A new project to support First Nations parents in remote and rural communities is also connecting new and expectant parents throughout the province with Elders and Knowledge Keepers. That's thanks to six video messages sharing First Nations wisdom to help welcome a new life into the world.
For many First Nations, the impending birth of a baby is a community celebration, with Elders and Knowledge Keepers sharing love, wisdom and strength to help welcome a new life into the world.
But for many expectant mothers caught up in the COVID-19 pandemic, this time has been one of stress, anxiety and even isolation, as women have physically distanced themselves to protect their health.
It's a situation which Toni Winterhoff, whose traditional name is Ey Cla:ney, can relate to. That's why the mother of three, who is a Health and Children's Specialist at FNHA, recently recounted her own experience in a video intended to share with expectant First Nations mothers.
“I was pretty scared when I found out I was pregnant," said Winterhoff. “I thought I would love this baby, but I wasn't certain if I would know what to do. I wasn't certain if I was a nurturer. I had never witnessed the birthing process. I had no members in my family who had that I could remember. I had no connections to my home. So, I am so grateful to the Elders who took the time to pour knowledge and love and patience into me to prepare me for the sacred ceremony."
Based on her memory of those positive experiences, Winterhoff reached out to Elders and Knowledge Keepers interested in providing video messages of encouragement to expectant mothers who may be facing isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, or those who live in rural or remote communities.
Those video messages were delivered via tablets which were handed out to expectant mothers as an added support for rural and remote communities with FNHA-funded programs in Maternal and Child Health (MCH) and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
Many of those video messages (which are available for viewing on the FNHA website shared similar thoughts, emotions, and encouragement.
Many Elders said when a woman becomes pregnant in the community, the would-be parents, family, and community members would come and sing, tell stories and speak to the child in the womb to prepare him or her for their welcome into the world.
The messages encouraged calmness around the mother, to ensure the Ancestors will come and witness the birth. The mother has to first ensure her own mental, emotional and spiritual health, which in turn will protect the child.
Lucy Barney, a T'it'q'et Elder living in St'at'l'm Territory, shared her experiences about growing up in Lillooet. Although she says being a “Life Giver" is a great gift from the Creator, it's natural to have fears and concerns.
“When it does get overwhelming to be a new mom, even if it is our third baby, it's okay to ask for help," said Barney. “It's okay to reach out. It's so important to always keep that in mind."
In this pandemic, so many people have come to feel alone, as they physically distance to keep one another safe from transmission of COVID-19. It's a feeling which Gwen Therrien (Malihatkwa) of Xa'xsta Nation understands well.
The great-grandmother said she remembers talking to her father about that feeling.
“He said, 'You know what, honey?' He said, 'Once your baby's born,' he said, 'You'll never be alone again for the rest of your life.' And do you know what? He was absolutely right."
Although these mothers may not have their grandmothers nearby to show them support, Therrien said she's happy to be there, if only via video.
“If you don't have a grandma to tell you that she loves you, I'm telling you. I love you."
Parents can use these tablets to stay in touch with their families, access apps and websites to support them in the time before, during, and after the sacred ceremony of birth, and connect with medical specialists in maternal and child health.
The FNHA sends special thanks to video participants:
• Marguerit James of Penelakut• JC Lucas in Nuu Chah Nulth• Wendy Ritchie (Thetsimya) of Skowkale • Gwen Therrien (Malihatkwa) of Xa'xsta• Lucy Barney of Titqet• Toni Winterhoff (Ey Cla:ney) of Xa'xtsa, a Stl'atl'Imx community
• Marguerit James of Penelakut
• JC Lucas in Nuu Chah Nulth
• Wendy Ritchie (Thetsimya) of Skowkale
• Gwen Therrien (Malihatkwa) of Xa'xsta
• Lucy Barney of Titqet
• Toni Winterhoff (Ey Cla:ney) of Xa'xtsa, a Stl'atl'Imx community
Learn more about how the FNHA supports Maternal Child & Family Health.