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Navajo Midwife Seeks To Better Women’s Health

on December 15, 2017 - 7:49am

The Changing Woman Initiative team. Courtesy photo 


A rendering of the reproductive wellness and birth center in Pojoaque. Courtesy image 

Changing Woman Initiative News:

POJOAQUE—Because of modern medicine and insurance, women have less control of their birth experiences, especially in sterile and highly regulated hospital environments. But having a baby doesn’t have to be that way, according to Nicolle Gonzales, a Navajo midwife and founder of the Changing Woman Initiative, a nonprofit that aims to revolutionize how people—particularly Native women—think about reproductive health.

“A woman giving birth should feel relaxed and comfortable,” Gonzales said. “She should also be aware of her options and be empowered to have the experience she wants.”

That’s why a major goal of the Changing Woman Initiative is to open a reproductive wellness and birth center in Pojoaque. The center will be open to all women but will focus on providing equitable, thoughtful, and culturally relevant reproductive health care that will strengthen indigenous women’s bonds to family and community.

The homelike facility will have three birth rooms and give women the choice to have their babies in a bed, in a water bath, or outside in a private courtyard. “Native women wanting to birth in a tipi will also have that option,” Gonzales said, noting the importance of reintroducing culture and tradition into the birth experience. Native women will be encouraged to think about things such as which direction their beds face (each direction has a significance), and whether the first sound a baby hears is his native language inviting him into the community.

The birth center, which will require $7 million to build and another half million to start up, is scheduled to open in spring 2019. Gonzales is working with Tulsa, Okla., based Blue Star Integrative Studio on the design, which will feature rammed earth walls, solar panels, and water-saving features. “I’ve been thinking about the impact of the building on the land,” she said. “I want to be sustainable.”

Gonzales expects the majority of patients at the birth center to be on Medicaid. She hopes all patients, regardless of income level, will participate in programs at the center to become better educated on prenatal care, lactation, and women’s health issues. Patients will have the opportunity to better understand their moon cycles, name body parts in their native languages, and create teas by combining an assortment of herbs.

In addition to the birth center, the Changing Woman Initiative also aims to cultivate Native midwives nationwide and educate the public about Native health policy. For example, in 2016, Gonzales organized a midwifery field clinic to provide health services to women in Standing Rock, North Dakota.

To donate to the Changing Woman Initiative, please visit For more information, contact Nicolle Gonzales, executive director, at or Kansas Begaye, assistant executive director, at