Connecting culture and childbirth

Researcher aims to improve birth experiences for Indigenous women

One of the most profound events in a woman’s life is giving birth to a child. Now a research project is studying how to make that experience even more meaningful for Indigenous women by incorporating their culture.

Dr. Angela Bowen. Photo courtesy Rona Andreas

Angela Bowen, a University of Saskatchewan professor, is leading the participatory research project, which was funded by Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation.

“Our goal is to improve the cultural security of Indigenous women giving birth,” Bowen said.

The three-year research project focuses on exploring traditional Indigenous birth practices and ceremonies.

“One of the practices we’re learning about is the importance of saving the placenta and the umbilical cord,” Bowen explained. “The cord can be put in a little pouch, in a box, or some chose to bury it. One of the beliefs is if the cord is thrown away, the child will never feel grounded to their roots,”

Bowen said smudging has also been identified as an important birth practice. The new Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital will feature a Spiritual Reflection Room, for multi-faith worship, including added ventilation for rituals such as smudging and pipe ceremonies.

This fall the Maternal Care Centre in Saskatoon will move into the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital, with space to care for more than 6,000 pregnant women each year.

Bowen’s research engages 24 mothers from across the province in an Indigenous Birth Network, to support them as they share stories about their baby’s birth, participate in talking circles and interpret the study’s findings.

“It’s a nice feeling to be involved in the research and to be that valued as a mother,” said Janice Osecap, a project participant and mother to three children.

“I didn’t realize how important the cultural teachings my parents passed down to me were until this project. I want every Indigenous mother to have these traditions to help them on their journey as a parent,” Osecap said.

The research will be used to create a video, as an educational resource for care providers and communities to help increase cultural competency.

“We are so proud to support the work of Saskatchewan researchers and projects like this,” said Brynn Boback-Lane, President and CEO of Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation. “We know this research is important to improve the birth experience and health outcomes for Indigenous families, not only in Saskatchewan, but across Canada.”

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