Sounds like the set up for a great joke, right? It amused me to be the missionary in this scenario; so to that extent it is humorous. Aside from my own chuckle this is nothing more than a statement of fact:
A missionary, an astrologist, and a midwife walk into a yoga center.
My exploration of midwifery training began with a good ol’ Google search. Using as many phrases in Spanish and English I could think of I searched for schools and midwives in Bolivia. Then I extended my search to Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest.
Conclusion: midwifery in Bolivia is 1) rare and 2) rural.
Two seasoned midwives in other countries have suggested that my next step in midwifery training be to find out what the legal requirements are to practice midwifery in Bolivia. As I understand the laws the government is still figuring out the best way to incorporate midwives and their ways.
The law requires the midwife to be registered with the “Ministry of Health and Sports, Vice-minister of traditional medicine and interculturality” branch of the government. Registration is obtained by the presentation of a formal letter from a certain government official in your town or city of residence on your behalf validating and vouching for your abilities as a practicing midwife in that region for the previous five years. Upon approval this registration allows you entrance into any hospital or clinic to perform your midwifery skills. This is the process required of all those who practice traditional medicine to grant them validity and clinical privileges, such as: herbalists, naturalists, spiritual guides, witch doctors, and midwives.
I know that “Western” practices are far from infallible. I also know there is much we have dismissed or forgotten from our ancient ancestors due to prejudices, industrialization, and commercialization. These errors are essentially throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Yet, I am still coming to accept where the government has chosen to slot midwives. I am not yet at peace with it.
Rural Bolivian Midwives
In the Bolivian countryside and the small towns, which make up the majority of the land in this nation, the midwives learn their skills from the generation before them. Their aptitude is identified as young as 11 years old. Usually the skills are inherited and instilled from an elder in the family. It’s a beautiful thing to think how natural and communal it is to give birth in the villages. It is also a frightening reality that many of the practices are based solely on tradition rather than science. The rustic rural areas are located far from additional support services of modern medical facilities.
To put myself under the tutelage of a traditional Bolivian midwife in a small village would give me loads of experience with laboring women in-the-flesh. But I don’t think it could provide the level of training that I seek to obtain. I respect those midwives and I see their role as vital for this nation. I just don’t feel like that is the path I am supposed to take to receive my training.
The full list of those officially registered in Bolivia can be found online. I scoured the names and categories to find the ones registered in the department (state) of Cochabamba. There were 22 (out of a population of 1,900,000+). I did a Facebook search for each of their names. I didn’t find any on facebook. Most likely they are all in the small villages of our department.
Urban Bolivian Midwife
Through Facebook, though, I did find one “partera” (midwife) in Cochabamba. I wrote a little message to her introducing myself and explaining I would like to meet her to discuss the training options that exist for a person like me here in Cochabamba. I also googled her name and found a few articles by and about her. I was able to ascertain from a YouTube video that she became uneasy and unsatisfied with the entitled, prejudiced, and rude treatment of the doctors towards the women she began to seek out a different way. Her journey led her to become a midwife.
She responded to my message with kindness and suggested a time we meet. At first we were going to sit in a plaza and talk. The day of the meeting she texted me to say that a friend of hers had graciously offered the space of her yoga center for us to meet. I was so excited.
I found the place and remembered seeing signs out front that they specialize in prenatal yoga. The place was every bit what you would expect. Low lights, soothing decor, and incense lingering in the air. The yoga instructor ushered me in to Vivi, the midwife. Vivi is lively yet calm with a sweet countenance of peace and acceptance. She has a soft voice that resonates confidence. Her long hair, beaded jewelry, and flowing flowery garb reminded me of pictures I had seen of my parents’ hippie days. I loved her right away.
We sat at the small table in the kitchenette and drank herbal tea sweetened with natural honey. She shared her story. I shared mine. Then I asked about the education possibilities. She spoke of her dreams of a state of the art birthing center with a training arm here in the city of Cochabamba. Then she spoke of the challenges of money, initiative, and legality. I understood. She encouraged me to continue on this path and urged me to seek out the training in any way I could.
As we rose to leave we encountered one of her friends in the entry way. She introduced me to the astrologist and explained how they work together. Vivi has a few women who are expecting babies in the coming months. She does their prenatal care and then attends their births.
I was disappointed to know that training to be a midwife would have to come from abroad. I was surprised, too. I thought there would be a more midwives because of the practicality of the role in a society like this one. I feel sorry that the expectant mothers in the urban areas do not have the option of the services of a midwife. It just makes sense to simplify and reduce the high number of unnecessary cesarean sections with a midwifery program. The great divide created by classism is shocking and quite abhorrent. Bolivia could benefit greatly from more midwives.
Now I have to look beyond Bolivian borders for a school. That search has begun.