Interview with Mayan Comadrona (Midwife) Ester
Updated: Feb 1
Ester Pop Tuch is a very special comadrona (midwife) and provides her services around Lake Atitlan, Guatemala purely on donation basis so all women can access her care, no matter of their financial situation.
I was lucky to have her present during birth of Malaya. 4 months after, I asked her if I could interview her and she kindly agreed.
My experience with Ester
(the interview is below)
I had an incredible home birth in San Pedro, Guatemala. (My birth story is HERE).
I wanted to give birth without anybody other than Angelo but as usual, the bigger plan turned out to be different than mine 😁
When I was around 4 months pregnant I came across an interview with Heather Baker, who is an author of the book ''Home Birth on Your Own Terms''. She spoke about ''freebirth'' and the benefits of doing it unassisted. I felt her words vibrating all over my body, it all made so much sense! I loved the idea of being in charge of my own birth and the empowerment it brings.
However, a month after the destiny brought our Mayan family to our life (HERE is the story).
At some point, Estela (Malaya's bonus grandmother) asked us about our birth plan and suggested that her midwife (which is called ''comadrona'' here)- Ester could attend to me. Ester assisted with the delivery of her three daughters and Estela spoke of her very highly. I agreed because I didn't want to discuss our plan of free birth too much, I thought maybe she won't understand. However, I started to feel a lot of anxiety after. I wasn't stressed about the birth at all before that but the thought of having someone else there made me really nervous. I thought I will not be able to relax during birth if there's anyone there other than Angelo. I didn't know how to get myself out of this situation so I had to agree to see her...
And I do not regret it AT ALL 😊❤
I had an assisted unassisted birth
What does it even mean? How can you have an unassisted birth while you are assisted?
Turns out that you can. But you need to find a very special comadrona for it. Turns out, Estela recommended us the perfect person for this task.
Ester came to our house to check me and baby Malaya in my womb. I was really nervous but when I met her, I felt at peace. Her presence was very calm and reassuring and I felt there was something special about her. She checked my belly with her hands and let me listen to Malaya's heartbeat through a stethoscope. I liked it all. I was happy. But when she left my thoughts about freebirth came back. I was scared if she's present at my birth she will be telling me what to do and I will lose my power to decide.
She was coming to check me every month and I was always happy to see her. Our connection was strengthening. But at the back of my head I still had this thought that she will not let me be in charge of my birth. A woman who assisted with delivery of thousands of babies and me- a first time mom, who's never even seen someone giving birth- who should make decisions?
But I am the only one who can feel what is happening inside of my body and I really felt capable.
Some time before my due date I wrote my Birth Plan and showed it to Ester.
I was a little bit nervous because I didn't want to offend her. I didn't want her to feel like I am telling her all these things because I thinks she doesn't know how to do her job well. Of course, that's not what I was thinking. But for my own peace of mind I had to clearly state what I wanted. I needed to hear the confirmation that we are on the same page. She read my plan and agreed to everything.
We told her we wanted a lotus birth (we decided not to cut Malaya's umbilical cord but to wait until it falls off on its own), which is not something common at all. She was not familiar with it but instead of trying to talk us out of it, she asked for more information so she could learn more about this process. We realised that she's an open minded and non judgemental person and we can trust her with our birth.
During the birth everything was perfect.
Ester never tried to do anything I didn't want and let Angelo catch the baby, as promised.
After the birth, she helped me to get the placenta out. With a massage and some leg movements it got out and I could fully focus on my new born girl. I was happy she was there.
I asked Ester to come again 4 days after birth. Malaya disconnected from her placenta while she was there! I found it very special that it happened at this moment, as if Malaya waited for her to come back to fully land.
Interview with Esther
Questions were asked by me- Marta (M) and my friend Sandrine (S)
M: How long have you been a comadrona?
- 37 years
M: Why did you decide to become a comadrona?
- Someone told me that I had a gift when I was born but I didn't pay attention until I was put in a situation where I had to attend a birth
M: Who told you that you have a gift?
- A comadrona who assisted with my birth. She was a family friend.
M: How old were you when you attended the first birth?
- I was 17 years old but I haven't started working officially until 37 years ago.
M: How many babies did you assist to deliver?
- About 7-8 thousands.
M: How many babies were born at home?
- Majority of them.
M: How many times did you have to send someone to the hospital from their home?
- I think about 2 %.
M: Do you think that giving birth at home reduces the risk of interventions?
M: What would you say are the benefits of giving birth at home?
- There are many. You are comfortable at home, your family is with you and the recovery process is faster.
M: Do you know how many women in your experience were unable to breastfeed their babies? - One out of 500 women
M: So that's very rare
- Yes, most of the women can feed their babies but when they have to go back to work they often mix formula with breast milk.
M: And what do you if women cannot breastfeed their babies?
- We give them formula
M: You work for donation so even those women who can't afford to pay have access to your care. How do you see your role in this society or the role of a traditional comadrona in this society?
- Yes, I also attend to women who can't pay.
M: Do you think the role of the comadrona here is different than in other places?
- Yes because in other places comadronas have a price. And when the baby is a boy the price is 100 quetzal more than when it is a girl.
M: ?! Why??
- Because of ''machismo''*
(* The Machismo is an ideology that encompasses the set of attitudes, behaviors, social practices and beliefs to promote the superiority of men over women. In several countries, especially conservative and traditionalist, the concept of machismo is still quite entrenched in society.)
M: Wow it is still happening...
- Yes, some medics also do it.
M: Do you feel that women here trust more in traditional comadronas than in hospitals and medical system?
- Nowadays both but before they only used comadronas.
M: Do you think now women experience more complications than in the past?
- About 10% more than before. Many women now experience preeclampsia and they have to go to the hospital.
M: Do you think that because the quality of food changed it contributes to more complications?
- Yes, because now there are many fast foods that we eat and before people ate in a more natural way.
M: Do you have knowledge of different herbs? Do you use herbs in your practice?
- Yes, during, before and after pregnancy. Also, when babies are sick.
S: What kind of plants?
- For example Pericón (Tagetes Lucida), Chamomile, Anis, Rue (Ruda). We use many plants.
Bolsa de Pastor is used for haemorrhage.
La Pimpinela is being used to speed up the birth but it is dangerous.
Ixbut (Euphorbia lancifolia) is a plant that helps to produce milk.
M: Why do people use Rue (Ruda) to bathe their babies? We also bathe Malaya in it.
- The belief here is that the smell of Ruda chases away bad spirits. We use Ruda for the smell.
M: Do you think that people are still interested in this knowledge or young people aren't so interested anymore?
- They are still interested, even more now because of the pandemic. they have doubts if the chemical medicine is working so they are trying to return to plants and natural things.
M: You have someone that you train, to pass down all the knowledge, right?
- Yes, I train 3 women
M: How did you find them? Or did they find you ?
- They came to me
M: You assisted with delivery of my daughter Malaya. I know some of my requests were unusual but you respected all our decisions. Why you never tried to convince us to do things in a more common way?
- Because a woman has a right to choose how she wants to give birth. It is not about what I like.
M: Were you a little bit scared about some of my ideas?
- Yes! For example, not cutting the cord.
M: Thank you very much for accepting it !
- And because the water in the pool wasn't warm, that's why I didn't put you there.
M: Yes, Malaya came out too fast we didn't manage to bring all the water up 😁
M: Do you have an advice for someone who would like to become a comadrona?
- Yes, to work with love and to recognise their job because some people don't appreciate their job.
M: Do you have an advice for women who are about to give birth?
- To concentrate during the birth because sometimes they are too stressed and it is not good during the birth.
M: What do you think is the most needed here, around the lake for maternal health?
- Good nutrition, exercise and having a good relationship with their partner and to take control over the stress.
M: What are the common problems women experience postpartum ?
- Eclampsia, haemorrhage, infections in the uterus and vagina and anaemia because of malnutrition,
M: Do you think Malaya will have teeth soon? She's salivating so much!
- It depends on your nutrition during pregnancy.
M: I was at the dentist recently and I discovered I have some cavities. He said many women have problems with their teeth after giving birth because the baby gets all the calcium.
- Yes, it is normal and that's why we recommend that you eat foods rich in calcium.
S: How often do you see women while they are pregnant?
- Every month and then a month before due date every week
S: What do you do during check ups?
- Checking the belly, listening to the hearbeat, educate women, depends on the women
S: No ultrasound ?
S: Do you do any special preparation for the birth?
- I pray
S: What do they do with the placenta here?
- They put it in the Earth
M: My placenta is still here (at the altar) 🤣
S: How many times do you see the baby and the mum after birth?
- I see them for 40 days but for Marta it was different, I only saw her on the 4th day after Malaya's birth.
During these visits I teach them how to bathe the baby, how to expose them to the sun and check for infections.
M: Yes, we did it with Malaya, we were exposing her in the sun every day at the beginning.
S: How many pregnant women do you see at the moment?
- 4 right now
M: Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened during the birth?
- For me, every birth is interesting, every birth is different.
Now I remember, one day I had to attend to a birth while my daughter was dying. I was very worried. I had do decide if I should stay with my daughter or go to see my patient.
M: And what did you decide?
- I had to go to see my patient. When I arrived, the baby was arriving, the head of it was already outside. The patient wanted to take medication to stop the pain but the head was already outside. It was a boy and the cord was already disconnected. The cord was tiny and didn't have blood in it. I couldn't see the cord in the vagina of this woman so I was wondering how will I take it out.
M: How did you take it out?
- I asked God for help, for a miracle. It was dangerous. The baby was ok but the woman was in danger. And at the same time I was thinking about my daughter. Both of them could die.
Everything turned out to be fine and one week after, the woman was already out, partying in the park.
M; I remember when I gave birth, I really wanted the placenta to come out already and you massaged my belly and did some stretching to my legs to help to move it
- Usually we just wait 20 minutes but we waited 1 hour during your birth
- Because you didn't want to, you were concentrating on Malaya and didn't let me do a massage
M: How is it possible you remember so much?
- It is my daily bread.
M: Is there a difference between the foreigners and local women when it comes to giving birth?
- Yes, it is a big difference. The foreigners are more relaxed and take it easy.
- Because they have more knowledge and information, they usually read beforehand.
M: Did your daughter also want to become a comadrona?
- Yes, she became one.
M: Does your daughter have a baby?
- Yes, she has 3
M: Did you assist with delivery of her baby?
- No, there were complications and she needed a c-section.
M: How about the other ones?
- Yes, I assisted with delivery.
M: How did it feel to assist with delivery of your own grandchildren?
- I was very happy
M: Do you ever think about retiring?
- Yes, I started to think about it 3 years ago and thinking about resting but I still have patients.
People are always looking for me.
M: Did you educate yourself in Western system as well?
- No. When I started I just had the knowledge of the other comadrona. Before I was interested in it and I studied to be a nurse.
M: Do you think it would be useful to bring this knowledge into hospitals and do you think they would accept it?
- Yes, actually 10 years ago we were giving tours in the hospital, we were attending births in the hospital in Solola.
M: I know you attend conferences for midwives in the US. Can you tell me more about it?
- Yes, for many years I have been attending conferences with an organisation called MANA. We were traveling to the US.
M: Was it to teach about your work or to learn ?
- Both, it was an exchange. I learned about water birth over there.
Mama Cindy is a foreigner who helped me so that I could travel to the US and gave me a lot of her experience as a midwife.
M, S: Muchas gracias
Ester's answers were translated by Chusita. I am very grateful for her help!
The translation is not a literal translation and some things could have been missed.
I also rearranged the order slightly so it can be read more easily.
For those of you who speak Spanish and would like to hear the audio, I uploaded the file below.
UPDATE: Besides being an amazing midwife, Ester also crotchets.
I don't know how she finds time for everything!
I bought one of her beautiful ponchos and will give it to Malaya when she is older.
If you would like to contact Ester for anything, please email me on email@example.com or Whatsapp +4407415454433
If anyone would like to support Ester, you can buy some of her handmade scarves or ponchos.
She works purely on donation and the situation in Guatemala is very difficult at the moment. She can't make a living off births only.
(she can make any colour you like)