Gord, Alicia, my husband Crow, and I are all an active part of Indigenous Resistance. I got to know Gord Hill through NYM when I was a teenager and met his mate Alicia about 3 or so years ago. Alicia is Gitxsan; Gord is Kwakwakawak; Crow is Nuu Chah Nulth; and I am Nuu Chah Nulth and Coast Salish. We are all actively engaged in decolonizing, land defense, self-sustainability, opposing the illegal Canadian state and its claim on our lands and waters, and exposing the genocide and truth of what Canada has done and continues to do to its Indigenous people since the time of contact.
Alicia and I corresponded pretty much throughout her entire pregnancy (and also prior), and she asked me to attend her birth as a midwife. She’d gone to a midwife appointment and had seen a POSTER of me that was done by NACM (the National Aboriginal Council of Midwives) on the wall. I asked my good friend and doula, Claire, around the month of May to attend the birth with me. Claire is a Dominican and Scottish woman with extensive doula and birth experience whom I have known for about 4 years. We have always talked about working together, as our paths are similar, and we share a lot of the same goals. Claire and I recently attended a birthkeepers summit with Kanahus, and were excited about and looking forward to this whole experience.
I contacted Alicia fairly early in her pregnancy because I had dreamt of her baby. I dreamt that she was in a traditional big house in which we all lived, and was lying by a warm fire, propped up by blankets; the swell of her belly glowed in the dim light, the little hairs on her arms and the hair on her head glinted softly red. Her belly was round and smooth as a gourd, with faint twitching within; when I palpated her, I could envision the baby folded inside, surrounded by a sea of amniotic fluid. I was calling to the baby’s spirit and asking for it to come down now from the spirit realm into the physical one. Gord and my husband Crow were busy around us, getting ready. This dream was so vivid and real that it was as if I had stepped into another reality and wasn’t merely sleeping. I got in touch with Alicia the next day and told her about it, and she revealed to me that she was newly pregnant. For me, helping mamas and dads with pregnancy and beyond is a connection: not one of a client and medical overseer, but a true bond. The baby had sent me a message, this was a birth I was meant to attend.
Something spiritual and sacred, birth is not just a physical expulsion reflex resulting in a baby, but rather a multidimensional experience that encompasses the Spirit World along with the Physical World. This is how I imagine birth should be for all of our women and babies and how birth was before contact: sacred work based in protocol, spirituality, and rooted in culture, including the physical aspects of caring for the mother in the most respectful, nurturing way, with as little intervention as possible.
Alicia was very conscious about her responsibility and role in creating a healthy baby and having a home birth; her whole pregnancy was focused on this. She also researched labour and birth extensively (although I will say that no matter how much information you gather or how much experience you have around pregnancy and birth, there is nothing to prepare you for what birth really is – but the first step in parenting is to prepare yourself in these ways). In a medically-managed pregnancy and birth that takes place in a hospital, some of this inherent responsibility is not there because the mother knows that medical intervention is there to serve her and the baby. In most cases, doctors and (to a certain extent) some midwives are more than happy to intervene or manage these births because it is normalized. I am not saying that this is true for all, but definitely true for many.
In a modern, westernized medical model of birth, there is a protocol that is to be followed for legality and for the “safety” of the mother and her baby. This involves what are now considered “normal birth procedures,” usually in a hospital; they are now the norm as well at homebirths attended by registered midwives. These include things that are not needed or necessary, and are more of a prophylactic treatment used on all babies, regardless of maternal and newborn health. You can see all of them here: Procedures.
I have been taught from a young age that women, pregnant women especially, and babies should not be anywhere near or around death at all. Hospitals are full of death and the attendant energy and spirits that come with it. Having a baby in a hospital not only disconnects the mother and baby from their own land, but puts them in spiritual danger if proper precautions for protection are not taken; the physical aspects are done by the hospital interventions, but you will fight tooth and nail to drum, sing, smudge, or do ceremony while in there.
Alicia messaged me on June 14th after being about 6 days overdue. I was spending the night at Claire’s “on call” after an afternoon spent in the water and giving tobacco offerings and prayers in preparation for the impending birth. Alicia was experiencing pre-labour symptoms later that evening; she showed no real impatience or frustration at being ‘overdue’ and seemed not to believe she was in pre-labour. Shortly after midnight on the 15th, she started timing contractions and they seemed fairly regular. I called her to listen to her over the phone. I decided to head over at about 3:30AM and see her with my own eyes to assess where she was. After reassuring we were both assured that she was in actual labour, we both went to bed to rest up and Claire returned home to sleep.
It is hard to fully describe and capture the feelings that go with catching a baby in words. Not only catching a baby, but catching the baby of a man you have known for years and years, and a woman with whom you connect on so many levels and who you are getting to know: both of whom you are tied to by resistance, decolonization, and values. People you care for deeply: family. It is such an honour and such a blessing to be trusted to help Alicia and Gord throughout pregnancy, to help them bring little Mayus, (“Raccoon”), into this physical world. Resistance Family!
Our journey into birth began after a fitful rest for us both. Alicia was calm, focused, strong, and eager. I gave a tobacco offering and prayed for a safe delivery. I also spent some time mentally preparing myself and calling the baby down. During early labour, over the course of a morning, she experienced increasingly uncomfortable contractions; she greeted each one with a pause and an inward glance, small slim hands fluttering over her belly. We talked and laughed, decided to lie down together and rest. Her stomach was upset and she vomited into a bowl. “That wasn’t as bad as I thought,” she said. I know how much she hates this, but her whole attitude during this time was one of acceptance and wonder no matter what was happening. As we laid down, this is when I really felt the shift into a birth connection between us and the baby; that moment when you enter into another realm together, the realm where a spirit comes down and enters into the flesh during crowning and the birth of the physical body. I love that feeling of “there is work to be done and we will be doing it together,” the click of complete trust in each other, and the journey ahead. Claire came over and we all set about bonding and puttering around, preparing ourselves for the impending arrival.
As her contractions became increasingly frequent and more painful, her parents came over to set up her birthing pool and offer support. Her mom and dad offered amazing support on many levels, cleaning, setting up the birthing pool, and lending their presence and energy to the birthing vibes in the house. It was so beautiful to see their family united in wait for the baby.
Labour is such a fluid and dynamic time. Depending on mom and dad’s mood, baby’s disposition, and the atmosphere, it can go so many ways: speed up, slow down, get chaotic or very focused. I was not rushing Alicia; my goal was to let this birth unfold as it was meant to, but I was conscious of her getting overly fatigued with a very long labour, so we decided to go for a nice long walk through the neighbourhood to see if we could get the cervix dilating and things progressing. Of course, Alicia, the strong Gitxsan woman she is, instead of pausing or holding on to anything or us during contractions, walked through them all by herself. I picked a flower, put it in her hair, and we headed back to the house. Sometimes, during these hours Claire would go through her birth kit and we would listened to the baby, the one and only time we checked the heartbeat. No other westernized medical interventions were used for the remainder of the birth; not out of irresponsibility or ignorance, but out of trust and knowledge.
When you trust in Spirit, in Creator, when you have a healthy young mom it’s easy to see that normalized interventions like constant monitoring only disrupt the flow and the work of birth, along with the calling of the baby down into the birth canal and spiritually from the other realm. We all surrendered to the birth, to the moment, to the flow. It was happening exactly as it was meant to; our collective energies, our protective prayers and offerings of medicine, the ancestors present: this is birth work. We needed no one but who was present.
In my memory are images and sounds: Alicia lying down with her mom and resting throughout some contractions, Claire bustling in the kitchen and massaging Alicia’s back, Gord coming in intermittently to check on his mate, everyone figuring out how to put the birthing pool together. Alicia’s parents puttering around, and the sharp scent of cleaning products as her dad decided to clean the bathroom and work off some nervous energy. Her friend Amber coming in and bringing in her good bouncy, radical energy. The sounds of her breathing deeply and steadily through the worst of each contraction. The feel of her body against mine, skin smooth and a little twitchy as I cradled her against me and supported her. The look in her clear green eyes as she went inward during the worst of each contraction and the little crease in between her brows when she squeezed them tight. My hand dark against her belly skin as I felt the uterus through a contraction. Alicia was so focused and worked so hard during labour. We brought out the yoga ball, and as she had a little blood show, we put a blue pad on it and she bounced her way in her pretty red and black summer dress and comfy grey sweater through many contractions, chatting in between some of them, visiting with us all and seeming to doze between others.
By the time the birth pool was filled and warm, Alicia’s contractions were getting more intense. Her want and need to get into the water was becoming apparent, and she was eyeing that pool with something approaching lust! We wanted to wait until her labour was thoroughly established and to make sure that getting into the water wouldn’t stall the birth or slow it down. I brought her upstairs into her room for a bit, just the two of us, and we squatted through some contractions. She wanted to change for the pool and it was very hot in the house. We had an interesting interaction with the squatting; she wanted to lean forward on the bed as she was accustomed to doing by now during a contraction and breathe through it, whereas I wanted for her to squat through it. I said something like “Fine, but you should squat,” and she was like, “Okay, I’m gonna do this,” as she rocked onto the balls of her feet and I supported her through the contraction. She was trembling as it hurt more, and I could feel her wanting to get up, but her spirit is so fighting strong that with very little coaxing she stayed in her position and rode through the pain. She changed into her bikini in between several more contractions and off we went back downstairs.
I was still hesitant about the birthing pool and kept coaxing her along, with climbing in as the goal. We went off for a walk in her garden with Amber. We admired her garden passed some more contractions, and while we were there with the sun warming us amongst her greenery, it was time to talk about what to do with what she called the “white midwives.” Hah. I said it was her call and that I wouldn’t feel usurped or anything if she decided to call them, but if we were going to it would be soon. Amber said that we didn’t need them, and Alicia was firm when she said “Why would I? This is working” We all had a bit of a moment of trust deepening to another level and off we went back into the house. She got back on her ball and her dad, who was always busy comforting Alicia, talking to Gord, cleaning up, getting food, and going off on errands, strode in and said, “So, did we fire the ‘white midwives or what?’” Oh god, it was so hard not to laugh. It was such a perfect question at the perfect time, and we were like “yup.” Please note they were not “fired” and are excellent midwives, but Alicia and Gord wanted a traditional and intervention-free birth as it was meant to be for our women. Reclaiming our own traditional midwives and births is a huge act of decolonization and keeping our culture alive. He said something to the effect of “Right on! We don’t need them!” and we continued on our way to meeting this baby.
By this time things were getting intense. While my natural instinct and love of all things birth wants me to be as close to the mom and monitoring her in my own way as possible, I knew she needed Gord, her mate, her lover, to come and give her his energy and love during these contractions to help her call her baby and ease her pain with his touch. He came in, and I showed him how to hold her during a contraction on the ball and left them too it. It was so beautiful to see their love and connection, to hear their whispers and see his strength as he held her while her body and spirit worked so hard to call the baby down. Claire and I ate fish sandwiches and had our own whispered connection and laughs and discussion on how everything was flowing just right.
At this point, I gave them both some tobacco to carry and pray for protection and a positive outcome, and Alicia sank down into the river of birth and gave herself up to it completely. The back labour started up, and the intensity of her contractions had increased, as well as frequency. I am always in awe of labouring women and the ability and capacity for accepting pain. Alicia was so powerful. We were all taking turns at applying pressure to her back during contractions. Claire was the best at it, and I was talking to Alicia through a few contractions. I remember telling her “You’re so strong! Your ancestors are here! You’re a strong, powerful Gitxsan woman and you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to! Trust your body and your prayers; call your baby, Alicia. Ask for the baby to come down.” There is nothing more beautiful than hearing a mama calling and coaxing her baby down and out, talking to her baby.
After we walked her through some more contractions (with Claire and I supporting her and rocking her hips and pelvis during them), she was starting to repeatedly ask for the tub; she was so gratified and happy. When she got in, quickly abandoning her bikini and finding her favourite way to labour, she floated in the water and let her body work the baby down more. Gord lit some sage to smudge her, the pool, the water, and us all down; the scent of it reassuring and cleansing in the air, little bits of it fell into the water as the smoke rose to the ceiling. Her belly was round and smooth as a river rock, gradually getting lower as the baby would come down. During the day, her nipples had darkened with impending nursing, and she stroked her belly between contractions, hands firmly in a downward motion. She flipped over like a little frog on a lily pad and laboured, body and limbs floating in a frog position with her eyes tightly closed, resting in between her waves of pain. There is always a lull during this time. I laid down on the couch to rest, conserve my own strength and watched Gord, her family, and friend treat her like the labouring queen she was. Claire brought out a fan and her father was fanning her face to cool her off. Her mom and friend were taking turns keeping her hydrated. Gord was stroking her hair and talking to her; Claire was pouring warm water over her back. It was so perfect to see a mother’s spirit and her support system working together, along with all of us joined together by shared presence, energy, and breath in a collective to bear witness to the entrance of a new spirit into this world.
Alicia was steadily getting louder during her labour. At this point, we were encouraging her during the contractions with our own sounds to make them lower, and to concentrate the breath and sounds in her cervix, to draw in the air and guide it down through her body to her core and to hold it there as a means to encourage the baby to move down. She kept asking if she was dilating and if her baby was going to actually come out, and we reassured that “of course she was,” and “of course the baby was.” Claire had left earlier to get her rebozo. At this point, we passed it underneath her and around her belly, and helped support her body during contractions so she could relax her legs and thighs and bum so that the baby could move down. Only having used a rebozo a couple times, we had a good laugh at my lack of rhythm. We continued on with this for a while until she flipped over again, belly and breasts rising from the water, brow damp with beads of sweat and water, nostrils dilated, and eyes closed. She kept trying to check herself and Claire asked her what she felt when she was touching and she said “I don’t know; can someone else do it?” With a quick change of position I checked her and felt that the baby’s head was very close. I couldn’t feel any cervix in that position. She had worked so hard and thought that she was so far away, that you could see a tension run out of her when I told her that the baby was so very close. Claire did a quick check in another position and found a small lip of cervix left. She was starting to get a little nervous and shivery at this point, and everyone was rushing to put hot water in her pool to keep her chill away. She voiced her nervousness, and we all reassured her. Claire brought out the homeopathy and gave her pulsatilla and aconite. She loved them. She told us later she wanted them because they made her feel as if she was going to calm down. We told her while it was close to conserve energy and keep on with contractions without pushing, until she felt that unstoppable primal urge to push the baby out move her body. She wanted Gord in the pool with her and Claire felt that we should let them have space and I agreed. We all cleared out about a whole 5 feet away on the patio and chatted quietly amongst ourselves while keeping an here for any changes in her sounds.
This gave her mom and Amber time to share their birth stories and talk about it with Claire and I. It also gave us all some time to relax. I was continuously praying, when my mind had a break for hours now and this time was no different; praying for protection and safety of mother and the little babe, of father and house, of all of us in attendance, asking the spirits and the ancestors to protect and guide Alicia and Gord and baby through this process in a good way.
She was getting more pushing- and grunty-sounding. I snuck in to hydrate her with some salted lemon water and record the sounds. I was so excited that my own body was twitching and shivering in anticipation. I could feel the baby coming in my bones, and knew she was so very close. It was so hard to wait through those last waves to bring the baby out. She and Gord worked so lovingly and well together in that pool in those last 20 minutes. We could hear her asking him for reassurance and him comforting her. We could hear her pushing now in her contractions, her saying “It’s almost out! I can feel it”, and then her high-pitched sound of dismay as their baby’s head went back in and Gord telling her it was okay, and her echoing “it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.” I went in to check, finding that she successfully brought baby down and almost out.
I did a quick check while Claire brought out the mirror and flashlight. Baby was going to be out in a couple pushes. Claire called in grandma, and grandpa was off on an errand. With little coaching, she slowly pushed the baby’s head out with great concentration and a massive holler of effort. Everyone, of course, was in a state of heightened excitement and I was totally engulfed in the whole process, barely registering anyone’s presence but Alicia’s, Gord’s, and baby’s. Once the head was out, she yelled at me “PULL IT OUT!”, and after a quick check for the cord around the neck I told her,” I can’t; you have to push again” and she said, “I don’t want to!” (LOL). “One more push! Just a little one, please,” and with the next wave, a grunt and a release of energy and tension that was building in the room, she pushed baby into my hands. I had a firm grasp on this slippery new life, completely in her caul. Amber had dreamt it the night before and it happened! This baby’s spirit was amazing at communicating! I put her quickly on her mom’s stomach and they peeled the caul off to look at baby while we covered them all with receiving blankets.
Alicia kept asking if her baby was okay, and stating “I can’t believe it! I did it! Gord, we have a baby! The baby is here.” After, we all sat in awe and I rubbed baby’s back a bit. A healthy, nice cry came and birth-pale soft skin splotchy with vernix pinked up. I thought to take a peek: tiny little swollen pudendum, healthy pulsing cord, tiny thighs, a bit of meconium; a girl. A little warrior girl born. The happiness and love on Gord’s and Alicia’s faces was so pure and beautiful, it moved me to tears and made my whole body shake. It radiated out and engulfed us all. What a gorgeous and absolutely amazing moment, watching this new family together, talking to baby and each other and seeing the shining spirits of everyone smiling, sharing, and basking in the birth, energy, and love.
I remember sights and sounds: the wet mound of Alicia’s belly heaving with effort when she pushed; Gord’s dark hair in contrast with her light as he bent his face in her neck, her slender arms reaching up hands grasping until they found support as she pushed; the water cloudy with birth and the darkness of the house; the sound of her deep nasal inhaling and Gord’s voice murmuring in reassurance. The rustling of others moving around and baby’s head slowly emerging; the feel of the little head and neck, both fragile and strong with its collar of mother’s flesh around it as I supported it checked for cord. A first glimpse at the baby as the head was out; impression of hair. The feeling in my own belly as their baby slithered out as quickly as a salmon into my waiting hands, phantom birth come to remind me. Gord’s knees poking out of the water on either side of Alicia. Her gasp of relief and delight as baby was put on her chest.
They decided to name their baby Mayus, boy or girl before birth. It is a Kwakwakawak name meaning “Raccoon,” an animal they both favoured. Mayus is petite with a perfectly formed body. She reminds me of a soft, reddish, fuzzy peach in color and with her hair. Her eyes seemed greyish green to me, but it may have been the lighting. Her brow is clear and wide and her chin and nose angled just right, with a little red mouth pursed delicately; she truly does resemble her namesake and both parents. What a gorgeous baby with all ten little piggies and long delicate fingers softly grasping like the little kit she is. We weighed her in a rebozo with a fish weight attached before her grandma left. We were so tired and didn’t adjust the scale properly, so we were a pound off. We read 8lbs, but she was really 7lbs 1oz. They wanted to keep the cord attached to Mayus as long as possible. We made no intervention, we made sure that baby was healthy, breathing and just relaxed in happiness and relief. I offered up another prayer of thanks to all the ancestors and Creator for this birth. We helped Alicia out of her pool, dried her and baby off as well as we could, and tucked them into the bed. She said that she could feel another contraction, and while I was busy trying not to burn towels in the oven for baby, her placenta came out easily with Claire there to help. We put it in a bowl and did all of the little things you do after birth to make mama and baby comfy and to bring your own self back fully into the physical world.
What followed was an hour or so of spurts of busyness as I tried to work off the adrenaline in my body and stillness while watching the new family and checking the baby out a little more. Claire and I inspected the placenta, nice and healthy, fully intact. We gave Alicia some shepherd’s purse tincture to prevent any excess bleeding, and she decided to shower while a nice little nest was made up for her and baby. Claire and I stayed in the bathroom with her while Gord got to know his new daughter and we helped Alicia wash up, Claire filled up her peri bottle with herbs for her perineum and we encouraged her to pee.
Once she was all tucked in and comfy again, I showed Gord the basics of cord burning. Using organic beeswax candle, he separated baby gently and reverently from her placenta. We tied “the loose end”, if you will, in a knot. Mayus never left her mama’s side except for the brief time in the shower and she did not have any kind of procedure done except her for the cord burning. No hat, no clamping and cutting of cord, no suction, no eye goop, or vitamin k shot. Mama had no tears or medications. Both were awake, alert and aware fully of each other as they learned how to latch and nurse. Everyone was busy around us, taking down the birth pool and cleaning up. My whole body realized (wow!) that it was tired and sore, my head was pleasantly muzzy, and I laid on the end of the bed.
Claire is such a nurturing soul. Everyone left after cleaning up and visiting with the new family, and she went and got us all food. I gave some beginner lessons in latching and nursing as mama lounged comfortably in her panties and no top for optimal skin-to-skin ease of learning to nurse. It was crazy hot out. we all ate together and rehashed the birth experience, had some good laughs, looked at pictures, and I finally showered and tottered off to bed when Claire left.
I spent the night in case either Alicia or the baby needed help. I heard Mayus cry periodically throughout the night as babies do. Mama and dad did great, thankfully needing no help. Finally, I slept. In the morning, baby had a fantastic meconium poop all over her legs and blankets. We gave her legs a mini dip in her tub and scrubbed it all off. That stuff is like tar! I made my travel arrangements home back to Maaqtusiis and we visited while I waited for my ride. I felt guilty for leaving so soon; my natural inclination was to stay, but my family needed me back home.
Since I got back home Alicia and I have been chatting online and checking in. The baby is perfectly fine and healthy. Mama is perfectly healthy, fine, suffering no more than the usual after effects of birth from which she is swiftly recovering. Mayus developed a mild case of jaundice, mama’s milk came in and the “white midwives” visited and gave her the low down on the worst case scenario of jaundice: brain damage, bilirubin lights, and deafness. All, of course, gave Alicia a mild case of anxiety about baby and the jaundice. Well meaning but disruptive to the natural high that carries us mamas through the first week of birth. Claire has been checking in, and we have been chatting, so between us 3, reassurance was had. Baby Mayus is such a good little eater and pooper; it is already resolving itself.
I cannot express how much birth and midwifery in this way is not only empowering and gratifying; it is also an act of resistance. It is the physical embodiment of decolonization, disconnecting yourself from the colonizing state and reasserting your own inherent indigenous rights to birth in our own ways, on our terms. Our indigenous women’s bodies are not our own, since contact we have been under assault from the white, male, dominant patriarchy that sought to erase us. When they couldn’t, they sought to assimilate us through our bodies and by stealing our babies. Taking our birth autonomy back in this way connects us again to our bodies, our rights, and is a huge step in our journey into decolonization. Eschewing the ways of modern western medical doctrine that was not made for our people and looking to our own ways, to natural birth, to intervention free birth, to sacred spiritual birth, is healing and also the ultimate liberation. Indigenous babies born free. The first hands to touch babies are not white hands. The first words babies will hear will be their parents and families, not doctors’ and nurses’. The first contact with the world and humans is not that of a doctor or nurse cutting their cord and whisking them away from mama to be weighed bathed, hatted, antibiotics rubbed into their eyes, and vitamin K injected; it is of mama and her flesh, and daddy’s hands for as long as need be or at least until mama has to pee!
When we change birth like this and bring it back from this medically-managed and fear-based practice, we change the future. We change the minds of our own people who are sceptical or so deeply ingrained in western medical culture that they are afraid to stray from it. We are birthing babies free from hospital trauma and colonialism, and their first lesson on this earth is that we are recreating and renewing our bonds with our ancestors, pledging to raise them outside of the racist culture that surrounds us.
I am more than a person who just picked being a midwife out of a hat to pursue as a career. It is a calling and something people in my family have done before; it is a sacred responsibility I could not ignore. It is a memory and knowledge that lives in my bones and flesh: inherent, ingrained, born in me as surely as I came out of my own mother. As the saying goes: “It is easier to raise warriors than to change a man.” Resistance starts in the womb and this next generation of babies born into our families are breaking the cycle of residential schools and lateral violence, and are healing us with every push. We are not only birthing babies: we are birthing ourselves, our nations and realizing our full potential to be true people of our lands.
I have been here before, and I will come again