A Nuxalk woman whose granddaughter was born at home in Vancouver on Saturday, July 15, used a strip of cedar to tie off the umbilical cord.
While it might have been something her ancestors did hundreds of years ago, Lisa Tallio had to improvise when her daughter Dante Tallio’s labour progressed quickly and they did not have time to get to the hospital as planned.
Lisa ended up helping Dante deliver a healthy baby girl, weighing 8 pounds and 11 ounces.
While Dante lives in Vancouver and attends school there, her home birth has inspired Lisa ‑ who lives in Bella Coola and works for Vancouver Coastal Health as the Central Coast strategic lead for Indigenous health ‑ to advocate for changes.
For more than 20 years, pregnant women living in coastal communities have been expected to leave a month before they are due so they can deliver their baby in a larger centre.
“It’s been a topic amongst leadership for a long time,” Lisa said.
Several months ago a woman delivered a baby in Bella Bella and there has been lots of conversation about it, she said.
Much of Lisa’s work is centred around recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls to Action and In Plain Sight Summary Report addressing Indigenous-specific racism and discrimination in the health system in B.C.
“I think part of it is the hyper medicalization of birthing and not really seeing us as leaders and knowledge keepers of our lives. When we are experiencing the health care system it is their expertise first, not the experience and knowledge of Indigenous people.”
Feeling empowered, Lisa said she could not have dreamt in a million years that the birth would unfold the way it did.
“I feel so much gratitude for the bond that will be created between me and my granddaughter. It’s a story that will last forever.”
Earlier in July she arranged to work out of the VCH head office because she wanted to be close to Dante , whose baby was due on July 16.
A week before the due date Lisa and Dante met with Dante’s doula and midwife to go over the birthing plan, which included delivering at BC Women’s Hospital.
On Saturday, July 15, they both work up early. Dante was feeling slightly uncomfortable and told her mom she thought the baby was going to be born that day.
Wanting to get in a morning workout before they had to leave and spend the day at the hospital, Lisa went to the gym in Dante’s building.
She told her daughter if anything changed to text or call her.
Sure enough, 50 seconds before she finished exercising Dante texted and said they needed to “get going.”
Lisa ran back, and by now Dante was having contractions two minutes apart, with not many breaks in between.
After taking a very quick shower Lisa emerged, got dressed, packed some bags and realized Dante was now staying in the washroom.
“Some visceral screams were coming out of her and her three-year-old son Ivan was following me around, and saying ‘pack me’ because he was getting scared,” Lisa said. “I kept telling him ‘mommy is OK, she’s just having a baby.’”
At one point Lisa was holding two pillows, a blanket, a duffel bag, a diaper bag, her purse and Ivan.
In her words, she was ‘trying to demonstrate readiness.’ When Lisa tried to say they needed to leave, Dante replied she did not want to leave the apartment.
“In the end I could see she was panicked and not feeling well so I told her, ‘OK, you need to tell me where is the baby’s head? She checked and said her head was right there and she was not going to make it. She asked me to put some towels on the bed.”
Dante moved to the bed, but Lisa was still insisting they needed to go and Dante could “not have her baby” at home because “no one is here but me.”
Responding Dante told her mom she needed to call the midwife and the doula.
Once Lisa learned members of the birthing team were at least 12 and 15 minutes away, she called 911. By then the baby’s head was out and with another contraction so was her neck.
Lisa was transferred by the dispatcher to a paramedic who helps with delivering babies. Trying to hold her phone and coach Dante, Lisa continued talking her through the process.
“Ivan comes around and tries to see the baby’s head and then Dante reaches for him like some superwoman and pulls him back to her shoulder and her head. I tell him again ‘it’s OK, mom’s having a baby’, and by this point he is not panicked. He’s chilling with his mom and says ‘mommy’s baby’s coming.’”
With the cell phone on speaker, Lisa continued talking to Dante and could hear the paramedic on the phone in the background.
“She gets to her next contraction and sure enough a shoulder pops out and then the baby is just all out.”
Lisa placed the baby on Dante’s chest as far as the umbilical cord would comfortably let her.
“I’m rubbing her and telling Dante, ‘listen to her. Her colour is great. She’s crying. She’s strong. She’s fine. You’ve delivered your baby. You did it.’”
Ivan in the meantime is looking from baby to mom to baby.
Before the paramedic suggested she rub the baby’s back and chest, Lisa’s instincts had already nudged her to do so.
“I realized how warm the baby was and so full of life.”
Lisa wrapped the baby in a towel and heard the attendant tell her to do that as well.
The paramedic then instructed Lisa to set a timer for three minutes and when it went off she would need to tie off the umbilical chord, six inches from the baby’s belly button.
When the timer went off Lisa went hunting for a string.
She ended up in her daughter’s beading room and could not find any string, only some cedar strips.
“I was like, I know the multiple uses of cedar traditionally so I grabbed it and as I went back to her room I wet it and then went in and cut off the umbilical cord.”
Upon hearing that she used cedar, the paramedic told her she needed a string. In the end she pulled a shoelace from her grandson’s shoe and used it.
Eventually the paramedics, doula and midwife arrived. The paramedics checked Dante and the baby’s vitals.
Dante’s doula told Lisa and Dante the birthing team couldn’t have imagined or planned a more beautiful birth for Dante.
“‘Grandmother delivered this baby. That’s amazing,’ she said to us,” Lisa recalled.
Dante and the baby could have gone to the hospital after the delivery but Dante decided she was happy to stay right where she was.
“I feel so inspired to get to work,” Lisa said.