The Rebozo

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A transcription of the rebozo workshop given by Doña Irene Sotelo and Naolí Vinaver

Doña Irene Sotelo demonstrating massage technique

Welcome to this class. This is the use of the rebozo and massage techniques from Mexico. We will be teaching—Doña Irene Sotelo, and myself, Naolí Vinaver. I would like to know how many of you have ever used a rebozo to serve a pregnant woman, to adjust her, or have ever seen how it is done. I just would like to know how many. Just a couple from here, from this conference. So it is still fresh enough that it won’t hurt to get more in detail.

So, let me first tell you what a rebozo is. They come in different colors and types of material, and they are about 1 meter 20 centimeters or so in length [we measured ours at 4 1/2 feet]. I don’t know in feet, but they should be long enough to go around a person’s body and then overlap a little. The rebozo has been a part of the Mexican culture forever. We’ve never known it to not exist, and it is a woman’s piece of clothing. Usually, it is worn by the woman, very conveniently, to keep from getting cold, and it usually goes like this, overlapping over one shoulder. It is also used to carry babies, as you have probably seen. We teach people how to wrap a baby in many, many different ways, so that every woman, even if she doesn’t have children, knows how to carry a baby, because she’s going to be carrying her siblings or her nieces or nephews or grandchildren, and so on.

The rebozo is also used to carry heavy loads on the head. So what you do is wrap [the rebozo] like a coil, and you put this on your head to make it like a padding. This is very good service to carry a big, heavy bucket. Then it is just a matter of equilibrium, right? But it doesn’t hurt your head. And the head is a very, very strong part of the body. The neck and back carry the weight. My children have always been really big and fat, and I usually carry them on my shoulders. I cannot carry them on my side because my back hurts, and I always put them on my shoulder. And it’s their weight going on the same center of your body, so I can go for hours carrying them like that. And that’s why many people carry things on their heads, not just in Mexico, everywhere in the world you see that. So if you ever have to carry a big box of books, don’t try to do it on your side. Just get down, put something on your head, lift [the box] up, put it on your head and try it out. It’s very easy to do.

Doña Irene demonstrates different methods of counter pressure. (Notice Jan Tritten and Yeshi Neumann in the background!)
The rebozo is also used in the midwife’s bag. It is a piece of cloth that can be used to wrap around a woman’s belly. The woman who’s had many babies and has a big belly that falls out onto her lap, well, usually the baby is not well aligned in her body. Actually, she may have contractions and have labor for a long time. Even though she’s had babies, baby can’t come out because baby’s resting outside. It’s just out there on the bed or out there in the air, and you need to bring that baby back into her body. The rebozo is a very convenient way of doing it. What I’ve done is lay the woman down and have gravity pull the baby back inside her, and then I tighten the rebozo around, with the knot on the side, so that she cannot feel the knot if she’s leaning. And I just make it nice and tight, usually as tight as I can, because the belly is a huge weight. Then she can get up and have the baby once the baby has fallen back into place. [It positions the baby back over the cervix to help it dilate in labor.]

Every woman has her own rebozo. As I said before, they come in different textures, and many, many of them are made of cotton. Nowadays, many may not be made of cotton, but they are usually the same size. [They are] to be used in pregnancy to rotate babies, to fix the baby’s position. We’ll get to that as well. It’s always useful for them to have some texture, because then they won’t just slide, like a sheet would slide, and will have some friction, and it will be easier.

I will let Doña Irene talk about how she uses the rebozo during pregnancy. OK. We will begin with that, and then we will just go on. We have a lot to say.

In Mexico, the use of the rebozo is traditional. It has been used for years and years, for many, many years.

Doña Irene uses oils she had brought from Mexico to demonstrate massage techniques!
In some communities the rebozo is a symbol of respect. In a small-town village if one sees a girl 13 or 14 years old and she is wearing her shawl, walking through town, men would know that this is a married woman, and she needs to be respected and honored as such.

So then when these women get pregnant, they wrap the rebozo around their waist, like this, because we’re talking about rural areas and women working hard. So they do this, and in doing that it provides them with more support. We’re talking about women being pregnant three or four months and on, and as they do that, then they can carry huge things of water on their heads, huge things of firewood. Any of the hard work, physical labor, that they do, this is going to help them protect their back, protect their pregnancy.

The traditional midwives utilize the rebozo for the pregnant lady—for the delivery, after the delivery, for all parts of a woman’s care.

When the woman is pregnant, super pregnant, and there is a belly 8 ½ months, this is what I do. Here is the belly right here. I wrap the shawl so that the whole belly is inside the shawl as it spreads on the front of the belly. So throughout the day, this is how they have the rebozo wrapped around their belly.

In some states, I have met some people in some communities who wear their rebozo very tight around their waist—all the time—as a means to keep a little tiny waist. So the entire pregnancy occurs down here and never changes the waistline or affects it. I have known of women who have had 10 babies, and they still have a tiny little waist.

Those times when the woman is some weeks along and the baby has gotten bigger and the muscles, these ligaments on the side, are sore, during the prenatal visits the traditional midwives are able to help with those discomforts.

I need a volunteer, or someone who can be a model.

Our model is 8-1/2 months pregnant. Her back hurts, her side hurts, she feels tired. When [the woman comes] to the prenatal visit, first the belly’s massaged, the midwife talks to the baby, the woman gets massaged and then after that [the midwife] does what I’m doing. The woman leans back a little bit, the rebozo is wrapped around the lower back, including the buttocks, and the midwife hangs onto the ends and rocks the woman gently as she leans back onto the rebozo.

She rocks back and forth a little bit, and then [the midwife] takes the rebozo and puts it on the front. The top of the rebozo is always going to be loose, and nice and snuggy down at the bottom. The rebozo is wrapped on the woman’s belly, the entire belly, and then she takes the ends to the back and she gently ties upward. The tightness is happening at the bottom of the belly, loosened on the top.

Doña Irene Sotelo demonstrating massage technique

Question: You know how when you did the back and held it on either side and pulled. When you put it on the front, are you going to do some of that pulling, too?

Answer: When you’re doing it from the front, you just do a gentle, upward pull.

After that’s done, [the woman] sits on the chair comfortably. Then I starts massaging so that she’ll rest. I want to make the woman feel comfortable, and this is what God tells me to do, so I just do these things.

As [I’m] doing this massage, there’s a popping that the woman can hear—and I hear it, too, when I do it. That promotes circulation, and that’s a good thing.

Then I press down on the forehead like that. Of course, I’m always using oils, and that makes it a little bit easier.

You can even add a little bit of pressure on the forehead, with the fingers like that, going all the way down on the sides of the neck, down into the shoulders, nice and gentle. This is very gentle. It doesn’t have to be hard. You’re doing this with a lot of love so that the pregnant woman feels really good, loved and cared for, wonderfully. You just continue to rub the shoulders.

Doña Irene demonstrates the use of a Rebozo on a birthing woman.
After [I’ve] done all that, all the massaging, and the belly with the rebozo work, and then the head and the face and the shoulders and all of that, and all this sweet talking, and the woman is all relaxed, then [the woman says], “Oh, I feel so good, I feel so good.” Then [I] go on into the dialogue. Every time I like to ask the woman, “When did you have your last period?” She goes through all the information. I like for them to just go over and over it, even though it isn’t like I have forgotten, I have it written in here, but I like to go over and over it. “When was the first day of your last period? When were you doing this kind of stuff, and where are you in terms of your pregnancy?” And I do a lot of talking, every time, about eating right, eating a lot of vegetables. I encourage a lot of dark green, leafy vegetables, a lot of fruits, a lot of fluids, more than usual, and I do this all the time, over and over. Usually [the women] feel so good, they want to come back right away, and they look at me, “When do I come back?” when they already know it’s in another month. But they’re hoping I’ll say, “Oh, next week, in three days.” “I feel so much better” they say, “When can I come back?” And they look at me with a certain look.

So that’s how you handle the rebozo in the traditional midwife’s way. For a long labor or for a face presentation, for a baby’s head that wasn’t flexed, this is what the traditional midwife does. The rebozo comes in handy again for that. You have to lie flat on the floor, on your pelvis. This is what the head is going to do to flex, which is what you want when it is a face presentation. So the technique I’m using here is to cause the baby’s head to flex and put itself in the right way. I’m putting the woman flat, and the rebozo is under her pelvis, and I bend over the woman and gently rock her. This is done, as you can see, very, very gently, so that the rocking, that’s what the baby’s doing, rocking.

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