‘We can help ourselves:’ Native women come together to confront high rates of maternal mortality
Monday, Dec. 16, 2019
WINDOW ROCK – As the sun begins to set on a blustery fall day, the rugged buttes of Navajoland glow red in the soft light and swift gusts spiral dust through the air.
About 40 women, most draped in traditional dress, stand in a circle as Melissa Brown, an indigenous midwife, asks the group to reflect on the day just ending – and the mission still ahead.
“We have talked about being safe here. That is our goal,” she tells them. “We’re going to cry, and we’re going to laugh. And that’s OK.”
One by one, the women share a word that best captures how they feel: Happy. Safe. Joyful. Supported. Sovereign. Brave. Then one sings a hymn in her native tongue.
These women have come to the Navajo reservation to be trained as doulas, aides who have no formal medical background but provide guidance for pregnant women up to and through labor, and sometimes beyond.
They’re here in Window Rock, capital of the Navajo Nation, to learn how to help their own, but also to help confront a tragedy plaguing women in Indian Country and across the United States.
Too many women are dying due to complications from pregnancy and childbirth – deaths that should be preventable with the right intervention and care.
“My first birth that I had when I was a teenage mother was very traumatic,” said Brown, who trains indigenous women as midwives and doulas across the United States and Canada. “I didn’t understand how my body worked … how labor and delivery worked. I was very scared, and I didn’t have much support.”
Now, she said, “people are recognizing that we are our own experts in our community. We can help ourselves. We can empower ourselves. We can educate ourselves.”
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