Why feeling seen, heard and respected matters so much in childbirth. A case study from Chiapas, Mexico.
I heard many different birth stories from the midwives while teaching the training in Chiapas. One story that deeply affected me was told by two of the traditional midwives and was about an indigenous 16 year old girl from a community outside of San Cristóbal de las Casas. I will call her Maria.
This was Maria’s second child, her first was born when Maria was only 14 years old (a common age for pregnancy in this community). Maria was seeking the care of traditional midwives for this birth because her first had traumatized her and she was petrified to go into labour.
Maria’s first birth was at a local public hospital. Maria had suffered from painful vulvar vericosities (swollen painful veins in the vulva) throughout her pregnancy, with no advice or care to minimize the discomfort. During the labour she was made to lay on her back and not move, including if she had to urinate. As per protocol, she was automatically given oxytocin to strengthen her contractions, but no continuous fetal monitoring or pain relief of any sort despite the fact that the oxytocin made the contractions relentless and incredibly painful. Student doctors were doing vagina exams on her every couple of minutes to practice their skills, but otherwise, she was not talked to or given any support or guidance. When it was time to push, she was given a mandatory episiotomy, but in doing so, one of the students cut through a large vein and Maria began to bleed profusely. Maria lost so much blood that she went into a coma and woke up 3 days later, not realizing her baby had been born. Because of the trauma, she had a lot of difficulty connecting to her baby and suffered very bad postpartum depression and PTSD.
Needless to say, for this birth she hoped for a different outcome.
The two traditional midwives treated her throughout her pregnancy with acupuncture and traditional medicinal baths using local herbs, for the swollen veins and the fear and trauma surrounding her previous birth. When it came time for the birth, they created a safe space for her to move into positions that alleviated pressure and did some acupuncture to help with pain relief and grounding.
The baby was born smoothly and without any complications. Maria expressed that being able to birth with their support helped her heal from her previous birth and she was absolutely elated and in love with her baby. The midwives were so excited to tell me this story because they felt and continue to feel that having tools to support, not only the physical aspect of maternal health, but also the mental and emotional side has allows them to better support and heal their community, one birth at a time.
To me, this story isn’t about the magic of acupuncture, it is about the magic of humanizing, supporting and caring for Maria in a way that empowered her to heal and change her relationship with her body, her children and birth. This is something I strive to focus on when supporting my own patients here in Vancouver. Whether c-section or vaginal, the key to a mentally, emotionally and physically healthy childbirth and postpartum is feeling seen, heard and supported by every member of your birth team.