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With rituals, knowledge and care, Alaska Native birthworkers support families through the birthing process


While the postpartum natural tea was brewing, Nungasuk Abra Patkotak stuffed a small tub with heat water, dried cedar leaves, rose petals, and Epsom salts. She positioned the tub in entrance of Sarah Thomas, who was sitting on the sofa together with her new child son, Sequoya.

“Make sure it’s not too hot,” Patkotak mentioned. “You just have to be gentle with your body as you heal.”

Originally from Utqiaġvik, Patkotak works for the Alaska Native Birthworkers Community, a corporation that helps families with conception, being pregnant, childbirth and postpartum — and makes positive native families do not feel alone.

Traditionally, when an Alaskan-born lady provides start, she is surrounded by aunts, sisters, and her mom, all of whom assist her through the transition to motherhood. Today, most Alaskan Native girls fly to Anchorage to present start and typically haven’t got their support techniques with them.

“Traditionally, our people had rites of passage and societal structures that really required everyone around them to care for a new family,” mentioned Benozaadley Lena Jacobs of the Alaska Native Birthworkers Community throughout the Elders and Youth Conference final month. “A lot of us are really hungry to reclaim those ceremonies and relearn that knowledge and reclaim those roles to support one another as sisters, aunts and mothers.”

The Alaska Native Birthworkers Community is a grassroots group providing biweekly digital teams, start preparation retreats, midwifery, postpartum support, and coaching for Native midwives.

“We find out what kind of support a family needs, and then we’re available just for their pregnancy,” Patkotak mentioned. “And if they want us to be there when they are born, we can be there when they are born.”

Midwives don’t work for Alaska Native Medical Center, however the hospital permits them to help families throughout labor as doulas. Such was the case of latest mother Thomas, who lived in Utqiaġvik since childhood earlier than transferring to Anchorage in 2020. She hopes to ultimately transfer north once more.

“We had an amazing birthing experience and Abra was there – it makes all the difference,” mentioned Thomas. “It’s just an abundance of knowledge and support and an indigenous worldview.”

During the postpartum interval, Patkotak visits some families, bringing groceries, bringing them tea and therapeutic massage oils, and serving to them with washing dishes, folding laundry, or cleansing. At Thomas’s home, Patkotak gave his mom a footbath and helped her burp the child and made positive the canine did not break through the entrance gate.

“I’ll just see what the mother needs,” she mentioned. “It’s really different for everyone.”


“One of my favorite things about the midwifery group is just the quality of their preparation,” Thomas mentioned. “Everything is so intentional and special — just the ceremony of everything.”

During the prenatal interval, Thomas would burn candy grass of their residence each morning and her husband Michael Thomas would make tea for them.

“It’s such a nice way for dads to get involved,” Thomas mentioned.

To broaden the community of Indigenous midwives statewide, the neighborhood affords free coaching for Indigenous midwifery lecturers, Indigenous lactation consultants, and Indigenous doulas.

“Our best care,” Jacobs mentioned, “is designed by our employees and offered to our employees that is truly based on our values ​​and our teachings and our respect and love for one another.”

Some of the individuals who go through the trainings ultimately develop into midwives with the Alaska Native Birthworkers Community, Patkotak mentioned. Having extra midwives would assist meet the wants in Alaskan communities.

“Traditionally everyone always had someone to support them that was from their community, who knew them, who knew their stories, who knew how to support them in that way,” she mentioned. “We want that for our families.”


Existing Birthworkers Community Specialists will stay employed. Patkotak alone skilled 30 births in the final yr.

“It’s really increased in the last few months,” she mentioned. “We’re definitely getting more and more support requests.”

Before founding Birthworkers Community with Jacobs, Charlene Apok, Margaret David, Stacey Lucason and Stefanie Cromarty, Patkotak ran the Pre-Maternal Home for the Arctic Slope Native Association in Utqiaġvik. She mentioned that in her household line, a few of her ancestors have been additionally obstetricians.

“So it’s important for me to get the family knowledge back,” she mentioned. “Being a doula was what I really wanted to do.”

The neighborhood gives companies to folks from throughout the state — together with Utqiaġvik and North Slope, the place Patkotak is from.

“Barrow is 750 miles from Anchorage. So when families are removed from residence and they see me, it is a acquainted face to them and they really feel much less alone,” Patkotak said. “What I like finest is with the ability to support my neighborhood members and my relations and make these connections once they’re actually removed from residence.”

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