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Being there for birth: Local group to offer workshops, speakers on healthy birthing practices

From left are mothers and the doulas who helped them during their pregnancies: Roberta Decker, doula; Hannah Peterson and son, Noah, 10 months; Bonnie Fairbanks-Stangel, doula and Kyrie Fairbanks, 4 weeks; Lisa Johnson and daughter, Khloe, 2; Becky Fairbanks, Kyrie's mother; Esther Humphrey and Nigigoonsikwe, 11 months; Millicent Simenson, doula; Emilie Carpentier, doula. (Molly Miron | Special to the Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Expectant mothers look forward to baby's arrival with excitement and hope for a beautiful beginning of a life.

And although complications may ensue that require emergency medical intervention, such as a caesarian section, members of Mewinzha Ondaadiziike Wiigaming (Long ago women birth in lodge, home or building) believe that the more natural the birth, the better for everyone.

The nonprofit Mewinzha Ondaadiziike Wiigaming is a group of area nurses, midwives and doulas who seek to educate pregnant women and their families and promote healthy birthing practices.

Although the focus is primarily on Anishinaabe people, all pregnant women can benefit from the services of doulas, said Millicent Simenson, a licensed practical nurse and doula from Bemidji. A doula is a nonmedical person who assists a woman and her partner and family before, during and after childbirth with physical and emotional support.

Mewinzha Ondaadidiziike Wiigaming will sponsor workshops free to expecting families and those interested in supporting them from 1 to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Bemidji Holiday Inn Convention Center, 2422 Ridgeway Ave. N.W. Keynote speakers are Pamela Hunt, Alice Skenadore and Dorene Day of Farm Midwives, an organization from Summertown, Tenn., that for more than 40 years has sought to empower women who wish for natural childbirth in a safe home setting. The events will also feature a film "birth story," a panel discussion and question and answer session. Refreshments will be served. For more information, call organizers Simenson at 556-1961 or Roberta Decker at 407-1034.

Stories of birth

Esther Humphreys of Cass Lake is one of the mothers Mewinzha Ondaadiziike Wiigaming has supported. She has given birth to four children: the first son by caesarian; the next two sons by natural childbirth in a hospital; and, most recently, her daughter using the traditional Anishinaabe practice in a birthing lodge with her family and friends present.

Humphreys gave birth to Nigigoonsikwe (Little Otter Woman) 11 months ago. Her partner, Jason Hart, and her sons built the lodge and midwife Rebecca Knapp of Fertile, Minn., assisted at the birth. "She basically told my partner what to do and he handled it," Humphreys said. Knapp was also ready to take Humphreys to a hospital if complications arose.

The family built a fire in the backyard as they waited for Nigigoonsikwe to greet the world. Humphreys burned sage and other sacred plants during labor and found the most comfortable birthing position. When Nigigoonsikwe arrived, she was placed on Mother Earth and washed with cedar water. That evening, she was welcomed by her family and community with a pipe ceremony.

Hannah Peterson of Bemidji, who plans to take midwife training at the University of Minnesota, also chose to give birth to her son, Noah, 10 months, with a nurse midwife's assistance. "It was wonderful," Peterson said. During labor, she also relaxed her muscles in a tub of warm water. "I'm a doula, and my sister was my doula for Noah," Peterson said.

Emilie Carpentier of Northfield, Minn., said she took training for doula service about eight years ago when she connected with a group of Bayfield, Wis., women involved with Community Outreach Perinatal Education. She said she also plans to train as a nurse midwife. "I'm really passionate about birth and women's health," she said. Her goal is to give all women the "best birthing experience they could have."

"I think a lot of women don't realize they have choices," said Bonnie Fairbanks-Stangel, doula to Becky Fairbanks of Cass Lake during her pregnancy, labor and birth of her son, 4-week-old Kyrie. Fairbanks had experienced both caesarian section and natural delivery, Fairbanks-Stangel said, noting that each pregnancy is different for each woman.

Lisa Johnson of Ponemah also has experienced both natural and caesarian births. Khloe, 2, was born seven weeks early. Johnson said she started labor on a Friday, went to work on Monday and then to a walk-in clinic on Tuesday. From there, she was rushed to the hospital for an emergency caesarian. Johnson said Simenson was with her as doula for all four of her pregnancies.

Simenson has served as a trained doula since 2008, she said, specializing in helping with births in homes, lodges and hospitals. She added that her experience at the hospital has been positive. Her training is for birth, postpartum, lactation and infant massage. She said she has also served as doula to a second generation of women whose mothers she also helped. "It's happened twice now," she said.

Decker of Cass Lake is organizing Friday's and Saturday's events with Simenson. She said the doula takes her cue from the mother and family "It's kind of like whatever the need is," she said. "Everybody is different and every birth is different."

She said she followed her grandmother who delivered babies in women's homes. Her grandmother allowed Decker to help with the preliminary setup for births from the time she was about 10-years-old.

As for Humphreys, she is anticipating Nigigoonsikwe's first birthday. She said she hopes her daughter will have taken her first steps by then so she can walk into her birth lodge and touch the place where Mother Earth welcomed her in her first moments in this would.