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‘People in the Community

Trust Us’

Donata has been a midwife in the Pacán community of Totonicapán for 22 years, delivering an estimated 450 babies and referring 30 more complicated births to health centers. “My grandmother was a midwife,” Donata says. “She used to say to me, ‘This is your heritage. You will take my place.’ She would explain all the problems that might happen and share everything that she knew.”

Years ago, Donata’s grandmother gave her a small doll that she used to show pregnant women and new mothers how to swaddle a baby. Now, Donata keeps the 70-year-old doll tucked safely in a skirt pocket. “It is always with me,” she says.

Donata’s midwifery is deeply rooted in the Maya Cosmovision, with science and spirituality closely intertwined in everyday life. Phases of the moon help determine when crops are planted and harvested, when marriages and funerals are held, and when surgeries are scheduled.

“We have to have a very close connection with nature, and we have to have faith,” Donata says. “We pray, we use natural medicines, and we provide prenatal care and counseling. People in the community trust us. And they know they can call us at any time.”

Families hire Donata to assist with pregnancy, labor, and the postpartum period. Through CARE and Nim Alaxik, she has strengthened her skills in those areas while also learning about the importance of vaccinations, including COVID-19, and the full spectrum of reproductive rights.

“It’s important that we know about those rights, because we need to be able to talk about them with our patients,” she says. “Many of us midwives never learned to read or write, so it can be difficult to learn new things. But the training classes used images and other methods so we could really understand the concepts.”

Donata joined Nim Alaxik five years ago, and last year she became its official representative in Totonicapán department. “I am proud to be a part of the movement,” she says, as they advocate for midwives to be treated with dignity and respect while providing safe and quality maternal care for Indigenous women. About 60% of the Maya population lives in extreme poverty, and Indigenous women face many more barriers than men in education and healthcare access. People in Maya communities speak about 20 different languages, making local midwives an even more valuable resource. In difficult births that require delivery in a health facility, midwives serve as interpreters, bridging the gap between Spanish-speaking medical staff and local families.

Midwives are trusted advisers beyond childbirth, as they offer advice on family planning, tend to general aches and pains, and even provide counseling as needed. “If you ask anybody about me down in the community, they can quickly show you where I live,” Donata says. “Everybody in the community knows and respects me.”

Donata’s 19-year-old daughter, Marisol, is finishing her studies at a high school that focuses on medicine. Next year, she hopes to go to nursing school or to college, carrying on the family tradition in her own way.