wouldn’t necessarily know that as I’m 26 and childless, but I’ve made my interest in birthing practices, pregnancy and child bearing known. There is so much beauty in the power of giving life. And to do so with the power of your heritage and history of resilience at your side – that’s what makes the Changing Woman Initiative so powerful, and it should be a model of birthing emulated throughout all of Indian Country.
Nicolle Gonzalez, Executive Director and Nurse-Midwife at Changing Woman Initiative, says she’s taken on this project because she wanted to “help renew cultural birth knowledge to empower and reclaim Indigenous sovereignty of women’s medicine through women’s stories and life ways.”
Centers like Changing Woman Initiative takes the medical, passive approach to child birthing out of the equation. Trust in the woman with the aid of her midwife is the ultimate approach here. Now that’s empowerment.
The impact of this center could be great for Native women in the densely populated Southwest where the Navajo Nation alone has over 300,000 peoples (as determined by a 2010 census report). In contrast, according to Gonzalez’s GoFundMe page, there are only 15 Native American Nurse Midwives in the United States. Examples like the Changing Women Initiative will hopefully influence other Indigenous people to follow suit. A need was certainly determined here.
What better way to keep our cultures and traditions alive by starting at the very beginning of our children’s lives?
As a firm believer in reproductive rights and justice, Indigenous sovereignty and cultural knowledge, I am a huge fan of this holistic birthing center designed with Native values at its core. I stand with women who want to decolonize their births.
Samantha Nephew is an enrolled member of the Seneca Nation of Indians in Western New York. She is knowledgeable in American Indian representation in media and seeks to know more. She lives in Buffalo, NY with her husband.