ProPublica & NM In-Depth: Albuquerque Hospital’s Secret Policy Separated Native American Newborns From Their Mothers
I was happy to participate in this interview - having worked at Lovelace Womens Hospital in the past and being a Native American Nurse Midwife. There is a lot of things I have had to deal with over the years while working in the hospitals. If you saw me transform into a more aggressive and firm person in the hospital, know its because I had to, to protect the rights of my patients there.
It has absolutely set me on the path for the work I do now. Informed consent, helping Native families navigate the system, and knowing full well hospitals make their own policies that have nothing to do with centering patients ( which they always like to say- because it sounds good).
I have been to the puppet show and seen behind the current. It’s not pretty.
I applaud ALL who came together to break this story.
"Pregnant Native American women were singled out for COVID-19 testing based on their race and ZIP code, clinicians say. While awaiting results, some mothers were separated from their newborns, depriving them of the immediate contact doctors recommend.
Nicolle L. Gonzales, a Navajo nurse midwife who worked at Lovelace for two years, first heard about the ZIP code policy from a colleague at the hospital last month. Gonzales, who founded and directs the Changing Woman Initiative, a Native American women-led health collaborative in Santa Fe, New Mexico, said informed consent is an important concern for Native American patients
“You know, if you’re a Native person in an all-white setting, how do you speak up for yourself?” she asked. “There is no way to measure whether you’re being racially profiled or racially excluded from a norm [of treatment] that’s happening or not happening with others.”"
Nicolle L. Gonzales
Founder and Medical Director, Changing Woman Initiative
Waking Dreams before Dawn,
Ancestors Talking to You
Pick up your feathers,
Use the Medicine
Sing Your Heart Songs,
Child of the Cosmos
You are Ready.
Making the leap to answer your Ancestors calling is probably one of the hardest and scariest things any person can ever do. I know, it happened to me. The fears pulling at my mind and heart around a decision to stay or move, to act or be still, to walk the path that was slowly presenting it self to me or to ignore it and walk the other way. I was living a good life already, what if this dream, this vision, this passion in my heart took that all away….but what if it didn’t? What if what felt impossible is possible?
The waking dreams continued over 5 years, like clockwork at 3:00 AM my eyes would open and I would look out the window to be greeted with darkness. At first it was mulling over whether or not I should act, then it changed to idea’s lining up in my mind on how to make it possible, then it transformed into sitting up and writing down these ideas in my journal. I began to get excited. I started sharing my ideas with my husband, who immediately shot them down with skepticism. He asked me questions like “What about our children?” “What about time with our family?” “what about….” I let his words sit with me for a bit. Everything he was asking me, were questions I had already asked myself. What about our children? What about our family? This BIG dream I was talking about would certainly impact them.
As a woman who has found healing through the transformation of motherhood, I was going risk my most valuable treasures, which was time and attention to my family. Was it worth it? Who would benefit? Who would not? More questions, more worries, more doubt. I knew people who had swung for the fence and lost more than their shirts in the process. I couldn’t lose them to this. I needed to think about this more.
Whether your most valuable treasure is your home, family, community, integrity-it will be what your measure all your decisions against in pursuit of your dreams. They say the price of doing the impossible is high, it’s true. It is. Nobody knows what’s most valuable to you, only you know that. Realizing your dream is a gift, that is true. People can go through their whole lives and not know their purpose, but rather accept to drift through this world in search of warmth by those on their life path. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, but I would like to believe we are all here for a reason. Whether we are leading change or reinforcing it, your important and you have a purpose.
The courage people talk about when you decide to go for it is really the courage to face yourself. To face the potential of failure, to face the trauma you still carry in your body that has not healed yet, and to be humble with yourself-that you don’t know what you don’t know. You will meet that courage at every turn and decision you make and soon it will be like your old friends. You will look at what’s in front of you and leap with your eyes open, rather than with them closed.
Part of realizing your dream and setting your sights on achieving it, is letting self-discovery be part of that journey. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. Perhaps up to this point, you have been successful at not putting yourself in situations that challenge your beliefs and have been able to detour yourself from real growth, because you haven’t had the courage to face yourself yet. It’s that courage and maybe even stubbornness that will flame your dream fire into reality. Don’t shy away from being and feeling uncomfortable, it’s growth happening
You will have many conversations with people who will question your path and commitment. More importantly, you will meet people who will question the feasibility and reality of the BIG dream. Get used to being challenged, questioned, evaluated, measured- all those things that happen when those listening to you don’t trust your commitment and devotion to the path you’re on. Get comfortable with being questioned. If you’re like me, dig your heals and make sure you know the ins and outs of that BIG dream. It will prepare you for when you are standing in front of your community sharing it with them and they start to fire off questions to you about the work you are doing.
As I pursue this birth center dream, my act of doing the impossible. I have certainly had to face myself. I have had to revisit past trauma that has not healed and look at how it was impacting my ability to share this dream with everyone. I am naturally an introvert and enjoy my alone time, recharging my inner child with art, poetry, and creative writing. I basically confront my anxiety of talking to large groups of people monthly. I have had to learn the business of birth, spending a lot of time working on spreadsheets and developing contracts, rather than basking in the lovely glow and magic of birth. It’s a tradeoff for sure, I came to midwifery with the understanding that I would be part of many magical moments with families. Now I am spending a lot of time creating a larger space to share that magic with all families.
It is certainly like a wild fire when you begin to glow with that brilliant light inside.
(Oh…how desperately our world is in need of you and that light right now.)
You begin to meet likeminded individuals and then your light together ignites a bright fire that is hard to miss. Suddenly, your dream becomes everyone’s dream.
Along with the beauty of your ignited and beautiful soul from listening to your ancestors call you into your life path, you will feel a shift happen within you. You might not notice it right away, because you are so focused on the work you are doing, but take the time to bask in where you are now and where you were then. Whether it is an inch or a mile from where you started, you made a leap of faith to go for it, that is BIG.
If you are reading this now and feeling afraid to make the important decisions in your life that prevent you from your life path. Please know I have been there. I chose to accept my calling and listen to the ancestors. I have lost friends, made friends, burned out, lit back up, and am still going for it. I wanted to share this important message with you and I hope it reaches the far reaches of your spirit that hasn’t been spoken to in a while. Go for it. Dream Big. Just go for it.
Author: Nicolle L. Gonzales
Visionary, Dreamer - The woman who just decided to go for it!
Water is holy to midwives.
Midwives know that it is through water, in all of its forms, that new life is brought into this world.
Much of our job is spent monitoring water: hydration, urine analysis, vomit, and, most importantly, the water in which a new life grows and strengthens.
This amniotic water plays a central role in our relationship with a developing life. We have to make sure there isn’t too much, or too little. We examine the color, the smell, the consistency. We pay careful attention to the way in which a growing baby interacts with the water it lives in, that cords are not tangled by aquatic acrobatics, that the little one is completely surrounded by water so that the sac it is contained by doesn’t restrict developing limbs. That when the bag breaks, and water trickles out like drizzling rain on cloth or bursts forth like a river from a dam, nothing gets caught or positioned where it shouldn’t.
We know firsthand the dangers of infected and contaminated water.
When outside toxins are introduced into the uterus, and pass through the protective bag into the water, the health and lives of mother and baby are in real danger. Maternal temperature starts to rise- heart and respiratory rates increase. Baby’s heart rate starts to rise in response to the stress and direct exposure to infection. With this stress, baby’s anal sphincter loosens and feces are introduced into the water that swirls in and around their lungs. The water, formerly sterile and literally life-inducing, begins to turn color, becomes foul smelling and toxic. Babies can and have died as consequence of infected water.
Water is holy to midwives.
Water is our first medicine, a key part of our physical make-up. In the Bdewakantunwan Dakota creation story, humanity came to be at the junction of two great rivers. Their colliding forces helped to carve out the earth necessary for the creation of the human body, and from that place, Dakota people were born. Modern humans are created the same way: two fluids colliding to create life.
This Dakota site of genesis resides in a place still named for the power of its water: Mnisota Makoce, translated by my grandfather as “land where the waters reflect the skies.” The image it invokes is that of the early morning, with the mist rising off the water as the sun’s first rays begin to peak over the horizon. In Dakota, we have a word for this mist: “anptaniya,” or “the breath of the dawn.” This is the first hint of the power that awakes with the rising of the sun. Fire, greeted, purified and awakened by water.
From the time I was little, I was instructed in the importance of water. My geographical knowledge of my nation’s territory was marked by rivers. I grew up overlooking the Minnesota River valley, where the Yellow Medicine River joins the first great tributary of the Mississippi. Between ethanol plants draining the water table, farm chemical run-off contaminating the river and the utter destruction of the wetlands, people cannot eat the fish or swim for long in the river anymore. The river my grandmother speaks of, the one she used to play in as a girl whose water was so clean she could see the bottom and drink from it, is gone. The water wars here began a long time ago.
Water is holy to midwives.
Lately the news has been filled with people dealing with the dangerous consequences of contaminated water. From the lead-contaminated water poisoning the children of Flint, Michigan, to cancer caused by PFOA contamination in the water of Hoosick Falls, New York, to Newark public schools giving lead- contaminated water to their entire student and staff population, safe water is becoming an issue in the American national media. Sadly, as Indigenous people, this is not new for us: water contamination as consequence of uranium mining, nuclear waste facilities, fracking, oil spills and outdated public works systems is and has been a lived reality for many Indigenous nations for the past several decades.
The results of this deliberate negligence are plain to see: increased rates of rare cancers, lead and heavy metal poisoning, radiation poisoning, birth defects. All of this on top of the perinatal health disparities that already exist because of the historical legacy of genocide and colonization, indigenous midwives have much to fear when we consider the future of our nations and the health and well-being of the babies we are trusted to safeguard.
Colonization and genocide are not words that I take lightly. I was fortunate to grow up amongst groups of Indigenous scholars, to whom my family belonged, and was a part of the conversations outlining the exact nature of the horrific crimes perpetrated in the name of God, in the name of America, in the name of progress. Colonization and genocide were never buzzwords to me, but ideas that haunted my steps from the time I was a little girl, and I saw the hypocrisy and tactics used to keep people like me oppressed and complacent. It was through the work of Fanon and Memmi, LaDuke and Deloria, that I came to midwifery.
Not only did I see the obvious ways in which Indigenous mothers and babies were attacked, tortured and murdered, I saw the more insidious ways. The way traditional food systems were destroyed in favor of western diets leading to the rise of food based diseases. The way new religions undermined feminine power, imposed the idea of struggle in birth as sin, and called traditional medicine and women’s knowledge witchcraft and devil’s work. The way in which the obstetric war on midwifery targeted specifically midwives of color, and confined pregnant women to lives away from walking, swimming, or squatting. The way in which the Allotment Act, the Relocation Act and the boarding school systems preventing extended family networks from supporting new families and passing on crucial knowledge. The way first farming, then logging, then mining, then railroad, then chemical companies began to rape and contaminate the landscape, including all who lived on it, including Indigenous babies.
The more I have seen, through the eyes of a midwife, the eyes of a Dakota woman, the more enraged I have become.
Water is holy to midwives.
My family and I went to Standing Rock. Friends and family live there, directly downstream of where the Dakota Access Pipeline construction is planned. We crossed the Missouri River late at night, watched it sparkle below us, utterly vast in the darkness, reflecting stars in the shifting water.
The force of the camp, mighty in numbers and intention, was truly awe-inspiring. I had doubted I would ever see such a display of Indigenous strength here in my lifetime. Looking at the children running around, young people riding horses through tipi lodges, old grandmas chatting as they set up their tents, I started to cry. I cried again when I saw young women leading a chat of “Mni Wiconi, Water is Life” next to grandmothers holding a sign saying “We Are Unarmed,” facing down riot cops in the streets of Bismarck. I cried when my son clung to me in fear from the uniformed people sent to quell the restlessness of the Indians.
As Indigenous peoples, as Dakota people, we understand that “Mni Wiconi” is not some fluffy abstract concept designed to fuel some hokey pseudo-spiritual practice. We understand that clean water is important, because all life hinges on its existence. We understand that while clean water has the power to heal, contaminated water has the power to kill. We also understand that each oil pipeline that has gone through has contaminated untold volumes to water, and killed much of the life surrounding those spills. The risk of contamination to a water source that so many people depend on to live is simply too great to be allowed to continue.
As midwives, we hold water to be holy, a sacred vessel for life. As midwives, it is our professional, ethical and spiritual obligation to stand up for the protection of water. Because we know, if water is contaminated, it is only a matter of time before the infection becomes deadly.
Unkitamakoce k’a oni unkitawapi- for our land and way of life.
From the illegally occupied territory of Mnisota Makoce. Wicanhpi Iyotan Win Autumn Cavender-Wilson is Wahpetunwan Dakota from Pezihutazizi K’api Makoce (Upper Sioux Community). She is a certified midwife, Dakota language revitalization worker, a member of the Anpao Duta Okodakciye, and a fierce decolonization activist. She lives with her husband in the Minnesota River valley and they are raising their son to understand the importance of water.
The Intersections of Indigenous feminism, Reproductive Justice, and our sacred responsibility as Protectors.