Dorothy is a proud Kanyen’kéhaka woman, mother of 3, grandmother of 13 and a great-grandmother of 1! She carries the responsibility and ancestral knowledge inherited from both maternal and paternal grandmothers and great-grandmothers in the care and nurturing of birthing women, their families and the community. Her role and experience has expanded to encompass the whole life-cycle.
From a young age, Dorothy knew she wanted to be a doctor. As a teenager, in the early-seventies, she would catch the Voyageur Bus on Hwy #2 to Belleville General Hospital (BGH) to ‘Candy Stripe’. Her passion was to work in maternity and pediatrics but, instead was assigned to geriatrics where she had her first experience with caring for palliative patients. She also volunteered with BGH Auxiliary and worked in the snack bar on other days.
Dorothy and her husband were gifted with their first son when she was 17 yrs. old. They lived in Deseronto without any form of transportation, but, their thumb for hitchhiking (which was safer in those days). Her days were spent at home, alone, cooking, cleaning, doing correspondence to complete her grade 12, she went next door to the library to pick up more books to read and walked around the block for exercise, until her husband came home from work.
He worked fulltime in a wrought iron plant to support them. In January 1977, at 38 weeks pregnant, she walked from Deseronto to the Rez in a snowstorm to visit her paternal grandmother, Granny Mel, who lived alone, on the hill, on the York Rd. A friend stopped and picked her up by the ‘old’ Band Office and dropped her off at her grandmothers. Her granny, took one look at her, called the family doctor and told her to get her coat and boots back on and that they were going to Belleville to the family doctor’s office. She knew she gained a lot of weight (coming from a family of 6, she loved to cook and bake) and, so developed swelling in her face, hands and feet. Back out on the York Road they go!
Her granny hitch-hiking (she didn’t drive) for them. They didn’t get very far when another friend stopped and took them right up to the doctor’s office which was 25 minutes away in Belleville. She was assessed with toxemia also known as ‘pre-eclampsia.’ She was admitted to hospital on the spot and advised that they needed to get some of the fluid off, before she was induced.
As, the strength of contractions grew closer together, the nurse came back to ‘prep’ her for the birth. This involved the nurse giving her a routine shave, followed by an unwelcomed enema and IV antibiotics for GBS (everyone at that time were hooked to an IV). She was then wheeled over to the delivery room from the labour room, that was just across the hall, and was given an epidural.
As her contractions were building, she began to feel the urge to push, her arms were strapped down to her sides and her legs put in stirrups. Her husband was not allowed in the delivery room…she was alone with an OB and some nurses. When it came time to push, she could only feel pressure and didn’t know where or how to push. The OB took liberty and gave her an episiotomy. She was alone and felt vulnerable and violated. There was no one there familiar. She didn’t feel safe. Born in the middle of a snowstorm, their son came 2 weeks early, this is where his Onkwehon:we name comes from. The journey through her pregnancy and his birth story are forever, intertwined as were all her children’s births.
There were no prenatal classes or support for her at that time. She was left to feel vulnerable when it came time to go to the hospital and have her baby. You could only have 1 person with you at a time. There was no instruction or support for breastfeeding, when after 5 days of trying she gave into the pain and bound herself with a towel.
Like they always say, “You always learn from the first birth”, which was partially true. Their second son came 2 years later. He was two weeks past her estimated due date. She gained half-the weight from the first pregnancy. Her water broke at home in the middle of the night and she waited until she had strong contractions on board before waking her husband up and telling him…it was time.
He drove to the hospital where 3 hours later their second son was born. Nothing much changed in L&D from less than 2 yrs. prior…it was the same prep from the nurses at BGH…enema, shave, routine IV antibiotics, epidural and episiotomy with the exception that now her husband could be in the delivery room. Their son was born with the cord around his neck 3x and there was meconium in the waters. Attempts at breastfeeding were unsuccessful. He had reflux and had difficulty even keeping formula down. There was still no community support.
Four years later, they were pregnant with their daughter. At 20 weeks gestation, she started to hemorrhage and arrived at the ER where she was told she was miscarrying by a resident doctor. She asked for the OB on call and he assessed and ordered bloodwork and an ultrasound, and it was determined that it was placenta previa. Her blood type and Rh factor was negative and so, she was administered RhoGAM and hospitalized for a few days with IV fluids and bed rest. She was advised to remain off work indefinitely or risk a miscarriage.
At that time, she was reaching her 6 months probation to work full-time with the Federal Government. She resigned, her baby was more important. In October, while Dorothy was home cooking a big turkey dinner for her family and getting ready to sit down to eat, the contractions started. She waited until the contractions were stronger and closer together and she was ready to go to BGH and have her baby. She knew with this birth that she not going to let hospital staff violate her with their protocols. She was determined to have an unmedicated and natural birth. She arrived at the hospital and was free to labour as she wanted.
She refused the epidural and birthed on her own terms. Their daughter was minutes from her actual due date and the doctor wanted her to wait a few minutes before pushing. This was unbearably painful to ‘not push’ and, so she was given a small amount of Nitrous Oxide that she didn’t like. She pushed it away and continued blowing her breath into the air and holding her body back from pushing. This is the time when babies crown, crossing the doorway between Creator’s world and entering the physical world; that time when their spirit fully merges with the physical body. She still remembers seeing the vastness of the universe and the stars were so, close that she could reach out and touch them. She could hear their voices, calling out to her…“She’s hear…she’s hear”. Dorothy was determined to breastfeed this baby and she nursed her for over 6 months… on her own, unassisted.
Since the mid 80’s, women would contact her and ask questions about pregnancy and birth. This is when she became a helper. She had no idea what a ‘doula’ was. She just helped when asked. This continued on/off for years before, she decided at the urging of her children to return to school. She was ready. She resigned a job with the federal government after 22yrs of service, in 2006.
In, the early spring of 2007 she partnered with Mohawk Family Services and ran a Traditional Birthing Seminar at the Orange Lodge. Health Care Providers and the community were invited to attend to see if there was interest in revitalizing Indigenous Midwifery at Kenhtè:ke. The outcome, would determine her future.
With the support of her husband and family, Dorothy left Tyendinaga in September 2007 and moved to Six Nations, for four years, graduating from Tsi Non:we Ionnakeratstha Ona:grahsta’, “The birthing place; The place they will be born”; Six Nations Maternal & Child Centre’s Aboriginal Midwifery Programme with a ‘Diploma with Honours of Aboriginal Midwife’, in August 2011. During this time, both of her parents passed away 5 months apart – her father after a long illness, in October 2009; and, her mother in March 2010; She also lost her brother-in-law and mother-in-law.
During this time, she travelled back and forth to Tyendinaga to attend Health Fairs, Prenatal Classes, Pow Wows, the Mohawk Fair to teach about Aboriginal Midwifery and Traditional Birthing Practices. She petitioned the community and met with Chief and Council to establish band council resolutions in the provision of Aboriginal Midwifery Services in the community. She also continued to provide Community Presentations and conduct a formal Birth Search initiative with Lynn Brant, among attending other meetings and travelled to other communities. After graduating, Dorothy found financial assistance from her home community, under an employment initiative to work for six months as an Aboriginal Midwife at Six Nations Birthing Centre until she was ready to open her practice.