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Native American Birth Rituals

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Kayla O'Donohue

on 15 October 2013

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Transcript of Native American Birth Rituals

Native American Birth Rituals
Native Americans employed the use of labyrinths as a symbol of rebirth or finding ones self
Cradling boards
first job as a new father was to make a cradling board. It was very ceremonial
many specifics to adhere to while choosing the willow tree that would carry his child
certain supplications and prayers to offer while laboring over the hewn wood to ensure his child's health
similar to father bringing carseat to hospital
Umbilical Cord/Placenta
some women drew them in the sands as meditative rites during labor
distraction of pain of labor
frighten child from womb-James Mooney
Sacagawea: Capitain Lewis biography- most publicized account of natural births (notecard 2)
Many indigenous peoples used similar remedies.
Native American women were learned in the use of herbals and natural means of helping with labor. Black or Blue Cohosh, Red Raspberry Leaf, Partridgeberry, American Licorice, Broom Snakeweed, Buckwheat, Black Chokeberry, Smooth Sumac, Balsam Root Bark, Birth Root, Corn Smut, Wild Yam, Black Haw, Hottentot Fig, Pennyroyal, Bayberry, and Cotton Root were all employed for common childbirth issues (long labor, postpartum hemorrhage, retained placenta, etc..).
Van der Donck described a Mahican concoction made of root bark that the mother drank shortly before labor began.
Cherokee women drank an infusion of wild cherry bark to speed delivery
Women walked, strutted, crawled, swayed, and leaned
The laboring woman would stand, kneel, sit, squat, hang, dance, or otherwise move her baby down
the one position that a woman never birthed in was lying down "feared the child would never come out"
scholars believe that many First Peoples shared certain practices involving the participation of close family members and select others within the community
select members of community(mother, grandmother, elder tribal women)
Hopi-solitary births
almost all accounts: midwife was present and others there to assist;
Men were rarely allowed in the birth room, and to see the birth.
Kickapoo-allowed men to assist, very unusual
Midwife "Midewiwin":
The Navajo called their midwives 'the one who holds'
Inuit called their midwives 'the cord mother'
"Midewiwin" term- universally used throughout Native American tribes
modern term "doula"-will explore further later in presentation
Common Practices:
Birthing Devices:
used to help women "bear/labor down"
Needed assistance b/c standing up
ropes (to be hung by rafters or tree branches)
wooden blocks to squat on
stakes pounded into the ground to press against
low birth stools to sit upon
smoke bathes to help relax the perineum during birth
smoke was usually created from laurel leaves burned in a small clay pot, which the mother would squat or kneel over.
warm water be available for poultices or medicinal teas
oils be available for body or perineal massage
Helping the Birth....
Helping the Birth cont....
tribes used musical gourds, songs, or chanting to help the mother during labor
some women would make sympathy sounds to help the woman cope with pain
Roles of Birthing Assistant (Midewinwin)
Sometimes, a birth attendant helped by providing counter pressure on the perineum, blow the smoke onto the mother's perineum,provided fundal pressure for prolonged labor
mother provided own counter pressure on fundus with leather belt or strap around stomach
Many indigenous peoples used similar remedies.
Van der Donck describes a Mahican concoction made of root bark that the mother drank shortly before labor began.
Cherokee women drank an infusion of wild cherry bark to speed delivery
Coming into the World:
Women would lay leaves under the mother's bottom and allow the baby to fall out onto the ground there.
babies were not 'caught' by human hands, but welcomed by the earth (The short drop would act as a stimulus akin to our rough handling in today's Western cultures-get baby to cry)
Babies were generally rubbed vigorously with either ashes or animal fats, and were bound tightly relatively soon after birth
Many tribe's customs required a lying-in time where women attended to the new mother and baby, banding together to take care of her house's needs, while also pampering the mother with grooming, binding, special nourishing, washing, steaming, and massaging
Similar to our "doulas" today...
"Doulas" of today
a Greek word meaning a "woman who serves".
specially trained birth companion (not a friend or loved one) who provides labor support. She performs no clinical tasks.
Doula also refers to laywomen who are trained or experienced in providing postpartum care (mother and newborn care, breastfeeding support and advice, cooking, child care, errands, and light cleaning) for the new family.
To distinguish between the two types of doulas, the term birth doulas and postpartum doulas are used. (Doulas of North America, 1994, p. 1)
Most tribes required that the father participate in the restrictions postpartum, or he was prescribed his own set of rituals to perform.
many swore to abstain from intercourse for a time or went on dietary restrictions with the mother of his child
the outer walls are the womb
Lines of the labyrinth turns of life's journey and the umbilical cord always connected either physically or spiritually with the Mother earth
The center symbolizes the amniotic sac, the center of life, or the beginning of all knowledge and wisdom
Labryinth cont...
Unlike much of what Hollywood would have us believe-- women were regarded and revered with respect and dignity, seen as the life-giving and tribe nurturing citizens
The land was seen as feminine: the mountains as breasts, the rivers and streams as the life flow, caves as the innermost secret (womb), and the plains as the body.
Many Native American cultures would swaddle the mother in a warm bed over heated stones, while others require steaming in special steam huts-women were respected, revered and pampered
Many of the Native American tribes cherish the placenta and/or umbilical cord as sacred or mystical
buried under house
worn around neck in pouch to keep them connected to earth
Traditions and Rituals
The Blessing Way
A Navajo Ritual
*Ritual in which the pregnant woman is pampered and receives blessings
* Ceremonial Cleansing, grooming, gifting, and nourishing
*The Ceremony lasted for 9 days
Another common tradition among Navajo tribes was a gathering of women
*Message and feed the expectant mother
* Give her relics and talismans
The Changing Woman
The Changing Woman
* Sing to her the song of creation-the Changing Woman
The changing woman was basically the "personification of the earth"
The Seasons were representative of her cyclical path
Fall-Growing Old
Rules and Restrictions
Most tribes believed expectant mothers should not:
*Cross there legs
*Wear tied Neckerchiefs
*Avoid having sex
*Could not linger in doorways
*Not allowed to tie up animals
Both Mothers and Fathers had to participate in rituals
* Washing of the hands and feet everyday
Certain foods would cause certain outcomes to the baby
Raccoon would cause a sickly baby
Black Walnuts would cause the baby to have a big, ugly nose
Speckled trout could give the baby birthmarks
Hastening Birth
The Mahican tribe used a concoction of root bark to hasten birth
Cherokee would have an infusion of wild cherry bark
Scaring the Baby Out
It was common for Indian tribes to believe in scaring the baby out of the womb
A female relative would recite:
"Listen, little man, get up now at once, here comes a old woman. The horrible thing is just a little way off. Listen! Quick! Get out of your bed and let us run away. Yu!"
*They were to walk a lot and rest a lot but avoid any hard work
Things to Avoid While Pregnant
Navajo expectant mothers were advised to avoid looking at any dead animals because it was believed that seeing them could cause their child to take on the animal's attributes.
*Seeing a dead bear could cause the baby to be clubfooted
*Dead duck could cause webbed hands or feet
Every woman at childbearing age was advised to avoid any exposure to death or traumatic events it keep there child from having bad luck. Even before the child was conceived!
Navajo Traditions Today
Many women today are choosing to replace traditional baby showers with the blessing way tradition
Navajo tribes spent a lot of focus on the mother, preparing her mentally, physically, and emotionally for the journey of motherhood
Different way of looking at it
There are still practicing midwifes who follow many of the Navajo birth rituals, methods, and traditions
Native American Midwifes Today
Noelle L. Gonzales
"The Many Colors of Changing Woman"
She is an example of a woman who is being an advocate for her Native American beliefs and applying it to modern day healthcare by combining her cultural beliefs with modern medicine.
She is an inspiration to nurses and health professionals.
*Mothers were advised to think of only good and healthy things
Very Contrary to today
Using the term cost when implying to pregnancy or birth would be very inappropriate in Native American Cultures because motherhood was never looked at as a burden or inconvenience
Whats the Cost?
What can we learn?
Native American Women had a very different outlook on pregnancy, being a mother, and womanhood in general.
They saw pregnancy and motherhood as such a blessing, and everything that made them a woman as beautiful.
The native americans had such a beautiful outlook on pregnancy and motherhood, and felt blessed by everything that made them a woman
Today's culture has an entirely different outlook.
Examples: Childbearing hips are causes to diet, menstrual cycles are a nuisance that are manipulated by birth control, pregnancy is something to be prevented.
How It All Ties In
Working with Native American Patients it is important to remember their different outlook on pregnancy, motherhood, and being a woman
Applying it to our Nursing Career
To sum up....
Although most Navajo pregnancy remedies and treatments have been discontinued, there is so much to learn from their beautiful outlook on life and being a woman
Learning from the Navajo to focus on preparing the woman by providing emotional and mental help and support can often be more beneficial than medical procedures.
In the nursing field, having a Navajo mindset can give such a positive perspective to the expectant mothers and women patients.
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