The Science of Magic (A Visit to the Partera)

23 Nov

I didn’t really want to go to this particular midwife (partera), because of our friend Chica’s telling us about the woman’s uncanny ability to accurately predict a baby’s sex. Conan and I are into surprises. We didn’t find out Lucia’s sex and we planned the same exciting ignorance with this current creature in my belly. But said creature was killing me with his/her positioning and movement and I was desperate for a cure. I was on my second day of come-and-go pain that in moments was so bad I had trouble walking and talking normally.

I’d already been to the doctor to rule out an exploding appendix or other non-baby-caused problems. As soon as I lay down in the office, late that evening of day one of pain, I’d felt some very hard appendage (foot? elbow? I don’t know) move up even further to the top of my giant belly and push out so far it protruded, like a cruel little taunt. The doctor pressed on it and I almost screamed. I went ahead and diagnosed myself with Mean Acrobatic Baby Syndrome. The doctor told me to come back the next day for an ultrasound to confirm that the pain was being caused by baby’s crappy positioning (he called it “compound presentation,” but whatever). “So, the point of the ultrasound is just to tell me that yes, this creature is in a bad position. It won’t actually help anything. Correct?” I asked. He had to admit that was the case. “And how about if I just go see a midwife, then, and get her to correct the positioning?” I suggested, although I’d really already decided by then that that was my plan, regardless. The doctor agreed that this was a reasonable thing to do, because here in Mexico even doctors respect midwives’ knowledge and abilities for the most part. 

Part of what midwives do down here is give massage- therapeutic massage, not a nice little relaxing massage. If you’ve had a miscarriage, you’re likely to go to a midwife to get a massage that’s supposed to help make sure the miscarriage is complete. If you want to get pregnant and haven’t been able to, they give massage to help with that. Some give massages related to other problems besides pregnancy. They are often skilled herbalists as well. And of course, being midwives, they assist in giving birth.

Chica led us (in the car) down a rocky dirt path to the midwife’s house. Chica is related to her, somehow or other, addressing her as “Tia” (Aunt), which here can also be a second or third cousin or any manner of other connection via blood and marriage. The midwife is 95 years old and retired now. At her request, Conan got some plastic chairs out of her second room, and we sat out on her porch to chat. She told us a bit about her life as a midwife, which she had been her entire adult life. Then she told us “something you won’t believe.” She said she had lost all of her teeth and couldn’t even eat tortillas, and then they started to grow back. They didn’t look like new teeth, and they certainly weren’t false teeth, either- there were only a few on the bottom of her mouth, and they were crooked and yellowed and some were just little nubs of teeth. But Chica and her husband swear that she had no teeth not too long ago. It sounds to me like something straight out of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. I decided to maintain a skeptical belief;  I can’t prove that it’s true nor that it’s not, so I’ll just go with the “anything’s possible” attitude. It is, after all, a strange and mysterious world that we live in.

Finally we got down to business. She set me up in her bed with a shawl underneath me. She started feeling around on my belly, much softer and gentler than what I was expecting to move this stubborn confused baby around.

getting adjusted by the partera

amazing hands moving around the baby

the partera working on me


“Es niña” she says matter-of-factly, it’s a girl, without asking if we want to know, without asking if we already know or not. “How can you tell?” asks Conan. “You can tell by feeling it. They let you know right away.”  Conan tries to insist on further explanation. “But how do they let you know?” She says she can’t explain it; you just have to feel it. I decide she’s probably right, but I will stubbornly remain in “ignorance,” waiting till this child presents him or herself to know “what it is.”

She finished moving the baby around and then grabbed each end of the shawl underneath me and sort of shook me around, as much as a frail 95 year old might. We thanked her profusely and gave her 100 pesos for her time. She told us to come back when I go into labor and she can give me a tea to speed up the birth “so they don’t try to operate on you.”

The adjustment was not a magical fix. I was pain-free for a couple hours, but by my 4pm class I was in terrible pain again. After that, however, I rubbed around where the baby was and talked to it when it started giving me problems, and the pain lessoned. In the morning I had cinnamon tea, recommended because she said my belly was very cold (whatever that means). I had some more pain that morning but then it was over. Days later I haven’t had any more pains. Is this attributable to the midwife? To some tea? Did the baby just get their act together? Does it matter why?

Do I believe that her teeth grew back, or that she knows my baby’s a girl? I’m sticking to my skeptical belief. Maybe it’s so, maybe it’s not. It’s living that line between needing to question everything but also knowing that there are some things that are not really explainable. It’s trusting centuries of women’s wisdom in midwifery while also appreciating seeing a baby via ultrasound. It’s trusting how I feel and what I know about my body, sometimes more than what a doctor says. It’s believing in the science of magic, which is definitely what it means to me to produce a new human being anyway. 

4 Responses to “The Science of Magic (A Visit to the Partera)”

  1. blueskywoman November 23, 2014 at 6:26 pm #

    yes, there is magic in the world. the magic of a baby coming to being, the magic of being connected to that little life for 9 months, the magic of regrown teeth (I’ve heard of this happening before, actually) and the magic of experienced hands easing you and the baby. (Maybe the baby was cold?) Cinnamon, if I remember herbs correctly) dilates the blood vessels (ergo sending more blood to baby, and making her warmer? Wait. I can google that….Yes… cinnamon has antibacterial properties, AND helps with circulation. I can’t be a pagan without believing in magic, and in the power of such a wise doula, either. Be well, chica. 😀


    • exiletomexico November 24, 2014 at 8:09 am #

      Yes, the cinnamon made sense to me- it is easy for me to “believe in” the use of herbs, because they are oh so real and tangible, and easy to study scientifically. I also believe in magic and in things like the power of intuition, things that are not so easy to study or explain. Sometimes I feel a bit shy about it, because I really am into investigation and questioning, but there is so much magic in the world!

  2. Vivian Helton November 24, 2014 at 9:40 am #

    I sure wish I had that midwife with me when I had DeAnna, having a breach birth is no fun.

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