This summer I spent five weeks in San Miguel de Allende, and Mexico City, Mexico interning with world-renowned birth anthropologist, Robbie Davis-Floyd. Denise McQuade, my professor for Biology of Sex last semester emailed me about the opportunity because she knew I was a doula and was interested in birth and connected me with Robbie.
My research was focused on Mexican birth art. I looked at lots of folk art depicting birth and identified how it has changed throughout time to reflect the changing processes in obstetrics in Mexico. For example, a folk art sculpture from the 1990s depicts a cesaerean, during which the cesarean rate in Mexico was over 50%. If you go back 50 or 100 years, you would never find a folk art sculpture of a cesarean — birth art was more likely to depict a woman, upright squatting.
I also interviewed local midwives and childbirth educators to learn more about the ways they incorporate art into their practice. Many birth workers use art as a tool. It allows mothers to both visualize their birth to overcome fear, and also to process their birth experience. One midwife went through a portfolio of art made by her former clients in anticipation of their births and she told me that she could predict the outcomes of their births based off of the art that they created.
This same midwife also showed me her collection of herbal remedies that she uses in birth and showed me her “placenta library” where she keeps a small amount of extract made with her clients’ placentas so that she can use it as a homeopathic remedy for those clients in the future. Seeing all of this was very interesting as a birthworker, myself, and I learned some skills from her that I can use in my doula practice.
Robbie provided me with unlimited knowledge of birth across cultures and gave me several readings and presentations. She also introduced me to Nadine Goodman, who founded the first school for professional midwives in Mexico. Through Robbie and Nadine, I learned a lot about the politics of midwifery in Mexico and in the U.S. Traditional midwifery was outlawed in Mexico upon the introduction of obstetrical physicians, but Nadine has successfully been able to create this school to preserve the knowledge of the traditional midwives, while giving them a professional credential that allows them to practice in Mexico. Since founding the school in San Miguel de Allende, she has created programs in several other Mexican cities. The hospital that Nadine founded along with the school, was called CASA, and I was able to do some fieldwork there, see how art is used at the hospital, and I even attended a birth. It is fascinating to compare varying models of birth, and it is definitely research that I would like to further pursue.
I learned a lot during my time in Mexico, and I gained a lot of clarity about what I want to do with my professional life. I want to be a birth activist, and from what I have experienced in Mexico, it seems to me the best way to do this is on the front-lines as a midwife. I hope to become a midwife and to integrate art into my practice and adhere to a holistic model of care for all birthing people. It was a wonderful and enriching experience and I hope to someday return to San Miguel to do further research at CASA.