Monday, May 12, 2008

All The Trees Were Having Sex........

making it really hard for me to breathe. I'd forgotten about the pollen in DC at this time of year, and my allergies were really acting up!

I just returned from the DC area after attending the "Invitational Gathering on North American Indigenous Birthing and Midwifery" sponsored by the Indian Health Service and Health Canada. Approximately 70 midwives from across Canada, the US, and Mexico attended this groundbreaking event. The purpose of our meeting was to share information about our specific programs and practices and to brainstorm ways to return
birth to rural communities. Here in Alaska, as well as on many rural reservations and in rural Canada and Mexico, women must travel hundreds of miles from their families at approximately 36-37 weeks pregnant and wait up to a month or longer to deliver in a hospital setting. The reason for this is that there are no providers of obstetric or midwifery care in their home communities. These women are mostly very low risk. Their absence places a huge strain on their families as they are often not able to bring their other children, their partners must continue to work, and safe childcare is difficult to come by. Loneliness and worry cause additional stress to these women, and many mourn the loss of their children being born 'on their own land'...i.e...'all of my parents and grandparents have been born in Barrow but now my children must be born in Anchorage'. 'We no longer have our roots'..'How can we know where we are going if we don't know where we are from'. This sense of loss and displacement were a theme throughout the meeting. Model programs from Canada (the Nunavik model, the Nunavut model, and the Six Nations Birthing Center) demonstrated successful ways of providing these necessary services as well as training more indigenous midwives. We are now charged with taking up the baton and translating this to a workable model for the Alaska and other US Indian Country communities.

Other speakers at our meeting included Robbie Davis-Floyd (who I've had the privilege to hear speak on 2 other occaisions!) She is such a visionary and her description of "Post-Modern Midwifery in the Age of Technocracy" was very compelling. I was also privileged to hear again one of the women who prompted my initial foray into Midwifery, Ina May Gaskin.

(Yep! Look it's me and Ina May!)

I was incredibly honored to be invited to speak at this meeting. My presentation was well received and garnered several comments and questions afterwards. I truly felt that I was walking amongst the giants of midwifery.

During this program, Rita Pitka Blumenstein (A Tribal Healer and Midwife from Alaska and a woman who I am very honored to be friends with!), Martha Koneak Greig (Inuit traditional midwife and developer of many successful maternal child health programs across Canada) and Beatrice Long Visitor-Holy Dancer (Oglala Lakota midwife and healer and also one of the Thirteen Grandmothers) were honored by the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian for their work in women's health and midwifery. It was a beautiful ceremony with drumming and singing and it literally sent chills up and down my spine. The honorees were given beautiful Pendleton blankets along with engraved placques.

After the ceremony Rita (who is also one of the Thirteen Grandmothers) wanted to go out for a lobster dinner so 6 of us piled into a cab and went to the Old Ebbitts Grill where we had a delicious dinner and were entertained quite well by our handsome young waiter. It was a great way to celebrate my birthday as well!

Our meeting was capped on the Thursday with a round table discussion on 'Women's Ways of Knowing: Lessons from Indigenous Midwifery Traditions' again at the National Museum of the American Indian. If you ever have the opportunity to visit this incredible museum, I would urge you all to go and spend a day. It is a wonderful peek into the people and cultures and beliefs of our native ancestors. And the building itself is an architectural masterpiece.

There were only a few hours of knitting during this trip. I was able to take the Metro and a short shuttle to within a half mile of WoolWinders in Rockville, MD. Luckily I went on Thursday evening, the store's knit&w(h)ine night! Within 5 minutes of entering the store (whilst perusing the large selection of Colinette and Malabrigo) Jackie the owner offered me a glass of merlot...I said 'heck yeah, who in their right mind would turn down a glass of wine?" to which she replied "my sentiments exactly, honey, you're gonna fit right in here!" After making a few purchases of mmmmMalabrigo and a Dale pattern booklet, I settled right in and knitted and chatted with the regulars. I made quite a bit of progress on Soleil in a straw colored silk/viscose blend (Katia's 'Fanny'). Three hours and many laughs later, Jackie dropped me off right at the metro.

I was back at home late on Friday. I just have to show you the beautiful sign Grandma Clara made to welcome me home!

Isn't that the sweetest thing you ever saw!

I've spent the rest of the weekend doing laundry, catching 3 new babies (overnight call Saturday night/Sunday morning), and packing for my next trip to leave for the villages of Mentasta and Chistochina this afternoon. Right now, I'm waiting for 10am when the 2nd round of Elton John tickets go on sale. This is Elton's first concert in Alaska and as the 8,000 tickets for the original concert on May 28th were sold out in 53 minutes, he has generously added a second concert on May 30th. I'm crossing my fingers that we'll get on board this time! The last 'Big Name' concert (of my generation anyway) was Rod Stewart...over 10 years ago! The man and I are working 2 computers and 2 telephones to try for tickets. Wish me luck!

ETA: WE GOT 'EM! Whoohoo! Elton John Tickets for May 30th! I. AM. SO. STOKED!!!!

I'll be out of touch again now for another week. Don't think there will be easy internet access out in the village. However, the slower pace will certainly enhance the knitting time ahead so look for another couple of FOs next weekend. Until then blogbuddies.....

Knit On!


Sarah said...

What a wonderful idea gathering! And you met Ina May! again!

it is too bad that even urban communities can't fully adopt the "I don't HAVE to deliver in a hospital" mentality as well.

I wanted to deliver in a birth center with my second and my family freaked out with that. It was actually a compromise with my husband when I wanted to deliver at home and he felt more comfortable at a hospital.

CatBookMom said...

Great post, and as always you looked 'fabulous, dahling!' Which pattern is the green shawl you're wearing in the first photo? I'm so happy that the conference was a success and that you were able to see old friends and connect with new ones. Plus you had some - even if limited - primo knitting time at the SnW.

Grace Yaskovic said...

I can;t believe you had your birthday when we you were away, Happy Birthday a bit late my Alaskan friend. I wish I could have met you in Rockville that Monday but Amtrak's prices were stellar!!!! Sounds like you had a wonderful trip!!!!

Milly said...

Sounds like a wonderful trip! Can't go wrong at Old Ebbit's Grill have dined there a few times myself. When I worked nearby.
Happy Birthday and Mothers Day and great score on the tickets!

junior_goddess said...


Dang midwives always have SEX on the brain.

Maybe YOU will be the woman who inspires some little girl to go OUTSIDE, and study, and be that Copper River Valley medical connection. I just read the census statistics-are there any nursing education programs in AK? Scholarship? People growing up there NEED that push, especially if THEY get hit with salmon trouble this year.

Be careful!

Scrabblequeen said...

Great pics, awesome events, good food, yarn, and've got it all! I look forward to a game when you get back to town.

Holly Jo said...

sounds like a wonderful time and a rousing success! The museum truly is beautiful - it was under construction last time I was in DC. Very nice photos.

happy belated birthday! Maybe I will bump into you at Elton John because you know there will only be 7000 people there. Isn't that insane?

Arctic Knitter said...

Sounds like a great trip & experience! Midwifery is so interesting - career change for me? :0)

Yeah for Elton John! We'll be on our annual road trip south, so I'll miss his visit - very sad.

Happy Belated Birthday!

smariek said...

So cool that you got to meet Ina May!!!

It's too bad you couldn't celebrate your birthday at home with family/friends, but it looks like you had a memorable time with your new friends in DC. Happy Birthday!

Is that National Museum of the American Indian new? I'm pretty sure I would have noticed that building and I don't recall going there. It's been a while though, I think the last time I went to DC was back in 1999. I will definitely have to check it out next time I'm there.

Have fun at the Elton John concern, that sounds like so much fun!

TracyKM said...

I really like the cream lacy sweater you're wearing :)
I live in an urban area, with an extreme shortage of family doctors. I had to have an OB because of that; I wanted a midwife but the closest ones were 50 minutes away which would have been difficult with dragging kids around. Now that I'm done having babies, there are some that are closer. I have read about women in rural areas having to travel 2 hours to get to the closest birthing hospital and that would scare me--my last two were very quick births, LOL.
I think though that society needs a change to the collective beliefs that birth is a medical event, and a return to the belief that it's a normal, physiological happening.
Elton John! Wow, I haven't been to a concert in so long.
Happy Birthday :)

Laura Jane said...

FABULOUS post and what a great time you have had in the last week or so.

The conference sounded great! I attended a similarly themed one in Geelong Australia in 2006, with InaMay and have a matching photo!!!

I haven't been to a conference for a year or so, but am planning to go to our national one in September in Queensland. The theme is 'keeping birth normal' and how we can wind back the medical model - two thumbs up for that idea!

We have a similar problem in Western Australia with rural and remote women being forced/obliged to leave their traditional lands to birth in our southern city. It is really hard for them. I work in the major tertiary hospital so see all the accretas/percretas that need CS :(

Gotta love the projects that turn the clock back so they won't have the FIRST CS.

Envy, envy, envy. Happy birthday, happy mother's day, happy baby catching!

Knit on dear midwife buddy

widget said...

Loved the blog - first time reader and will read back through your history. (Thanks Laura Jane) I love the idea of a knit and w(h)ine store.....something I might just suggest, nothing beats a wine as you knit.

Jacqui Rose said...

Thanks so much for the kind words about your time at WoolWinders. We loved having you at the shop. Please stop by the next time you are in the DC area! And I envy you your Alaskan spring and summer. You are fortunate to live in such a beautiful place. All the best,


Allison said...

Wow sounds like a wonderful meeting. I wish I could have heard your speach. Your title cracks me up. I have bad allergies as well but never quite thought of it that way . . . .

aksunflour said...

Wow! Maybe in the village you can take time to catch your breath.

What a trip. LOL.. had to read your title a few times before I got it.

Grace Yaskovic said...

stop by my blog and vote for your favorite shawl one lucky winner gets yarn, there are several ties at the moment so give me your input too!!

Joan said...

What a great story with pictures! Surely there is a podcast of your speech for us to dl? ;-p

BTW you look amazing but howz about chopping off about 6" of that hair? (Sharing the "hair-chopping in '08" love).

You rock, GC!

Anonymous said...

That was a beautiful post!

Allison said...

When you come back - check out my blog as I've tagged you!

Firefly Nights said...

If you ever head back to the DC area again, let me know. We're about an hour and a half from there.