In my first post about Curanderismo, I shared that this word describes a holistic indigenous healing practice and a way of life. In Curanderismo, you have people who specialize in different healing practices. These include sobadores (Massage/energy work with dialogue); hueseros (bone setters); consejeros (counselors); yerberos (herbalists); and matronas o parteras (midwives). In this post, I will share the importance of traditional midwifery in Mexico, who they are, what they do, and all they have to go through to protect, preserve, and heal within their communities.
Tlamatquiticitl means midwife in Nahuatl, (Nahuatl is the native language that belongs to the Aztecs and other indigenous groups in central Mexico). A Tlamatquiticitl, or traditional midwife, holds one of the most important roles in the societal order of indigenous communities. We know that worldwide midwifery is one of the oldest healing arts but has come with a cost and it is often not discussed. A Tlamatquiticitl usually identifies herself as a woman and eventually becomes like a mother to the town. In ancient times in Mesoamerica, midwives were highly respected community members; honored as the caretaker and healers. She will counsel, heal, and assist many births over her lifetime. The children she assists in birthing will grow up and return to her to birth their own children. Eventually, all these generations of children will look after her and make sure she is well taken care of. Because she is a woman with experience and wisdom as well as the matriarch for many, she also holds a position of power in sociopolitical groups. Her community will seek her help when they need counsel, a remedy, healing, work on their fertility, talk about their children, talk about family issues, or simply to say hello and bring her offerings in gratitude.
The Tlamatquiticitl has many gifts and uses them along with different skills to heal, some of these are herbs, nutrition, bone setting, the release of emotions, dialogue, spiritual counseling, sweats, ceremony, and daily rituals or mindfulness practices. As traditional midwives, they are in charge of caring for the expecting mother and child all through the pregnancy as well as the postpartum period. Women also come to seek her help if they need aid in regulating the menstrual cycle, fertility, and help in getting pregnant.
When a couple is planning to conceive, the Tlamatquiticitl will work with the fertility of both the woman and the man. She will speak to them as both a professional, but also as a wise grandmother. She will address their common assumptions about being parents, their fears, their hopes and dreams, and their wishes, and she will also talk about the possible risks and responsibilities. She wants to make sure that the couple understands that a baby grows and needs attention and guidance. The child-parent relationship is for life! “Are you willing to take on this responsibility and lose the personal freedom you seem to have now?” she will ask.
The role of the extended family plays a major role in traditional midwifery. The extended family, not always, but most of the time supports the couple with the caretaking of the mom and the baby during the first months. Grandparents are more than happy to care for their grandchildren as it is their second chance to parent from a more experienced place in life. In the Mexican tradition, the grandparent-grandchild relationship is incredibly important as this is where the true essence of a godparent comes from. It is healing for both parties as the child needs the storytelling of the grandparent and the grandparent needs someone to tell their life’s story to embody their life's purpose in sharing their biography with their descendants. The Tlamatquiticitl knew how to do ceremonies to bring families together and repair conflicts among them. If she notices that there are things to clear among family members, she will address it lovingly through a ceremony where everyone clears the air and commits to working on themselves to support the couple and the baby.
In the process of bringing balance and harmony to a woman’s fertility, one of our Traditional Zapotec Midwives, Doña Yolanda uses the elements to assess the person’s constitution. When the constitution of a person is out of balance, she brings in the many tools she has to help the person return to a natural balance within (her internal dialogue) and without (her external world). For example, if a woman’s fire is out of balance, she will be short-tempered and irritable, to balance it, one must bring cooling foods and include water and earth into the nutrition and daily activities. If on the other hand, the person is feeling sluggish and low energy it signifies that their earth element is out of balance and they need to bring in more fire to establish balance and harmony. Doña Yolanda uses herbs and nutrition as medicine to restore the body to balance.
Fertility and the cycles of the Moon are interlinked. For Mexican healers, a healthy menstrual cycle is aligned with the cycles of the moon. A healthy monthly cycle is approximately 28-30 days; menstruating at the new moon and ovulating during the new moon. If we follow the four stages of life of 13 years each (childhood, youth, adulthood, and elderhood), a healthy woman with a healthy lunar menstrual cycle is fertile and can give birth to a healthy baby up to the age of 52. But health is interdependent on the energy of the day the person is born, but more on that at another post. What they teach us is our true connection to Earth, her cycles, her stations, and the influence of the moon, the planets, and all the elements within and without us. In short, the main lesson here is if we can live in harmony with the elements and the natural order of things, we will be happy and healthy. Mothers will be happy and when the change of life happens, she will not have severe symptoms. A healthy and balanced woman has few to non-perimenopausal symptoms.
I see a woman’s body as a temple and the uterus as the altar within it. As a holistic doula, I use all my skills to assist women in their fertility, and pregnancy ceremony of nine months. Through these nine months, I use the skills I have learned from my teachers in Mexico and Oaxaca. I am so grateful to Doña Queta, Doña Pao, Doña Yolanda, Briseida Arco Cruz, the beautiful Araceli Gil Archundia, and of course our Maestro Laurencio Lopez for gifting us with their trust in carrying this sacred ancestral medicine which is used daily. These practices go beyond techniques, I call them ceremonial healings and bodywork because besides working with mom, I work with the baby, but I also include the ancestral connection to the grandparents and those who came before and how this baby will be the ancestor to the generations to come. The string of life of this light, of this baby, is crucial because, without that string, the tapestry of life is incomplete. So we work talking to the uterus and the placenta and all the parts involved in the evolution of the body that will house the child.
Some of the most beautiful healings are the ceremonial healings. Many of these ceremonial healings come in the fourth trimester or the postpartum period. The women are cared for and not allowed to leave the house for 40 days. The 40 days are necessary for her body and her womb to recover and regenerate. It is known that women’s bodies produce significantly more blood and fluids for the baby during pregnancy. Due to the normal overproduction of liquids in the body, the bones and everything expand. At that point, we say that the body is “open” because the bones are stretched open and windows are left open for disease to enter and for the person to lose their lifeforce through these cracks of the body. In this case, we begin with a postpartum womb and full body massage to encourage lymphatic drainage and prepare the body for the ceremony of closing which in Spanish we call “Cerrada” which means “The closing”. This is a lovely ceremony where we massage the entire body addressing imbalances and places and prepare it for The baby then gets a massage too; checking for digestion and overall function and craniosacral flow.
In Mexico we see birth as part of death as together they form the perpetual cycle of life. In many towns, midwives welcome the baby with a prayer: “Welcome to life the path to death.” This is because we are here just for a moment in time to then return to the big house. Here in the US, we have one of the most death-phobic societies in the world. We have forgotten how to die well, and have learned to fear death. In these situations, the traditional Midwives know well that they have to have a healthy relationship with death. When they assist in giving life, they also know they will assist someone else in crossing over. The perpetual circle of life through birth and death always dances together. this newborn will only be here for a moment in time. When someone’s time to crossover comes, some traditional midwives assist the person to cross over. The midwives along with family members sit by their side and guide them into the land of Mictlan or the heavens. She also offers nourishment, comfort, and healing from grief to those who are open.
It is not easy to be a midwife, it requires important skills like discernment to make choices that can have serious consequences. They have to go through so much, and in many systems of health, they are still not accepted, yet they give so much until they no longer can do the work. It is here when the community supports them with what they need at home, food, etc. When Tlamatquiticitl can no longer do the physical work, they begin to prepare the next generation to become midwives for their community. Perhaps a few or even just one will carry the tradition forward. We are losing the true Traditional Midwives as the youth is uninterested in learning from their elders. The traditional midwife leaves a happy life because she knows she is a mother of so many children and that sense of satisfaction is her legacy, pride, and her life's purpose fulfilled.
I hope that as you have read these lines, you reconnected to the sacred feminine, to mother earth, the woman who birthed you, the mother that birthed your mother, and you if you are a mother. May you reconnect with that sacred part of you that nurtures, nourishes, and supports you. May you find this energy as your inner compass to guide your steps into a compassionate, and loving path. May the power of grace give movement to that which is not yet conscious and expressed to give you direction. May you feel the presence of the great cosmic mother and know that even if you don’t see anyone around, you are never alone. There are always unseen forces ready to come to aid, support, and love you.
Learn more about Curanderismo and Margarita Camerana by reading her contributor bio.