Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Fierce Heat: Advice from a Zapotecan Midwife

I had the great fortune to interview a remarkable woman last year. Dona Enriqueta Contreras is an extraordinary midwife from Oaxaca, Mexico, with a fiercely successful record (she delivered more than 2,000 babies in her 60-year career without EVER losing a mother or baby in childbirth). And more than that, she has fierce friends. They love her. She is widely regarded as a leader in her community, and in many communities of North America that value motherhood, natural childbirth, women's rights and strong medical health.

I learned more in the few hours I spoke with Dona Enriqueta than I have from any interview I've done. She appears to be a sweet little old lady, but no. It's complete deception! She's a thunderbolt, and she rocked my world with advice and guidance that I didn't believe I was ready for, or, to be honest, wasn't sure I needed at the time. She told me to be strong and stand tall. Of course, we all believe we are strong and confident.

But she said to take it further. Don't back down, she told me. (And coming from a woman who has stood up to Mexican government authorities, I gathered her meaning was one of resistance, fighting and tenacity.) Don't give up, she said. Stand your ground and don't let yourself be bullied. She was speaking from a platform of advocating for empirical study for midwifery students who are increasingly bullied by the Mexican government to take classes, take notes, read books--but not actually help deliver babies. This, according to Dona Enriqueta, is ludicrous, and she's made her views known. (American restrictions for midwifery study are not as empirically based as they should be, either.)

I endeavor to put Enriqueta's words to action in my own life. I'm not a midwife (thought I am forever grateful to the midwives who helped deliver my own two children) but as a healer, herbalist, mother, teacher, writer, wife, and business owner, I think of her advice frequently and ask myself, "What would Dona Enriqueta say if I did this?" Her fierce Zapotec eyes are enough to tell me--be strong!

Where in your life can you be stronger? Fiercer? Take a deep breath and be like the Zapotec midwife who shepherded more than two thousand women into motherhood. Don't be bullied by your employer, by the utility provider, by a salesperson, by your spouse. Be strong!

And join me on July 6, 2001 at 4pm at The Polly Hill Arboretum on Martha's Vineyard for a slide show presentation and tea reception to "meet" Dona Enriqueta and 19 other remarkable international healers from my years of herbal interviews. Go here for the complete calendar from Vineyard Herbs.


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