Photo essay: The decline of traditional midwifery in rural Mexico
High maternal and infant mortality rates have plagued rural Chiapas for decades, often due to the lack of accessible hospitals and modern lifesaving skills amongst midwives when faced with complicated or high-risk births in rural settings.
Some prominent obstacles include a lack of young women with the desire to learn the tradition; difficulty in organizing and receiving benefits, recognition, or pay for their work; as well as the constant challenge of more modern birthing techniques. Another issue is institutions taking precedence over, as opposed to complementing, traditional midwifery.
A possible solution, however, is emerging in Mexico via both public and private institutions: lifesaving skills training for these midwives, with the potential to merge traditional labor and delivery methods with more modern medical practices. While a reduction in maternal and infant mortality rates has been reported in Chiapas in recent years, a new problem is arising: the oversaturation of hospitals, often with high rates of “normal” births, thus creating difficulties for doctors to attend to high-risk births. In order for this complementary solution to work, traditional midwives must continue to deliver babies, particularly normal births, and pass their integrated skill set to future generations of midwives — something that has proven to be far easier said than done.
In collaboration with Global Pediatric Alliance (GPA), I spent three days photographing the midwives who participate in their programs.