By María Cristina Galante Di Pace and Araceli Gil Archundia
“Midwives are the inheritors of the pre-Hispanic medicine woman, the spokespersons of the gods, the priestesses of life, the protectors of health, the counselors of couples, the ones who scold, the ones who are not silenced by men, the ones who know the secrets.”
In rural Mexico, midwives still attend almost 50% of the births and are preferred over the doctors because they themselves are women; because they charge less; because they go to the woman’s home, are available, speak the same language and share the same culture; and because they treat women with warmth and emotion. Neverthless, traditional midwives recognize their limitations in intervening in grave situations of obstetric emergency.
Throughout history, indigenous midwives have learned through practicing with other midwives or through their own direct experience and, often, in response to a spiritual calling, dreams or visions. The knowledge and understanding they possess form part of their sociocultural environment, which they share with the women they attend—not only the same language, but also the same concepts of the body, the same values and a shared knowledge of medicinal plants. Midwives are immersed in the same daily lifestyle as the women they attend because they too are mothers and wives. For all these reasons, they enjoy the trust of the woman and her family members.
Most traditional midwives in Oaxaca are of advanced age—a state related to illiteracy, reduction in visual and auditory capacity, slowness of reflex and diseases like arthritis, hyptertension and diabetes. In situations of risk and complication, in spite of their great wisdom and knowledge, their capacity to respond is limited by such physical difficulties and by cultural barriers that sometimes prohibit them from physical contact with the birthing mother’s body.
Younger women lack access to more structured training—a situation that does not allow midwifery to develop as a profession and a source of work. Training that develops skills recognized at local, national and international levels and that is based in the greater capacity of younger midwives will bring recognition to the profession and encourage learning/apprenticeship among young indigenous women.
Fortunately, traditional medicine in Oaxaca has been able to count on legal recognition since the Law of Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Communities was passed in the state in 2001.
Excerpted from “Luna Llena (Full Moon)”
Midwifery Today Issue 75, Autumn 2005
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