Home birth advocate labors on the west coast

By Stefania Seccia, April 5, 2011

Hupacasath member Sacheen Seithcham.

Ahousaht — 

The spirit’s birthing journey down from the Milky Way is a rite of passage, according to the Nuu-chah-nulth culture, and the only midwife in Ahousaht believes it should be met with a traditional, sacred ceremony only a midwife and family can provide at home.

Hupacasath member Sacheen Seithcham lives in Ahousaht and, after much research, discovered that the remote island has not had a practicing midwife since the 1960s or 1970s.

“I’m a really big advocate on home birthing,” said Seithcham. “People say, ‘I didn’t know we could do that.’”

Seithcham, 34, is a mother and grandmother. Her experience in giving birth in a hospital is completely opposite to her experience of having children at home.

“While it was not easy, because birth is hard work, it was rewarding and empowering to be the first mother in my family and peer group to have a traditional home birth,” Seithcham explained. “After my births I was asked about midwifery and I started a movement to birth at home.”

“I feel strongly connected to my ancestors and I was blessed and given healing hands specifically for this. It is my passion and my life’s work.”

The mother of nine has wanted to be a midwife for the last 15 years. She’s practiced for the past year and has learned from her own pregnancies, midwife mentors and a helpful family doctor.

“My home births were traditional with Nuu-chah-nulth singing to help me throughout the labor and delivery, and to help the baby spirit find the way to the physical body,” she said. “They were peaceful and loving.”

Seithcham’s birthing business offers several packages for pregnant woman, which covers pre-natal, birthing and newborn care.

“What I do is a more holistic approach, more natural, instead of focusing on more scientific-based medical care, where the woman is not nurtured or taken care of on a personal level. And that’s what midwifery offers.”

The option to give birth at home can come as a monumental relief to women on the West Coast especially.

From Ahousaht to Hot Springs Cove, and Tofino to Ucluelet, having a child can be a challenge in the region because Tofino General Hospital has not had the capacity in more than a decade to allow pregnant women to give birth there.

“People are having to get taken out of their home communities to go [as far as Nanaimo or Port Alberni to] have their babies,” she noted. “The moms are often isolated up to a month at a time…. They’re sent away from their home communities to go and stay in hotels in Port Alberni.”

The isolation and loneliness caused by the distance is not only costly, but can also wreak havoc on the mother’s frame of mind, and this is what brought Seithcham to Mamma Primativa, which is an online educational resource and traditional midwifery program.

“Nuu-chah-nulth women have to travel out of the community and often they suffer from postpartum depression because they were separated from their families, and I wanted to be able to offer home birth,” she said.

While most midwives go to school for up to eight years and become nurses first, Seithcham said she wanted to become a traditional midwife right away.

“So, that was my struggle for a lot of years, was that I didn’t want to become a nurse,” she explained. “I wanted to become a midwife and take care of babies.”

Seithcham’s ultimate goal over the next 10 years is to have a thriving Nuu-chah-nulth birthing clinic on the West Coast and pick up where Tofino General Hospital has left off.

“It’s pretty much been my dream for the past 15 years,” she added. “I believe in traditional teachings and knowledge, but I am also very safety conscious and I have only the health of the baby and mother in my sights when I am helping a mother in pregnancy, in child birth.”

Although Seithcham said she specializes in safety, she also recognizes the important role hospitals play with high risk birth and complications.

“Sometimes, intervention is necessary and saves lives and I am grateful we live in a time that if a mother is high risk or a birth has complications they are able to be cared for by a doctor and in a hospital.”

Seithcham is fundraising and finalizing her plans to go to Haiti to do her practicum for one month in June.

“I am going to get the last bit of hands-on knowledge about rural birth and emergency birth protocol so that I can practice safely,” she said.

Her goal is to raise $5,000, which will provide for her return flight, food and accommodation in Haiti. To donate, or for more information, email her at mamazonscreations@gmail.com and check out her site at indigimama.weebly.com.

“For the most part, home birth is very safe,” she said. “A good midwife will not take on a patient with health issues beyond her scope as her duty is to ensure the health of mother and baby.”

When Seithcham is finished her practicum it’s only a matter of time before midwifery can make a full impact in her region.

“My main goal is to reconnect our women with our bodies and to foster confidence in the body’s ability to do the work of birth naturally and without intervention,” she emphasized.

“And to bring birth home to the West Coast.”