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Archive for the ‘Pregnancy’ Category

I got back from my recent trip to Pine Ridge Reservation last Wednesday and have spent the past couple of days recovering from travel fatigue and a pesky stomach virus that I must have picked up on the trip home.  I think I was also recovering from some of the stories I heard while I was visiting with my dear Lakota friends.

The occasion for the trip was a happy one – after 10 years of waiting, they had finally obtained a house of their own and had decided to have it blessed.  When I think about the hard times and sadness they have endured over the past 6 years that we’ve known each other (search the category “Lakota friends” for past stories), I think having the house blessed was a really good idea.  I had gone expecting a Lakota holy man to bless the house, but apparently summer, with its powwows and other gatherings, was not a good time to “book” one.  The task and privilege fell to one of the local Episcopal priests, who had also conducted the funeral for my friend’s daughter a couple of years ago.

As an Episcopalian who had also had my own house blessed (some 30+ years ago), I was familiar with the ritual.  I was also pleased to see that the priest, with his Lakota beaded stole, had made slight adaptations in the rite to align it a bit more with Lakota culture.

Much of the rest of the time I was on the reservation was spent sharing stories.  I have often thought that a book should be written about my Lakota friend’s life.  Although it may be somewhat common to the lives of many on the reservation, it is the story of a woman who has already, in her 30’s, overcome more obstacles in her life than most of us will face in a lifetime.  I tell her that if she gives me the stories, I will put them together in a book and the money will be hers since the story is hers.  She laughs, but I think she has been considering it more seriously of late.

While we were sitting at her dining room table sharing coffee and conversation, I asked her what her earliest memory was.  Personally, the early memories I have center around holidays and playing with my younger sister.  So I was not prepared for the story she told me.  As you read her story, I ask you to ask yourself:  What does it do to a person to have this as his/her earliest memory?  Can you put yourself in this picture?

Her earliest memory is an event that occurred when she was about 3 and her sister about 5.  They were at home in their mother’s trailer.  The extended family had gathered there – aunts, uncles and some she does not recall.  Her mother was 8 months pregnant with her next sister.

The adults were all drinking heavily.  Apparently that was typical at that time in her mother’s life.  Suddenly, and for no reason that a 3 year old could recall, her uncle picked up a huge, old-fashioned butcher knife and stabbed her mother in the back.  The knife, which had about a 10 inch blade, had been “slammed about halfway” into the left side of her mother’s back as she and her sister watched.

An aunt quickly pushed the 2 girls into a closet to protect them and locked the door from the outside.  However, since the trailer was in poor condition as are many rez homes, the closet door was not a snug fit.  There was plenty of space between the door and the frame to allow the 2 children to watch what was unfolding in the hallway outside the closet.

The girls could see the knife still protruding from their mother’s back as she lay on the floor only feet away.  They could see the huge pool of blood forming around their mother.  She turned her head and looked straight at them, forming the words “help me” as best she could.  My friend clearly remembers her eyes connecting with her mother’s eyes.

She also recalls that all of the adults who had been there left, without helping her mother or calling for help.  The 2 little girls, who were terrified, threw themselves at the closet door.  The door, which was not well made or in good condition, as I noted before, gave way.  My friend’s older sister ran and tried to pull the knife out of her mother’s back – but she was too small and the knife was too deep.  The girls ran to get a neighbor to help.

The neighbor pulled out the knife and called for help.  When the police arrived, they arrested the neighbor for the stabbing, in spite of the stories told by both the girls.  Although the neighbor was eventually cleared, the uncle was never arrested.  The police refused to believe the girls’ story.

My friend’s mother was taken to the hospital, where they delivered her baby a month early and worked to save both lives.  The baby survived.  So did her mother, although it took a long time for her to recover.

My friend has had a stressful, tumultuous relationship with her mother over the years, for reasons that still remain unclear to me.  However, part of the difficulty seems to stem from the fact that her mother has never accepted and validated the trauma that it was for her 3 year old daughter to observe the stabbing.

My friend told me that she once asked her mother to stop wearing tops with thin straps so much.  Her mother told her she would wear whatever she wanted to.  She didn’t understand that my friend had a reason for asking that of her mother.  You see, every time she saw her mother in a tank top or camisole, she could clearly see the huge scar on her mother’s back when her mother turned away.  The sight of that scar would tear open the scar on her psyche every time, bringing her back to the night she was a terrified 3 year old.

When I think about this story – the alcohol driven chaos, the violent violation of a child’s mother, the abandonment by relatives who were meant to care for family, the adults who would not believe a child’s story and the emotional scars left on an innocent little girl – I can understand much of the rest of my friend’s life.

It makes me feel so protective of that child and so angry at the adults when I think about this story.  It makes me sad beyond words that this is my friend’s first memory.

So let’s go back to my questions now.

What does it do to a person to have this as his/her earliest memory?  I suspect a psychologist could write a book on that.  In all likelihood, in layman’s terms, it would scar the person for life.

Can you put yourself in this picture?  In all honesty, I cannot.  I gratefully grew up in a home where peace was the rule and verbal arguments the infrequent exception.  There was no physical violence.  Some of you may have had more experiences with violence as a child.  I pray that your first childhood memory is not something this traumatic.

But that was rezlife as a child for my friend.  I sadly suspect she was not the only one.

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Most of you don’t know that when I was younger, one of my jobs was as a Childbirth Educator.  I taught childbirth education classes for almost 10 years and they were some of the happiest times of my life.  I interacted with hundreds of expecting and new parents.  I witnessed numerous births.  It was always with a sense of amazement that I realized that no 2 births are exactly the same, even for the same mother, even for the same parents.  It is an experience filled with awe and fraught with worry.  It is natural and so many births could happen just fine without any assistance or intervention.  Yet it is also an event in which a multitude of things can “go wrong” – small things, big things, things that endanger mother or child or both.  I learned there is no “right way” because there is no single path that every child uses to enter this life.

That is amazing to me!  It doesn’t amaze me that we are all different as individual human beings.  But it does amaze me that we all have different birth experiences.  I could explain the process and tell parents how the “typical” birth would occur.  But I could never tell them what would happen to them and their baby.

One might think that after talking to hundreds of parents and seeing so many births, I might be a bit unimpressed when I speak with new mothers today.  But that’s not true.  I am still impressed and inspired.

I spoke to a new mother just this morning.  No, I haven’t taught classes for many years now.  I had called Pine Ridge to let an expectant mother know that I had a sponsor for her 2 year old son.

When I called her home, a male answered.  This was unexpected since she is a single mother.  I asked for mom and was told she had gone to the hospital last night to have the baby.  Then I remembered.  Mom had told me when last we spoke that she was on better terms with her son’s dad and he was going to stay with the little boy while she was in the hospital.  I asked him to let her know I had called and that I would contact her about a sponsor when she got home.

I made another phone call, to the sponsor this time, after speaking to the man in Pine Ridge.  I got the answering machine and had to leave a message.  In the time it took to leave the message, I had a voicemail message myself – from Mom!

My goodness!  She was so anxious to be sure she got the sponsor that she called me from her hospital room.  I returned her call.  She told me her “birth” story.

Last night she had been cleaning and rearranging furniture to make room for the new baby.  She started to have contractions.  No big deal.  When they got to be 5 minutes apart, she drove herself to the hospital.  [Yes, all of you who have experienced labor, drove herself.  She downplayed it – “I don’t live that far away.” – be we all know that 5 minutes apart is when labor gets really tough!]  She got to the hospital about 12:30 AM and found out she was 7 cm dilated.  She said they gave her some medication “to take the edge off” but continued “all it did was make me dizzy.”  She delivered a perfect 7 lb 15 oz baby girl at 6:30 AM.

Just 6 hours after delivering the baby, she called me back.  She sounded like she could go back to cleaning the house, though she did admit to being tired.  But it was important enough to her to have a sponsor for her children that she wanted to call me.

Her effort to contact me said several things to me.  The first was something that I already knew – she is a mature, caring mother.  The second thing it said to me was that she was another example of the strong Lakota women I have come to know in the past 6 years.  She had told me in our prior conversation that she planned to go to work again shortly after she had the baby.  Her job – working as a “flagger” at road construction sites.  I know women are strong in general but Lakota women are awesome.

The third thing her call told me was the importance of sponsors in the lives of those who are trying to raise children in some of the hardest conditions in this nation.  So I hope you will go to the “What is a Sponsor?” page and see what a sponsor can be.  For this mother and her children, a sponsor will be someone to fill in the gaps.  For them, a sponsor will be hope for a better future.  I am so happy I was able to give her a sponsor today.

I’d like to think of it as a Happy Birth Day present for her daughter.

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I haven’t posted about Pine Ridge for a bit because I wanted to give you a break from the heart wrenching stories.  Okay, that’s not true.  I needed a break from writing about them!  It is hard enough to hear them first hand.  When I write them, I relive them so I can get the pain and hurt across to you.  Sometimes it becomes too heavy and I need a break.

But I recently heard a story that I knew had to be told.

A 15 year old girl was living with her grandfather in the northern part of the reservation so that she could attend high school in Rapid City.  She wanted a good education, I assume.  While she was in Rapid City, she was raped.  Rape is enough for a 15 year old to cope with – this girl also became pregnant as a result of the rape.

The Lakota hold children as sacred, so her grandfather persuaded the girl not to get an abortion.  (This is NOT a discussion on abortion vs pro-life; PLEASE do not make any comments to that topic – they will be deleted.)  So now this young lady has an infant son.

She has moved out of the area she was living in with her grandfather and moved back to her mother’s house, which is in an area I serve.  She is attending “virtual” high school so she can care for her baby and still keep up with her education.  I hope and pray that she will be able to do both.

I will be looking for a sponsor for the young woman and her infant son.  I will probably be adding other children from her mother’s home who will also need sponsors.

I am trying to understand all that this young girl must be feeling so that I can make an appropriate match with a sponsor for her.  I have some memories of what it is like to be a teenager.  I know the statistics that 2 of 3 Native American women will suffer sexual assault in their lifetimes.  Does that mean I will have support?  Or does it mean I will be expected to accept what happened, love my son and move on?

Did I want to go to college?  Am I now looking at my hope for a better future being torn away?  Will my son grow up with the same experiences of hunger, cold, lack of things that I did?  Will he have any hope?  Will I be able to give him any hope if I don’t have any  for myself?

In urban and suburban areas, teens like this young girl might have a support group with others in the same situation.  On the rez, distances are too great to gather girls for this kind of thing on a regular basis.

I don’t think I’ve managed to scrape the surface of this young woman’s feelings.  I apologize for that.  I think there are a few things that are difficult to write about if you haven’t experienced them and perhaps this is one of them.

But I certainly will work to find this girl a good sponsor for herself and her son.

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You either clinked on this post because you know I have a penchant for odd titles or because you can’t, for the life of you, figure out what heart surgery and a car have in common – maybe both.

I just finished a conversation with a grandmother on Pine Ridge Reservation in SD, who called to find out if our organization could do anything to help with getting her car running again.  I explained that we do not normally do that kind of thing because of the exorbitant costs we would incur.  (Every car on the reservation could use some kind of repairs, from what I’ve seen and heard!)

But I also asked her what the problem was and why she needed the car so urgently.  I explained that, while we do not do this kind of service, we have people who have connections and sometimes one person knows another who … you get the picture.

There began the 20 minute story.  I am going to try to recall it as she told it, though I confess that I probably did not take enough notes and I am getting to that “senior moment” memory age.  I will try to do her justice.

First, I’ll set up the story and give you some general information in case you are new to circumstances on the Pine Ridge Reservation.  Most cars are old and in need of repairs.  Health care is administered by Indian Health Services (IHS) and both very inadequate and of relatively poor quality.  The tribe “helps” tribal members in emergencies with minimal assistance.  Grandma has experienced all of this.  For example, on one occasion, when she needed a blood transfusion, she was given blood from a person who was allergic to penicillin.  Although it did not harm her at that time, she did develop an allergy to penicillin herself, which she had never had before.

The story she told me started with the birth Grandma’s own daughter, who is now 9 years old.  When Daughter was born, both Grandma and Daughter were very sick with an infection.  Within hours, Daughter was rushed from Pine Ridge Hospital, where she had been born, to Rapid City Regional Hospital.  Grandma was kept in Pine Ridge, where she was given penicillin for the infection.  If you are thinking “Wait a minute, she’s allergic to penicillin!  Stop!!”, you get an “A” for your memory.  So she got sicker before she got better.  It was days before she was able to get to see her baby.  By then, the baby had been moved from Rapid City, SD to Omaha, NE – they had discovered the baby had heart problems.

Grandma jumped into the car she had and drove to Omaha.  When Grandma got to the hospital, her baby needed surgery on her heart.  The surgery was complicated and after surgery, Daughter was in very tough shape.  Suddenly a “Code Blue” was called.  The doctors surrounded her baby, the nurses surrounded Grandma.  She had no experience with this kind of medical care and began to cry.  The nurses asked if she had anyone she could call.  She called her own grandmother.

Her grandmother told Grandma to stop crying.  She told her the baby could feel her despair and would be very sad.  It would be harder for the baby to survive.  Her grandmother told her that she had to be strong for her baby and pray.  Pray!  So Grandma stopped crying and prayed.  Daughter survived.  She still has medical care but she is doing well.  We just got her a sponsor.

That experience had a profound effect on Grandma.  She changed her lifestyle.

Grandma has a sister who lives in Washington state.  She recently fell quite ill and needed Grandma’s help.  So Grandma hopped into her current car, a  ’99 Chevy Suburban and started driving to Washington with her son and her son’s pregnant girlfriend.  She tried to talk the pregnant girlfriend into staying home, but the girl wanted to come.  She was only 24 weeks pregnant so it should be fine.

Grandma left the 2 young people at the motel while she went to visit her sister.  When she returned, she found the young woman in severe pain, bleeding profusely.  She immediately called an ambulance and the girl was taken to the hospital.  Then Grandma prayed.  The baby was delivered weighing 1 pound 10 ounces.  She was very small, to say the least!  She was also very fragile.  The money ran out and Grandma had to leave.  The young people were able to stay at the Ronald McDonald House in that city.  Grandma had to scrounge for enough money to buy gas and food for the drive home.

The day finally came for her granddaughter to be released from the hospital to come home.  Grandma was thrilled.  What had seemed foolish, the pregnant young woman taking that long trip, had been a blessing – the baby had survived because she was born in a city where proper neonatal care was available for premature babies.  The baby probably would have died if she was born in Pine Ridge!  And now she was coming home!

Grandma asked a cousin to travel with her and jumped into the same ’99 Suburban.  As her cousin was driving during the night, while Grandma tried to sleep, the Suburban started “acting up.”  It was “coughing.”  Her cousin pulled over and woke her.  Grandma took the wheel and realized they needed a service station as she drove.  They got off the highway in the middle of the night and drove to the nearest station that was lit up.  But it wasn’t lit up because it was open; it was lit up to prevent vandalism.  The car would not run now.  How was Grandma going to get to Washington and drive home with her son, his partner and their new baby?

Her cell phone had no service there.  Grandma and her cousin pushed the Suburban (you do know the size of a Suburban, right?) closer to the building, where the found a pay phone (talk about the grace of God – when was the last time you saw a pay phone anywhere?).  They called the police and told them about being stranded.  This was in Gillette, WY.  Well, kudos to the people of Gillette, who not only found the 2 women a place to stay while the work was being done, but also found a way to put in the new fuel pump at very little cost.  Grandma was, of course, frantic because the baby was supposed to be released the very next morning.  The folks in Gillette had them on their way by morning.

As they got back on the road and drove quickly (understatement) toward Washington, Grandma got a phone call on her cell phone.  The doctors had decided to keep the baby one more day.  Grandma quipped, “Well, I guess I can slow down a little then.”

Baby had a problem that Grandma was very familiar with.  Baby had heart problems.  She has a hole in the heart, where it did not grow properly and a problem with one vessel.  She has had an apnea attack.  On Jan 12, 2011 Baby will be going to Omaha, NE for heart surgery.  Grandma will be suffering from deja vu that day — if she can get there to be with her son and his partner.

The Chevy Suburban has chosen a bad time to give up running.  Grandma is told it is an electrical problem.  Diagnosing the problem will cost $300.  The cost of the repairs will be determined after the diagnosis.  At least the Suburban chose a good place to give up the ghost, so to speak – Grandma’s back yard.  It just wouldn’t start one morning.

But now Grandma is frantic.  She has no money for all of this.  How will she get the car repaired so she can get everyone to Omaha – you see, she is transportation for Baby and her parents as well as herself.

So I told her I would spread the word to the people I work for to see if they had any ideas.

But I am also spreading the word to all of you.  This is the Christmas season.  The time of giving and miracles.  The time of the birth of a special baby.

I hardly ever ask for anything from my readers when I post.  I would rather inform you.  But this time I AM asking!

  • If you know anyone in the Pine Ridge area that can help Grandma with these repairs quickly, send me a message.
  • If you want to help create a Christmas Miracle, go to ONE Spirit and use their PayPal connection to donate for Grandma’s car repairs (be sure to put a memo designating that).  The website is http://nativeprogress.org
  • If you can’t afford to donate, PRAY, as Grandma’s grandmother told her.  Pray for a Christmas Miracle.
  • If you can do none of these things, I will pray for you, since you probably need it more than Grandma.

 

I know that none of us can do Christmas Miracles alone.  But if each person does what he or she is able to do, that is indeed a miracle.  A Christmas group miracle.

I believe that you care.

I pray that you will show it.

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I spoke to my friend on the Pine Ridge Reservation yesterday.  You know, the friend whose daughter got pregnant while in state custody.  I don’t recall when I have heard her so angry.

If you aren’t aware of the circumstances I’m referring to, the short version is:  Her daughter was placed in state custody at 15 years old for being a chronic runaway.  She is currently in placement in a “secure” home for girls in Mitchell, SD.  A few weeks ago, my friend got a call from a nurse at a hospital out there.  The nurse told her that her daughter had suffered a “spontaneous abortion”.  My friend assumed her daughter must have been at least 4 months pregnant since she had been in custody since July.  The nurse told her no, it was about 6 weeks and it had been confirmed by her blood work.

My friend realized that, if that were true, her daughter had gotten pregnant while in state custody.  So she notified Child Protective Services, the US Attorney (because the child is a Native American, the federal government has jurisdiction over major crimes) and the tribe.

Suddenly, things are changing.  The woman she had been working with at Child Protective Services is doing something else now and a new woman has been assigned to the case.  This new woman told my friend that the doctor now says “perhaps he made a mistake.”

SAY WHAT??

A mistake?  Blood work doesn’t lie – especially when the tech doing the test has no idea of the details of the case.  Pregnancy is clearly detected by blood test.  This isn’t a home pregnancy test.  This isn’t a case of someone claiming to be pregnant.  This is a blood test that was done because a child was having problems and taken to the doctor by the state.

The new woman at CPS then had the gall to ask my friend when she had last visited her daughter.  She was treating her as a “bad mother” – you know the tone people take when they are trying to make you feel small and humiliated.  Of course, my friend told her just 2 weeks ago and called her on her attitude.  (Be advised that bureaucrats do not take kindly to having their faults pointed out.  It creates even worse attitudes.)

My friend feels badly enough that her daughter has gotten herself into this place.  She has done everything short of putting the child in shackles to keep her home and prevent her from getting into trouble.  But now she has run up against the “blame the mother” attitude.  She will not take that from anyone.  I can see a storm brewing.

The bigger problems I see are many.

First, the state took a child away from both her family and her culture (albeit for good reasons).  Initially she was in Rapid City – “only” an hour away from family and they could visit her regularly.  It was definitely a hardship, since they have an unreliable vehicle and no money for gas.  Indeed, I gave them gas money several times.  They drove the hour each way for each short visit they were allowed.

Then the state found this “permanent” placement – and the child is now 4 hours away from home and family.  That means that, in order to visit her daughter, my friend has to travel 4 hours just to get there, spending a much larger sum of money to do it, then travel 4 hours to return home to the reservation.  With no job, having to somehow pay “child support” to the state anyway, having a car most people wouldn’t own that burns gas and oil like most of us drink water – with all those obstacles, my friend has still managed to visit her daughter periodically.

Second, I smell a rat when it comes to the “mistake” claim.  Of course the state and the facility don’t want anyone to hear about this.  A child became pregnant in state protective custody.  The medical facility called the child’s mother to advise her of the medical facts.  I know this is true because my friend had to ask what a “spontaneous abortion” was – it isn’t a term she would use.  She would use the term most laypersons use – miscarriage.

Suddenly the doctor recants?  Says there was a mistake?  Then why did the nurse tell my friend that the blood pregnancy test had been positive.  Suddenly the sympathetic case worker is removed and replaced by one with a negative attitude toward my friend? That’s a remarkable coincidence.  Suddenly no one knows anything and no one will give my friend any information about her daughter?  Yet they ask how often she visits in accusing tones?

The phrase that comes to mind is “cover up.”  It is less negative to say the doctor made a mistake (will the malpractice insurance carrier see it that way?) than to say that the state was negligent in the care of this young woman.  But that kind of thing doesn’t really happen, does it?

I might think that perhaps I was being a bit paranoid about the whole thing if we were relying solely on the word of the child.  But we are basing our views on the words of a medical professional.

I might think that perhaps I was being a bit paranoid if this were a young white girl from the suburbs.  But it is not.  It is a young Lakota girl from the reservation.  In South Dakota.

I have seen the prejudice and bias toward Indians in South Dakota first hand, with my own eyes.  I have seen looks and attitudes that I thought long gone.  I am not a young woman.  I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s.  I saw the attitudes of the South and the work for civil rights.  The South may be changing.  The country may have elected a president “of color” (I am trying to be as politically correct as I can here).  I have also seen and heard the attitudes of South Dakota in the past 5 years.

In 2005, a group told us the family of the child we sponsor could not know our address or phone number “for our protection.”  Otherwise, they might just show up on our doorstep, looking for handouts.  (I find that rather funny, since I live MANY miles away and know how difficult it can be for folks on the rez to even get to Rapid City, an hour or so away.)  We stayed with the family (who are now our friends) and left the group.  I now work with a different group which works to foster the friendship and personal connection.  We have shopped and dined out with our friends in places where we had done those same things without them as well.  We have seen the way they (and we, as their friends) were treated differently.

So is it a far stretch to think that someone in the system decided that the best way to cover up this blatant negligence was to say someone “made a mistake”?  Better a mistake than a law suit, right?  Everyone makes a mistake now and then.

I say there has been negligence either way.  Either a young woman was not protected in state custody or a mother has been stressed to her limits by a “mistake” made by the professionals charged with caring for her daughter.

Either way – a wrong has been done!

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