Musical doula brings Indigenous ceremony to births

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DENVER “As a Two-Spirit Indigenous person, I think what I bring to most humans giving birth is an Indigenous ceremony from start to finish. » Melissa Ivey said.

Ivey is a musician and doula who provides physical, emotional, and informational support with an Indigenous, Indigenous perspective to birthing individuals and partners. The support that Ivey provides is centered on understanding the wants and needs of community members.

Some practices include building an altar, journaling, creating a song for the baby, guided meditation, massage, and sharing food. Ivey also enjoys growing herbs and preparing medicine kits for the community.

Provide support for celebration and healing

Hathor Brown at Ivey.

When Hathor Brown found out she was pregnant in the first year of the pandemic, she was worried.

“Being pregnant during a pandemic was really scary,” Brown said. “Just being able to go out, being able to go to your doctor appointments was really confusing. The protocols were different depending on where you were going…all kinds of things.

Brown added that she and her husband are also struggling financially due to the pandemic. They feared becoming homeless.

During a time of great stress and anxiety, Brown began looking for a doula to help support her through her pregnancy, but the doulas she found were too expensive.

Then she met Ivey.

When they first met on the phone, Ivey asked Brown to do a breathing exercise take a deep breath in through her nose, a breath so deep that when she exhaled it became a humming sound.

Ivey explained that music can help calm the breath and keep the muscles relaxed while a person is experiencing contractions. Exercises like the one Ivey had Brown do can help clients stay relaxed during childbirth.

Ivey and another doula came to Brown and offered a package of their services, free of charge. They provided massages and food, ran baths, and helped care for Brown’s eldest daughter, Kimimila. They even organized Brown’s closet.

Brown added that Ivey also made sure to include Brown’s husband throughout the sessions.

“Mel taught my husband this vibration, this hum and said, ‘When she starts to fall, you have to lift her up. When she’s out of breath – when she can’t catch her breath – remember tell him how to take that breath,” Brown said.

She treasured having a safe space to process her anxieties and fears.

“Sometimes we get support around us and we don’t know how to use it because we’re so used to taking care of everything ourselves,” Brown said. “So I had to do a bit of unlearning. And even this unlearning heals.

Ivey explained that each session is about building confidence. When that trust is established, Ivey makes sure to have the difficult conversation with the client: a plan in case something goes wrong during the birth.

For Ivey, these conversations can be difficult and eye-opening for everyone involved. Ivey added that it’s essential to know how and when to navigate the conversation – how to build trust, how to keep space to be emotional, to be confused, to be lost. And then to navigate the ceremony around her culturally, individually or as a unit.

But once a plan is made, Ivey encourages the person giving birth to change and visualize a positive birth — to redirect and reframe the brain so it isn’t stuck in worry.

Brown recalled his water breaking unexpectedly as Ivey brought in food. Eventually, Brown gave birth to her daughter in her bathroom.

She pointed out that despite the surprise birth at home, the day was still festive. Brown’s doulas brought a photographer to the house to take pictures of the home birth. A garland of flowers was placed above the nursery. Photos of Brown and her husband’s family members were posted. People were praying.

“We’ve become indigenous again, we’re people of the land and we’re enjoying childbirth,” Brown said. “I would do it again, because I had people around me who made sure to treat it like it was the best of blessings.”

Drawing inspiration from Indigenous practices and traditions to celebrate birth

Sedona Moreno-Castelan with her daughter Yaretzi.

Sedona Moreno-Castelan felt meeting Ivey at a climate strike rally was meant to be.

“Our paths crossed in a very magical and synchronous way,” said Moreno-Castelan.

The two met at a climate strike rally and discovered that they shared a passion for standing up for missing and murdered Indigenous women, Two-Spirit people and girls.

When Moreno-Castelan got pregnant, she asked Ivey to be her doula. Moreno-Castelan explained that she wanted a companion who could support her and her husband through pregnancy and childbirth. She also wanted a natural birth that felt magical, ceremonial, and honored her ancestry.

Moreno-Castelan remembers giving birth to her daughter Yaretzi in Denver Birth Center as a transformative and deeply moving process.

Every time she opened her eyes, Moreno-Castelan said, she would see Ivey there making sure she was hydrated, putting a cloth over her head, massaging it or using a rebozo – a shawl or a traditional Mexican wrap – to help loosen her hips. and provide counter pressure when she felt severe pain.

“There were definitely times when it got so hard, and I was in meditation the whole time. I was in a trance, almost, bringing her back to earth side. Really deep moaning,” Moreno-Castelan recalled.

Looking back, she said she wouldn’t have had anyone but Ivey as a doula.

Even after she gave birth, Moreno-Castelan said Ivey helped support her by providing bone broth, sharing herbs, making a yoni vapor and encapsulating Moreno-Castelan’s placenta. With the help of another doula, Ivey also performed a closing ceremony of the bones for Moreno-Castelan.

Ivey’s sculptures of Atabey, a Taíno deity and goddess of birth.

“When you bring someone to earth and you give birth, you open a portal through your body, and that portal stays open until we do a ceremony to physically, emotionally, and spiritually close the body,” said said Moreno-Castelan. “And that ceremony was so amazing.”

Ivey wishes to continue to share Aboriginal traditions with the community. In order to create a space where Indigenous oral tradition can be preserved and celebrated, they are working on the Recording Womb Project, a nine-foot womb-shaped dome that provides access to private and community audio recording and is a space where people can share and exchange stories.

“He follows in the footsteps of my ancestors. It is a safe space and much like a red tent tradition. But I will have recordings scattered here and, with consent, we will tape some of these conversations for our future ancestors to listen to,” Ivey said.

For Ivey, the project unites their service as a doula with their artistry as a musician, storyteller, educator and future ancestor.


Theresa Ho is the RMPBS Kids Digital Content Producer. You can reach her at [email protected].

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