Meet the future Midwives of Guatemala City
Guatemala is one of the few Latin American countries with the majority of its population being indigenous.Guatemala is also the country with the highest maternal mortality rate in Central America. Guatemala’s overall maternal mortality rate is 88 per 100,000 live births, with indigenous women most at risk.
Government-sponsored health care is limited and only provided in Spanish, with government hospitals and clinics often understaffed and limited in supplies. Government health facilities also often discriminate against poor, indigenous women. The majority of Guatemala’s indigenous population is not Spanish speaking, and holds strong to cultural traditions of childbirth. Traditional midwives, or “comadrones” become the main source of care during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period, with the majority of births taking place at home.
In the departments of Guatemala, these comadrones have banded together to advocate for more respect and training to be able to care for the women in their community with a blend of modern and traditional practices. Groups have built birth centers, and formed relationships with local government hospitals for referrals of high-risk cases.
The government is slowly started to recognize the importance of these midwives, and recently Galileo University in Guatemala has joined with Corazan del Agua to develop a formal midwifery training program.
EMC met with 13 of the 15 students in the current 3-year program in Guatemala City, where students come from all regions of the country to further their education. The school is run by Gabriela Meléndez, a midwife and soon-to-be nurse, who has is adding a birth center to the school so the students can do clinical work at the birth center as well as attend home births in their communities.
Here are a series of portraits of these students and the staff at Corazón del Agua Uk’ux Ja’, Guatemala City:
*Photos by Clancy McCarty