Who Counts Where I Come from?
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 95, Autumn 2010. This article will be included in Sister MorningStar’s book, Instinctual Midwifery.
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As a Cherokee daughter, I wondered who was counting me and counting where I come from. My people live in the hills of Missouri, not on a reservation. In the government schools, the teachers often would ask, “How many of you come from _____?” There never was an answer that counted me. It was curious to me. I wondered how the counting would be right.
I related to Mark Twain’s story in Huck Finn, where the fatalities of whites were counted, but black deaths were not. As I moved along the path of growing up, through the institutions of schools, colleges, churches and job applications, I watched as the various counting systems began to include my people. As head of household in the latest US Census, I wondered what the counting was used for. The chief of our tribe, Chief Grey Elk, tells the story of being removed from his village as a young boy and hearing these words: “These children are going to learn to eat with a fork, speak English and wear clothes!” He admits today, much later in life, “And we did. But the clothes part, well, I never did take a liking to it.” It’s the spirit of our people, of most people, to adapt; but the liking part—that’s inside, personal and profound. It is the part that reminds us who we are and helps us know to whom we belong.
Part of the confusion for me was being female. God, the Father, brotherhood and “he” were words so fused in the dominant language that there was always a pause in my mind to figure out, “Do I count myself in that one or not?” I learned by and by that the universal inclusiveness is masculine. Although I learned to accept that this form of speech means me, too, “I never did take a liking to it”.
Having grown into a crone, a wise elder in the circle, I am now a bit quicker and wiser. I add an “s” before he and I speak Great Spirit for Our Father and I sing the word sisterhood in a circle of wimyn even if the word is brotherhood and means us, too. Being older helps. You can be a bit more curious without being considered rebellious because of it. Though the two are often the same—especially if the curiosity leads to action outside the box more than just thinking outside of it.
In April 2010 I was invited to the Midwifery Today Conference in Philadelphia to “Talk Story” and sign copies of The Power of Women. It was a time where over 300 wimyn joined hands and heart to learn and study and listen to the Great Ones and become greater themselves. I had the honor of rooming with Jan Tritten, the mother of Midwifery Today, and the Midwifery Today staff. I watched them work day and night to create a satisfying and powerful conference with a caring atmosphere. On the morning they were returning home I arose at 3 am to wish them safe travels and went back to bed. The statistics of rising numbers of cesarean birth were still ringing in my ears along with all the research data shared both internationally and nationally. As I drifted back to sleep, I was thinking about the families in my life and how the section rate seemed to be reaching toward the 50% mark. I awoke with a start just before their final room departure. I ran to Jan and asked, “How do they count the cesareans for their numbers—is it the mother or the baby?” “The mother,” she answered. The disturbing feeling in me rose to distress. Since there is a rise in twins and multiple births and a rise in cesarean birth, two or more additional humans are born by cesarean for each mother. So the rate of cesarean birth for baby would be much higher. If they are female, there are then two or more women for every counted cesarean whose story of birth is also cesarean. The mountain is twice as high to climb for their people. Jan assured me that the number of cesarean births means number of mothers not babies. Is it just too much trouble to count the cesarean birth rate of babies as well as mothers, I wondered. Or is it too much trouble to talk about at the same time? Or does it not seem yet to matter, like the counting lines that didn’t include me when I was young, but now do?
As I rode the shuttle to the airport to travel home to my little cottage in the woods, I spoke with my firstborn daughter. She birthed my granddaughters powerfully at home. I shared my experiences and my ponderings.
“It is just a way to water down the problem, mother, so it doesn’t seem too big too soon,” my daughter said.
I rode the rest of the way home in silence. I look forward to the day when a line of the many lines includes cesarean born and the talk of cesarean rates includes babies.
Some things are tribal evil. Coming from rape is a tribal evil. Every generation has the work of rooting out their tribal evil and growing their tribal wisdom. We were once a nation of many tribes. We are now a Global Tribe of many nations. It makes such a difference where we come from. It affects what we take a liking to. It counts. Birth counts most. Birth counts first.