As Thea Penashue welcomed her new daughter into the world, she thought of her ancestors, as she breathed in the fresh outdoor air and the smell of the boughs beneath her, and watched the sun rise through the canvas walls of the tent in which she gave birth.
It was an experience she will never forget.
“It was painful,” she laughs, “but it went great. Everything went as planned.”
Penashue had decided to give birth to her second child in a traditional Innu tent — the way her own mother was born.
The tent was set up outside of the Labrador Health Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L.
Penashue didn’t want a hospital experience, and that included the bed; instead, a mattress was placed atop some boughs.
“Before my labour and before my water broke, I was nervous that something would go wrong with my labour, just thinking of the what-ifs. I was hoping and praying that everything goes as planned. And it did,” Penashue said.
I’m so glad I went through it and I hope that because I went through this experience that other moms, they can see that this is possible.– Thea Penashue
“Going through labour in the tent was so — I’m so happy I was able to do that. I delivered my first child in the hospital — what a difference.”
Penashue said the setting was vastly different than with her first pregnancy.
“I was able to go through contractions outside in the fresh air, and it just finished raining too so the air was really nice — to breathe in that fresh air. So going through contractions outside and in the tent, the smell of the boughs, it was all so relaxing — as [much as] it can be. It went well,” she told CBC’s Labrador Morning.
Her active labour started at around 1 a.m., with the baby coming out at around 6 a.m.
“It was so beautiful, too, because the sun was coming up, the sunrise was coming through. You could see it through the tent, the canvas tent, so that was really nice.”
When it got really hard, Penashue said she just thought about the generations of Innu women before her who gave birth this way.
“When I was at the very end of my labour, where it gets really painful … there was a laughing gas in there, and I was like, I really want to use that. But I had to really focus and really remind myself that my ancestors and grandparents, they all went through this, and I can do it, too,” she said.
“Going through that is just … I don’t know how I did it, really. To be able to remind myself that this is normal, this was normal, and I can do it, too. And I’m so glad I went through it and I hope that because I went through this experience that other moms, they can see that this is possible, to bring it back, and that I don’t have to be the only one this generation that delivered in a tent.”
‘It’s all so fitting’
Penashue is hopeful her experience will inspire some other moms her age to think about the traditional Innu tent as an option.
That goal is part of the work she’s doing with the Innu Round Table, which is aiming to bring back Innu midwifery practices to Labrador and make the practice more common.
Penashue said this is especially so in communities like Natuashish, where expecting mothers have to leave their families and homes weeks before their due date to be at a hospital.
“[There] could be so much more — and I hope there is so much more, more deliveries in a tent. And maybe next time — well I don’t know about next time, but maybe hopefully in the future it won’t be behind the hospital, it will be in the community, or it will be … out in the country,” she said.
“Hopefully we can get there. I believe we can get there. I just hope this is something we can continue … I hate when I say that, I hate saying hopefully, because I know we will get there. There is no hope — this will happen, that’s how I feel about it.”
As for the newest addition to her household, Neisha — whose English name is Brynn — was seven weeks old as of Friday, and named for a great-aunt who was a midwife.
Penashue can’t wait to tell her the story of her birth when she’s older, and the origin of her name: Neisha was named for her great-great-aunt, Neisha.
“I’ve heard my great-aunt’s stories and she really inspired me, so when … I decided that I want to deliver in a tent, and it was actually my uncle that suggested it and said, ‘Neisha would be perfect.’ And I was like, ‘Yes,'” Penashue said.
“She was a traditional midwife, so it’s all so fitting, because she was born in a tent. And I can’t wait for when she asks me, ‘Where did Neisha come from? That name?’ I think that will be a cool story for her to listen to when she’s an adult.”