The following is the fifth and final article in the series Trachtmaokas, Parteras, and Midwives: 100 Years of Maternal Care in Chihuahua’s Mennonite Campos.
The work of Casa Geburt Birthing Center and Midwifery Training School, featured in Part 4 of this series, has been gaining a lot of attention, locally in the Tres Culturas Region, as well as nationally in Mexico, since its establishment in 2016. The school has graduated 3 classes of midwives and continues to train midwives and doulas from traditional and non-traditional Mennonite backgrounds, as well as from Mestiza and Indigenous Rarámuri backgrounds. Graduates from the midwifery and doula programs are attending births in their home communities and the Casa Geburt Birthing Center provides services in the center’s birthing room, in clients’ homes, and in the local maternity ward through a partnership with Hospital Angeles in Cuauhtémoc.
The following link features a segment from the nationally syndicated news program, Milenio, titled, “Doulas y parteras menonitas en Chihuahua” (“Mennonite Doulas and Midwives in Chihuahua,”) which was originally broadcast January 21, 2020. English subtitles are available by using YouTube’s closed captions feature and a translated transcript is also available below.
Translated Transcript “Menonite Doulas and Midwives in Chihuahua”
[Translation from Spanish] And now we go to Chihuahua where they have created a midwifery and doula school that serves the Mennonite community in Cuauhtémoc so they have options–alternative options, as well as, traditional options to give birth to their babies. Norma Ponce has the complete report.
[Speaking English] Katia LeMone: My name is Katia LeMone and I am a midwife and herbalist and I’ve been here in Cuauhtémoc since 2015. I moved here at the end of 2015 at the invitation of the Mennonite community.
[Translation from Spanish] Norma Ponce: Mennonites in the municipality of Cuauhtémoc began the work of bringing an American doula and midwife to their community to facilitate births that were more humanizing and in accordance with their traditions.
Aggie Froese: In regards to Mennonite women, there is often a language barrier and no one to attend to them in the hospitals. The objective is to give them more options and to give them a different, more beautiful experience.
Clara Enns: Well, we were losing this tradition and we didn’t have anyone to learn from, but once again, the need has arisen. Young couples are searching for a midwife.
Norma Ponce: With the help of the community, Katia created Casa Geburt, a school for doulas and midwives that serves and supports mothers and gives them the opportunity to give birth at home, at a birthing center, or in the local hospital.
Diego Fernández: Yes, it’s something unusual. It’s probably not something you’d find in any other hospital in Mexico. What’s important to us is to raise the quality of healthcare in a region, in a community, which because of their customs, for many years, until recently, has been isolated.
Norma Ponce: With a population of more than 50,000 Mennonites, doulas and doctors from the region have learned to work cross-culturally, respecting their traditions, which has led to a lowering of C-section rates and a greater demand for more humanizing births.
Dr. Guiller Stauferd: We’re wanting to create an atmosphere where the patient feels relaxed, like she is at home and not at a hospital or a hotel. Where she feels like she is receiving good care in her home, but knows that she has complete hospital access within 10 or 20 steps.
Norma Ponce: They have witnessed such great success that Mexican [Mestiza] and Rarámuri women are beginning to see this group of doulas and midwives as an option. From 2016 to today, more than 125 babies have been brought into the world through the hands of these women.
Angélica Galaz: I met these women at a Christmas fair, from the first appointment I had, I felt very confident in them. They give you all the time you need. They answer all your questions. It was very different from what I was used to.
Delma Cecilia Martínez: They charge what people are able to pay. The women give them what they can. They create a secure environment where women feel cared for and protected, within the hospital.
[Speaking English] Katia LeMone: The Rarámuri didn’t have any money to pay, but they wanted a partera [midwife] to help them. I’ve had women do a lot of sewing for me. And we’ve had Mennonite women who couldn’t afford do canning of fruits and vegetables for us. We’ve had people clean houses.
[Translation from Spanish] Norma Ponce: From Chihuahua, with images provided by Daniel Ramírez, this is Norma Ponce with Milenio News.
Aggie Froese: It’s high time that we change how mothers bring their babies into the world.
This nationally syndicated broadcast reveals changing sentiments locally and nationally to midwifery and highlights the work of midwives in the Tres Culturas Region, offering them public recognition for work that had largely gone unnoticed for almost a century.
The following accounts were collected by Casa Geburt doulas and midwives who gave the Rebels, Exiles, and Bridge Builders Oral History Project (REBB) permission for their use. These accounts reveal many of the recurring issues that have faced women giving birth in the Campos Menonitas of Chihuahua over the last 100 years such as: linguistic and other communication barriers; pregnancy loss and infant mortality; fear and distrust of the medical establishment; high C-section rates; the intersection of traditional midwifery and modern medicine, as well as and the role of the doula and midwife as a comforter and advocate. These accounts were translated from German to Spanish by Sarah Banman, a midwifery school graduate who currently attends births in her community. The Spanish to English translation was done by Abigail Carl-Klassen.
The first account, from a woman who chose to remain anonymous, details difficulties faced by her mother-in-law, mother, sisters, and friends in childbirth:
My mother-in-law had all of her babies by Cesarean. And my mother had extremely difficult births because the doctor did not give her the care she needed. She had to lay in the bed, not allowed to get up, suffering for hours. She had her last two babies by Cesarean.
Two of my sisters had difficult births and the other two sisters had their children by Cesarean. The majority of my friends had their babies by Cesarean. The reason that the doctors do it this way is so that the woman does not suffer so much pain and for the doctor it’s faster.
She continues, describing her fear of the hospital and what she believes to be a case of medical malpractice experienced by her sister.
My husband and I don’t know a lot about hospitals or therapies; because so far we have only gone to the hospital to visit family. There are things that still scare us about going to the hospital in the city or having a baby in a hospital.
Another reason why I didn’t have my birth with a doctor was because of an experience one of my sisters had. My sister was expecting her second child, but she hadn’t realized it yet and she was not feeling well and she went to the doctor. He told her she had something in her uterus and needed to see a specialist. The specialist examined her and told her it was something very serious and needed to take medication. If the uterus did not clean itself out after a few days she would have to have a surgery.
My sister and her husband had the presence of mind to think that maybe she was pregnant and they waited to use the medicine that had been prescribed to them by the doctor to clean her uterus. Instead, they took a pregnancy test, which came back positive.
If they had followed the directions of this doctor, today I would not have this beautiful, healthy, and strong nephew. Many doctors do not respect the trust that people put in them and they care for them at their own convenience.
She describes her own birth and the ease and safety she felt with the midwives:
The most beautiful and wonderful experience I ever had in my life was the birth of my daughter. She was born at home, and the birth went well. Although I had a lot of strong pain, I was comfortable to be at home and the service from the midwives was the best. The most valuable part of the experience was that my husband was at my side to support me as best as he could and the baby was born in her father’s arms.
I am currently expecting my second baby and we didn’t question for a second who we were going to receive care from during this pregnancy, birth, and post-partum period. We feel at home with the midwives and I have fallen in love with the kind of care they provide.
The second account, provided by Mina Gunther, echoes many of the challenges and positive experiences described in the previous account, but also highlights the positive experiences she had at Casa Geburt concerning the partnership they had with her gynecologist and how they walked beside her through the difficulties she encountered in her post-partum period:
My name is Mina Gunther. I want to write a little about my story and my experiences with the midwives at Casa Geburt Cuauhtémoc Chihuahua. For my second pregnancy I decided to go the midwife Katia LeMone, for all maternal services and to have a home birth, since my first pregnancy where we had Dr. [Redacted] attending me, ended at 25 weeks with an extremely premature birth, where the baby did not survive. For this reason, we decided to change and have Dr. [Redacted] as our gynecologist, whom we would like to thank for his professional care and support when he knew we were planning a birth with the midwife that he approved of.
Dr. [Redcated] explained our situation clearly and supported us at all times and was very honest about the situation. We had monthly appointments with the midwife until the third trimester, and after that we had weekly appointments. At Casa Geburt they checked: Pulse, Blood Pressure, Weight, Hydration, the Position and Heartbeat of the Baby. The last weeks before the birth and the first appointments postpartum, they made house calls.
I had the opportunity to choose the position that was the best and most comfortable for me. During labor they gave me the time I needed and did not pressure me.
They taught me lactation when I had complications since I didn’t have any experience and they gave me all the instructions on how to do it and it helped me so much which makes me very happy. They explained everything to me and answered all my questions and brought me everything I needed. And they inspired me to eat healthy, drink lots of water and take vitamins. They were also accepting of our decision to have Dr. [Redacted] as our gynecologist. They were not against any medication given to me by the gynecologist though they always try to help people in the most natural way possible.
She reflected on the future, confident in her ability to make choices about her reproductive health and the quality of care she would receive.
I am very thankful to God, because without him our beautiful boy would not have been born and to the midwives for their presence for being peaceful and waiting until the right time to give birth….If I become pregnant again, I will choose them and have a home birth because of the professional care and experience. I would recommend Casa Geburt as a place where the mother and baby are the highest priority and they are not motivated by money, but the well-being of mothers and babies. They have made a big difference in the community in the years they have been offering this service.
Though the Campos Menonitas, Cuauhtémoc, and and the surrounding Tres Culturas Region have undergone significant socio-political, economic, ideological and cultural shifts in the 100 years since the Mennonites’ arrival in 1922, midwives and their commitment to accompany and advocate for women in all aspects of their reproductive health remain as important as ever. In many ways, today’s midwives are far removed from the experiences of Caterina Shroder and Susanna Shellenburg, whose work as midwives in the Campos Menonitas of Chihuahua in the early and mid-20th Century, was featured in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series; however, they still embody the same drive and spirit of service which propels them to confront reproductive health taboos and navigate cultural dynamics that often prohibit or discourage connection between women from different communities, in order to provide maternal care to women from all backgrounds regardless of religious affiliation, language, or ability to pay.