Heidi Abed, Executive Director Ayllu Community Network, gave birth 20 years apart. With this spacing, Abed saw firsthand how mothers are treated according to their age and perceived experiences.
As a 17-year-old, medical professionals doubted her when she told them she was in labor. When she was sent away from the hospital, Abed almost gave birth at home alone.
“I had to call an ambulance,” she recollects.
At 37, Abed desired a water birth, but her insurance denied coverage for this natural option.
“Even 20 years later, I have not seen enough improvement in maternal support provided for any natural options during birth, postpartum and especially with lactation,” Abed shares.
What’s more, she says it was like pulling teeth to try to gain access to a lactation care provider in the hospital.
“They told me that they had lactation consultants, but a couple of days later, they never got the chance [to come see me.]”
Once she and her baby were discharged, it was hard to find lactation care too. When she did connect with one, the lactation specialist used language Abed didn’t understand, and she says she had to look it up on Google to try to make sense of it.
Established in 2018, Abed joined the Indigenous Firstfeeding Coalition Colorado (IFCC)– a coalition created to combat extremely low lactation rates in Indigenous communities due to generational and historical trauma— a few years after its launch. [More on addressing historical trauma here.]
“I am doing what I can to fill a gaping void for far too many,” Abed shares.
Abed’s comrade at IFCC, LJ, has been invested in supporting and educating parents about lactation since having a child in 2013. Being Native, enriching Native lives stays a priority for LJ.
The team has also embraced inclusivity leading to their name change from Indigenous Breastfeeding Coalition Colorado to its current name, along with their handle across social media: NativeNipples.
The coalition networks with many other community organizations promoting and engaging with their events. This summer has been full of opportunities to connect and more to come like the Breastival, the Indigenous Mind Body Gathering, the Healing Hoop veteran honoring event, Elephant Circle video contest, and the second part of Tewa Women United’s Lactation After Loss.
“Interconnectedness and networking is really everything since we are volunteers with no funding,” Abed begins. “Our aforementioned training was made available through other partnerships at no cost to us. Also, our communities are relatively small and spread out, so pooling together knowledge and resources across social media helps bridge geographic gaps. Bringing light to each other’s efforts makes us more effective, supported, and [helps] avoid redundancy.”
Abed also points out the links between Black maternal health and Indigenous maternal health and how they are working together with allied organizations to dismantle many shared experiences that impact maternal infant health.
With the 3rd Annual Indigenous Milk Medicine Week this week, honoring the theme “Strengthening Our Traditions From Birth and Beyond”, IFCC will host an Instagram Live event. Follow them on social media and stay tuned for more information throughout the week.
Knowing that Indigenous cultures are diverse and complex, the learning and honoring never ends! Check out the following to learn more and support these important efforts.
- Warrior Life Podcast
- Indigenous Books by Indigenous Authors
- Social media pages to follow: Indigenous Women Rising, Bold Futures, Native Women Lead, @indigenousmilkmedicineweek
- Indigenous Lactation Counselor Training
- Urban Indian Health Institute
- Indigenous Midwifery
- Indigenous Doulas
- Webinar opportunities: Nooni Project, Ancestral Lactation, Honoring Indigenous Parenthood, Geographies of Breastfeeding