Profiling Tepehua – April 2023

Midwifery in Mexico has always been thought of as a natural gift, a cultural heritage, “almost like doing magic” claimed a professional mid-wife from Oaxaca, one of the few midwives actually trained with a nurse´s background, which, in this decade, have become rare.  Mid-wives often lacked support in Mexico’s health system until the pandemic.  As the hospitals and clinics closed down, women were almost forced back to home-birthing by the over crowded facilities, the lack of compassionate care and a system that had women giving birth in hospital hallways.  Women here at Lakeside are turning back to birthing at home and finally the Mexican Government is encouraging it. The government wants to increase recognition of midwifery as a valid profession to help the overcrowded local hospital facilities. There was a time when midwifery was considered like witchcraft and it was mandatory for the mother to go to the hospital. If a mother or child died under the care of a midwife, the midwife could be charged with murder.  Under these circumstances of secret birthing, many negative things happened. The mortality rate rose because if it was a difficult birth, they were afraid to call a doctor, and doctors really didn’t want to get involved in case the mother or child didn´t make it under his watch.  Children were not being given birth certificates because there was no hospital name to give. This caused later problems when the child had to attend school, but couldn’t because of no proof of birth. One would think the child was proof enough but the law is the law.  In 2018 R.A Vega wrote “While Mexico’s upper class are discovering the wonders of natural birth, traditional Indigenous midwives are actively being discouraged and threatened from providing the same services at home to the lower classes.” She further stated “Ironically, despite an increasing interest in natural birth in the country, traditional midwifery was under siege”.

Just before Covid, the Tepehua Community Center sent an envoy on the same journey a pregnant women would take if she went to the local hospital, A gentleman, Harvey Bernier, volunteered for this task as he clearly did not understand the issue (or he would never have gone!). He boarded the bus accompanied by a few pregnant escorts, and after over an hour on the bus to Guadalajara after stops, bumps and lurches, the overcrowded bus ground to a halt and they trooped into the hospital to check in.  He joined the line of women in the hallway, some being supported by the wall trying to control pain, others were sitting on the floor faces contorted as the labor pains came and went, all waiting for their water to break, because only then were they escorted to a bed or gurney to proceed with the birth. By then our hero was having phantom pains himself and decided mission was accomplished before his water broke! Forty eight hours later all being well, the mothers went back on the bus for the long journey home carrying a new tiny life in their arms. The relatives who accompanied each of them bleary eyed from lack of sleep on the cold hospital floor.  We applaud Harvey who trod where other men would fear to tread!

Not only do facilities need to change, so does attitude.  It is changing with a force of its own, There must be more respect for the miracle of a childbirth. The Tepehua Maternal Health program will soon be starting classes for mid-wives. All midwives are welcome to be taught new methods to complement the old methods, hygiene and other tricks of the trade for natural birthing. Our plan is to raise the standard and visibility of the village mid-wives and support their work by supplying the information and the tools they need, hopefully with the support of the government.

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Moonyeen King
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