A Cultural Study Of Childbirth In Rural Mexico Essay

I. make up of a typical home
A. living arrangements
B. layout of the home
II. starting a family
A. new home
B. becoming pregnant
III. child birth
A. midwife
B. birth setting
C. prenatal care
D. birth of the child
E. postpartum
IV. conclusions
The rural Mexican culture is made up of many small towns and villages. The social connections among adults in
theses areas are relatively intimate because many of these areas are endoga mous communities. Most newly married
couples live with the man’s parents until they are financially stable enough to purchase land of their own to build on.
Though it is less common the couple may decide to live with the wife’s parents if the mother and daughter-in-law
don’t get along (Kay, 1991, p. 367).
A typical mexican home or compound as they are commonly called. Consists of the family’s private living space,
which is likely to be set back from the road. Generally the compound is enclosed by a stone wall and contains
several structures. There is the main house which might be a modern type, built of stone and have a metal roof, or
the traditional wattle and daub walls with a steep palm-thatched roof. Either way, it is likely to be a one-room house.
The traditional house is oval, has a floor of pressed dirt or tile, and two doors but no windows. Inside the
windowless house, daylight filters in though the palm thatching. At night a single electric bulb provides light. Also
at night, several hammocks are let down from the rafters and the house serves as the family’s sleeping quarters. In
every compound there is also a separate cooking hut with an open fire. Near the well there will be a raised trough
covered, by a palm-thatched roof, for the daily clothes-washing. !
Sometimes there is a small bath house built of sticks interwoven with palm leaves, in which house hold members
take their daily baths. The most striking thing about life in the compound is the extent to which various activities
inter mingle. The whole compound constitutes an extended living area where there is little or no individual private
space (Spielman, 1993).
Typically rural mexicans believe that conceptions occurs immediately after a menstrual period. This idea is based on
the notion that the uterus opens to release the blood that has been dripping in during the preceding weeks. After the
menstrual flow has stopped the uterus is believed to remain open, it is during this time that women it most likely for
them to get pregnant (Jordan, 1993, p. 18).
Pregnancies are almost exclusively dealt with by midwifes. The first prenatal visit is somewhat special. At this time
the pregnant woman and the midwife determine the probable date of birth: nine calendar months from the day
following the completion of the woman’s last menstrual period. Massage is an integral part of the midwifes skills. If
the midwife has determined, in the course of the massage, that the baby is in a breech or trans verse position, she
will do an inversion. She locates the baby’s head and hip and by applying strong, even pressure to these parts, shifts
the baby’s body into the more favorable head-down position. The procedure is sometimes painful but since the
alternative is a Caesarean section in the capital, the women much prefer to tolerate a few minutes of discomfort. The
midwife will do a version as often as necessary from the eight month on, up to the time of birth. She attempts to
avoid a breech birth if at all possible and is an expert at tur!
ning the baby even when the woman is in labor, as long as the breech is not yet engaged (Jordan, 1993, pp. 21-22).
Birth generally takes place in the home but for the birth of a first child it may take place in the mother’s parent’s
home. After the onset of labor women continue doing house hold tasks until the labor intensifies to the point that it
is no longer possible to finish what they are doing (Jordan, 1993, pp. 23-24).
The father of the child is expected to be present at birth, if he is not then any complications that may occur are
blamed on his absence. It is also typical for the mother of the woman in labor to be present even if she must travel a
great distance (Jordan, 1993, p. 24).
Birth usually takes place in a hammock but may progress to the legs of a chair tipped on it’s side, it is generally what
ever the mother feels to be most comfortable. There may be any number of women present the only stipulation is
that they them selves must also have given birth. The only male present is the father, he is considered the support
person. Typically the father will stand behind the mother lying in the hammock and she will sling her arms up and
around his neck, other women will rotate in as the support person. The support person coaches the mother along
with the other women present, breathing with her, covering her mouth and nose during pushing and even mirroring
the mother’s contraction (Jordan, 1993, pp. 23-25).
The midwife never ruptures the bag of water, instead it is believed to cushion the babies head. It will often times
appear externally as a small ball and increase and decrease with con tractions. This action helps to enlarge the
perineal area, and makes tearing of this area very rare, but if it should the midwife will send for a doctor to repair it.
If after sometime it appears that the contractions need strengthening, a raw egg is given to the mother. As could be
expected she immediately regurgitates it, this retching usually stimulates a very strong contraction. If additional
stimulation is needed an injection of a B complex vitamin is given (Jordan, 1993, p. 26).
Once the babies head appears it is suctioned, and after it complete birth it is placed on the mother’s abdomen. The
midwife then ties the cord once it has stopped pulsating. She doesn’t cut the cord until the afterbirth has passed. If
the placenta is not expelled within a half an hour or is not completely expelled the midwife will send for a doctor to
manually extract it. If the baby is a girl she will, within a hour, have her ears pierced, it is done early so that the
babies attention will not be focused and she will not feel it (Jordan, 1993, pp. 28-29).
During and after the birth the mother and child are consid ered to be susceptible to evil spirits from the bush. As a
result the doors are kept closed and cracks are stuffed with rags to prevent the spirits form entering (Minturn, 1984,
p. 206). This is also the reason for the mother and infant remaining indoors for seven days after the birth. The
midwife will return the next day to examine the baby and talk with the mother. She will also return twenty days after
the birth. At this visit she will give a massage, and applies binders to the mother’s head, breast and pelvic areas in
order to close the birthing bones. Though the head and breast binder may be removed when ever they become
uncomfortable, the pelvic binder is left in place continu ally after giving birth. Also at this visit the midwife formally
terminates the childbirth precess (Jordan, 1993, p. 30).
New borns are constantly in contact with someone unless they are asleep. Though bottle feeding is status symbol,
babies are exclusively breast feed, though some supplemental bottle feeding may occur. Babies are not feed
according to a regular time table, but rather when ever they appear hungry or cry (Jordan, 1993, p. 30).
In infancy and early childhood, children spend a good deal of their time with their mothers. Mother care for their
babies almost exclusively for the first month of their lives and are the primary caretakers for the first six months.
After this time mothers begin seeking help in caring for their infants. When the mother goes out she make take the
older children, but she will leave the nursing baby with a female friend or relative who are also lactating so they can
nurse the infant. The most common substitute caretakers when mother goes to do work or visit around the home, are
older daughters (Minturn, 1984, p. 202).
Up to the age of six years children are give simple tasks at random but are not expected to complete them, after the
age of six they are. Also after the age of six the tasks given tend to be gender related, unless their are no females,
then the male children will assume the female roles, but females won’t assume male roles (Minturn, 1984, pp. 204-
Childbirth in rural mexico is a time of gathering and celebration (Jordan, 1993, pp. 29-30). It is a natural experi ence
that takes place in the home under the careful supervision of an experienced midwife. Though pregnancy typically
devoid of any professional medical intervention, birth in their culture is relatively free from any complications and
will likely remain that way as long as their heritage is preserved.
Jordan, B. (1993). Birth in four cultures. Montreal: Eden.
Kay, M. A. (Ed.). (1991). Anthropology of human birth. Phila delphia: F. A. Davis.
Minturn, L., & Lambert W. W. (1984). Mothers in six cultures: antecedents of child rearing. New York: J. Wiley.
Spielman, G. (1993). Interview. July 26.

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