Ondaadiziike. The Ojibwe phrase for giving birth. When I was writing this article, I was hoping to combine ondaadiziike with the Ojibwe words for safety and comfort. I was surprised that the dictionaries I consulted didn’t include these words. So I was left with just ondaadiziike. No safety, no comfort to accompany it. This is reflective of modern birth culture in Native American communities, I think. Women (and girls) are giving birth without the accompaniment of safety and comfort. Modern day pre, ante, and post natal care for brown women in the United States is at times unsafe, and usually uncomfortable. Racism, sexism, poverty, and isolation have left women and their babies in desperate need for support, love, and compassion.
It wasn’t always this way. Native women were long respected as life givers. Our ancestors had mysterious, spirited reproductive powers. Women were forbidden to enter the dance arena during their moon time (a practice still respected in modern Powwow culture); not because they were viewed as dirty or hysterical, but because these women were so powerful during this time in the life cycle that they could take away power from anyone in the circle. So they stayed out in respect to their community members. Women took care of each other, Aunties, Grannies, Mothers, and Sisters. But women were also independent, knowledgeable, and assertive in their bodily rights. Reproductive culture varied from tribe to tribe but one thing was constant: women’s powers were sacred.
Enter Western patriarchy. Native women were subjected to horrors manifested in all aspects of bodily harm. Our ancestors were kidnapped, gang raped, and fed to war dogs. Eaten for entertainment in circus like manner. Forced to marry white men and birth babies alone, without the help of their beloved Sisters. Traditional knowledge of menstruation, pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding were lost, and Native women today still pay the price. Of all the ethnicities in the US, Native women suffer the most when it comes to birth. We have some of the highest teenage pregnancy rates, pre-term birth rates, maternal and neonatal morbidity rates, and some of the lowest breastfeeding rates. Reproduction in our community has become dangerous and unpredictable at worst, and casual at best as women forget just how powerful their bodies can be. Studies have proved that these racial disparities exist because of poverty and racism.
I’ve been inflicted with the pain of my sisters. I have dreamt about it and received pleas for help from the ancestors who visit me in my sleep. Doula care is going to be incredibly important in mending the disparities in pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding. I realize this. I need my sisters to realize this, too, and step up to fill that space along with me. We need Native women to become doulas, certified or not. We need a group of women to get together and create a resource for Native doulas and their families; a resource describing and honoring the traditions of our ancestors that includes a dictionary dedicated to Native birthing practices and care.
We need women to learn how to navigate and negotiate modern and traditional medicine and birthing ways with confidence, sensitivity, and power. We need women to come back to the communities they came from and offer their support to their Sisters. No woman should be without the knowledge of how to take care of her body in her life. No woman should suffer traumatic pregnancies and births.