Knocked Up North: our correspondent in Iqaluit
We are very excited to introduce our newest columnist Angie Pajek, a television producer whose first child is due February. She’s in Iqaluit producing “Qanurli?” a magazine program for Inuit teenagers. She’ll be sending us regular dispatches.
When I was first negotiating my contract to work in the Arctic, I didn’t know I’d be pregnant. Add maternity clothes and planning for potential food shortages to the already extensive list for four months in Iqaluit, and you have a real challenge. Especially in those early, exhausting first trimester days.
Along with clothing and food, my suitcase holds clown shoes, wigs and facial hair. My four month contract in the north is working on a popular Inuit comedy television show, shot entirely in Inuktitut. In an early meeting with the producers, they mention they’ll need fake facial hair to portray additional characters. I joke with the actors and producers that I’ve been providing facial hair to the Inuit since 2012. My days here are spent laughing as we write, shoot and edit comedy sketches about the land and people here.
THE MOST PREGNANT CROSSWALK IN CANADA
It’s the four-month mark of my pregnancy, and I have my first prenatal appointment. It’s at Qikiqtani General Hospital. A nurse hands me some kind of wipe, a container for a urine sample and a calendar titled, Born on the Land with Helping Hands: The Inuit Women’s Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy. It has pictures of baby development week-to-week and recipes for healthy country food, like Arctic Char cakes, Seal Stew and Caribou Shank. The phrase “Drinking and Smoking Can Harm Your Baby” is written on every page.
Iqaluit is the territorial capital of Nunavut and the place where women from right across the territory come to give birth. Mothers in Nunavut are the youngest in the Canada: A lot of them travel from remote communities and stay at a boarding house across the street from the hospital. The crosswalk from this boarding house to the hospital might just be the most pregnant crosswalk in Canada.
Most women my age here, in their late 30s and 40s, have already raised children, and are at the point in their lives and careers where they might be offered the babies younger friends or relatives aren’t able to raise. This is fairly common, and I’ve heard women who have never considered raising children say “I’m glad no one’s offered me their baby. I’m not sure what I’d do.”
There is a sense of community here beyond getting together for play dates. Last week, a single mother requested a washer/dryer, and the community responded.
At Qikiqtani, my doctor is a young resident from Newfoundland, working here for the month. He asks if there is anything else wrong besides the pregnancy. I laugh. He blanches, horrified, and tells me he has no idea how long he’s been framing pregnancy this way.
The next questions he asks are probably not applicable to me, he adds, a contract worker from the south. He asks if I’ve been eating country food like seal, whale and walrus. He then asks if I’m being abused physically or mentally. If I smoke cigarettes, marijuana, hashish, crack. If I ever inhale solvents and whether getting enough food is ever a concern.
Food is a concern in the north, as you have probably read in the national news. Last week, an elderly woman had her groceries stolen from her kitchen. Tourists take photos of prices in the grocery stores and post them online. A pregnant friend who was craving watermelon once paid $60 for one.
Some days the planes carrying milk or meat don’t make it, and those shelves stay bare.
Blame pregnancy, but these questions make me emotional. The pregnancy concerns I have seem minor and petty compared to the challenges some of the women here are facing. I feel how rich and how lucky I am, physically and mentally. To be free of addiction and relaxed about the availability of food. Tearily, I ask the doctor what happens when someone says that food is a concern. He explains they’re enrolled in classes run by a nutritionist, where food vouchers are handed out.
After my visit I’m no longer preoccupied with my body, my symptoms or my pregnancy the way I had been when I first walked in. I’m filled with compassion for those around me, for the community, for the generations of mothers and children born and raised in the North.
Here’s where you can take action regarding food security in the north.