Birth & Midwifery in Mexico
Resources for parents and practitioners
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Many of the following sites are in Spanish; an online translator may be useful.
Midwifery Today Country Contact*
*To learn what a Country Contact is or to reach any Midwifery Today Country Contact, click here.
Joni Nichols is a Childbirth Educator, Doula, Labor Assistant, Activist, Photographer, Partera and the owner of one of the biggest and heaviest birth bags around! A few things are immutable in Joni's daily life—exercise, chocolate and doing something related to birth. It might be a couple of hours on the Internet, a private childbirth class, a phone inquiry, catching up on sleep after one of the 40 births she attends per year, or a planning session with the other members of "Plenitud; pregnancy, birth and lactation" the multi-faceted childbirth group she helped establish. If not, she is working on a presentation for one of the many international conferences she attends, promoting midwifery in the schools, replying to e-mails she receives as the ICAN representative in Guadalajara, or inviting people for a tour of the intimate water birth center that Plenitud has created in the Hospital Valle de Atemajac. Proud to be a "people connector," Joni works to help folks make contact with caregivers who practice the midwifery-based model within Mexico.
To contact Joni Nichols, please visit her Web site, Plenitud.
- Plenitud—pregnancy, birth and lactation
- Luna Maya—Centro de Partos de San Cristobal
- Grupo Ticime—A multifaceted program of information and midwifery service that also publishes a quarterly Spanish language bulletin. Conversando Entre Parteras
- Rebozo Way
- Nacer y Crecer—Childbirth preparation group in Monterrey
- Parto Libre—ONG created in 2008 to support and promote humanized birth care; (bilingual)
- Luna Llena Centro de Iniciación a—la parteria de Oaxaca/Midwifery School (in Spanish)
- La Leche League
- Plenitud—pregnancy, birth and lactation
- LacMater: Promoción, Protección y Apoyo Integral a la Lactancia Materna
- C.A.S.A.—The CASA Midwifery School is Mexico's first government-accredited institution dedicated to graduating professional midwives and establishing midwifery as an autonomous profession.
- ANIPP—Asociación National de Instructoras en Psicoprofilaxis Perinatal
- AMAYAL—Centro Educacional de Salud para el Bienestar Humano, A.C. (Monterrey) (bilingual)
Midwives in Oaxaca
“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.
What is the biggest challenge facing normal birth in your country and what is being done to address it?
The words “parto humanizado” (humanized birth) are becoming wider spread in Mexico. Sadly, this doesn’t mean that episiotomy has been eradicated as a standard practice, or that the percentage of cesareans has miraculously been reduced, or that more babies are spending their first hours in their mother’s arms.
It does mean (if my mail is any indication) that more women are asking for the names of respectful caregivers in their hometowns, questioning the need to automatically have a repeat cesarean and/or asking who can help them achieve a waterbirth. It means that each new entry on my Facebook wall that focuses on gentle birth practices is assured a dozen “likes”! It also means that, this year alone, I have attended the home and/or waterbirths of newly graduated medical students who know that what they are taught is not what they want their own families to experience. It means that so far this year, there have been 5570 visitors to my Web site. What it means is that some families are questioning, investigating and often actively looking for alternatives!
The conference I spoke at this past June in Morelia, Michoacán, was entitled 1º Encuentro sobre el parto y nacimiento humanizado (“First Conference about Humanized Birth”), and Barbara Harper’s visit to the city of San Luis Potosi was entitled Como lograr un parto humanizado (“How to Achieve a Humanized Birth”). Amayla, an educational center in Monterrey, has hosted three congresses with the title “Humanized Birth,” and Luna Maya, in Chiapas, offers an apprenticeship program for fluent Spanish speakers who understand that “the humanization or mammalization of birth is a fundamental right.” Nueve Lunas, in Oaxaca, is teaching a second generation of midwives who focus on humanized care during pregnancy and labor.
Here in Guadalajara, Nacer en Plenitud continues to offer an alternative to the prevailing slice and bake birthing culture. This year families have traveled to us from Sayulita, Puerta Vallarta, Tepic, Aguascalientes, Puerta de Angel and Mazatlán in their search for a safe and respectful birth experience.
For the moment, the philosophy of humanized birth is still only a theoretical construct in far too much of the country. Childbirth educators, doulas, midwives and some obstetricians and pediatricians use it as a general term to refer to birthing conditions that are respectful of the gestating/laboring/newly birthed mother and her family. As the term becomes more pervasive, one hopes that so too will its practical implications—women giving birth instinctively and intuitively while whole heartedly and actively supported by their caregivers. As we say in Spanish, Ojala! (God grant it!)