Monday, February 17, 2014

Encounter With Midwives

María Fuentes 
Saturday, February 15, 2014   Saturday was a trip to La Asociacion de Comadronas del Area Man.  The Association of Midwives of the Mam Area.  Mam being one of the groups of indigenous peoples in Guatemala.

I don't think I can adequately describe the experience and all of the information that María Fuentes shared with us.  She is the current president of the association, and the center exists because of her and other women's sueños (dreams) of such a center.

This casa de comadronas is in the village of Concepcion Chiquirichapa about 30 miles from Xela. Maria's dream began to take shape after two fellow midwives escaped to the United States as refugees. They returned 17 years later with an American, Judy Luce, to help realize their dream.  A birthing center for Mam women who had no where else to go to have their babies. María told us that God has given her and the other midwives the gift of midwifery, and they must use it.

One of the paintings at
the center
Elena and Felipe Ixcot encountered Judy at some point in the US and told her of their shared dream, to which Judy replied, "What do you need?"  Returning to Guatemala in 1999, Elena and Felipe joined with María, Santas and others to form an independent association.  The center was to be owned by the women and not some faceless organization or the government.  They began to raise money by making beautiful textiles which Judy marketed in the United States.  With the proceeds from the textiles and the hard-won personal money of these women, land was purchased in 2000.  As they continued to raise money for construction, the women raised crops on the land to sell and created their textiles while actually birthing babies in the community.

Construction began in 2002 on the land that had produced maize and cabbage.  María explained that their vision was modest for the building, but with a continuing support network of women in the United States (see, the current building came to fruition.  (María laughingly called it their "palace."  The building, with rooms for consultation, waiting, birthing rooms, kitchen, large multipurpose room, bathrooms, and dormitory for two midwives, was dedicated in 2004.  María and Santa informed us that their were no interior doors at first, as they did not have the money.  That has since been rectified. The inaugural celebration drew curious doctors, nurses, and others from all over as this was the first midwifery house in the country.
The midwives education the moms
about nutrition, general health,
and childbirth

Birth usually happens in the home in Concepcion Chiquirichapa, in a single-room structure where 5-6 people sleep.  La Asociación, provides support for these women as well as the choice of giving birth in a more private space at the center.  María said that their next dream is to have the ability to perform Caesarian Sections at the center.  She reminded us that the center itself was a "pie in the sky" dream prior to its fruition.  I have no doubt that eventually they will have the medical facility for Caesarians.

Hospitals are frightening places for the Mam.  They don't speak Spanish and the hospital staff does not speak Mam.  At the center, other women who speak their language and know their customs, care for the moms throughout the pregnancy and then at birth - wherever that is. Additionally few Mam women have the money for a hospital stay.

In addition to education, support, and medical attention, the Comadronas have recovered the use of traditional plants to fight infection and many other ailments.  These women know their science as they explained which plants treat which illnesses and which was an antioxidant, which was an analgesic, etc.  They grow, dry, and sell these legumbres (herbs) additional to support the center.

On-going programs include coordinating efforts with Red Cross and volunteer firefighters.   There is a program where US firefighters come to Concepcion Chiquirichapa as volunteers to train local firefighters.  I inferred that there was cross training reminiscent of EMT skills.

There is much more that this center does for the people of the community. The Comadronas provide prenatal care and birthing support, wherever that is to take place.  One of the things in the birthing rooms that I wished I had while giving birth, is a very simple chart about cervical dilation.

About 8-15 births happen each month in the center which is a small fraction of total births attended by the midwives.  They charge for their services out of necessity.  It is Q10 for an office visit or a little over 1USD.  It costs about Q6,000 a month to run the program - less than $900.

A gift of great generosity
Besides learning about this extraordinary project and having a gracious tour, something amazing happened in our group.  One of the young women asked Santa about the traditional head wrapping that she wore.  In the next breath, Santa had removed it from her hair and started putting it in the American woman's hair.  The American protested repeatedly which Santa ignored.  Before she could blink, her unruly, thick hair was capably contained.  Finally Santa accepted a donation from the young woman.  I am constantly reminded here, of the hymn Cuando el Pobre.  "When the poor ones, who have nothing, share with strangers . . ."  God continues to bless me in Guatemala.

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