Book Review- Touching Bellies, Touching Lives by Judy Gabriel
There is always a moment of awe when two things I love come joined together in a new way. Judy Gabriel's book, Touching Bellies, Touching Lives marries my two loves, anthropology and birth, in one volume chronicling the lives and wisdom of a dying breed of Mexican midwives.
My first introduction to anthropology also concerned birth. In Anthro 101 at the University of New Mexico I read the book, Nisa, about the life of a Kung bushwoman. Nisa free birthed her first baby squatting by a tree. This birth story was the first I ever read and colored all my views of birth thereafter.
Judy brings anthropology, the study of culture and people, back to birth with her book, Touching Bellies, Touching Lives.
Here is my book review of Touching Bellies, Touching Lives by Judy Gabriel
What I loved about it:
1) Judy is bilingual and spends what must have been years visiting and re-visiting midwives throughout Mexico to learn more about their art: midwifery.
I love when the writer honors those interviewed and shares their words.
2) This book captures the words and wisdom of Mexican midwifery-
Too much cultural wisdom and history has been lost in our race forward. While not all that is old is good, we will never know if we forget it altogether.
|Mexican midwife does a belly massage on a pregnant woman.|
3) Mexico has recently had rapid shifts in the way maternity care works, where women give birth, and in the cesarean section rate.
It is wonderful that it was documented somewhat in this book, but honestly, many more books could be written on this very subject. So glad that Judy Gabriel captured some of this.
4) Belly massages-
I totally get it now.
One of the big focuses of the book is the belly massages common to these midwives. They performed them regularly on pregnant woman. In fact, though most Mexican women now birth in hospitals, these belly massages are one of the things that brings them back to these old midwives.
Able to (almost always) turn babies to a favorable position through gentle means, this is important knowledge. Knowledge that, hopefully, may be better preserved because of this book. I see so many parallels to the modern external version (which is probably more invasive and less gentle) practiced by modern OBs, and even the Webster technique (which involves working on the round ligament rather than touching the baby and also includes an adjustment of the pelvis) practiced by modern chiropractors who specialize in care of pregnant women and babies.
I hope this wisdom can be preserved and that Judy Gabriel's book will be an impetus for more learning and documentation of the work done for centuries by Mexican midwives and which could potentially improve outcomes and lower cesareans in this country.
5) I love that Judy Gabriel is honest-
She does not stand in judgment nor does she seem to fully embrace them. I appreciate this. Often the writer either worships those they interview as though they can do no wrong, or views them through a more "knowledgeable" and "sensible" lens of superiority. Judy does neither.
I appreciate this immensely.
|Judy Gabriel, author of Touching Bellies, Touching Lives|
Perhaps my favorite thought from Touching Bellies, Touching Lives, comes on page 179. There is so much deep stuff here, I kind of wish I had written it.
Judy Gabriel lists a myriad of things that both modern OBs and traditional midwives have done to help ensure that babies are born healthy, from the cesarean section and episiotomy of modern times to narcotics, back rubs and rebozos. She even lists the seemingly ridiculous on both sides. Then she says this:
"And always...the baby is born and is, as far as we can tell, just fine. In that triumphant moment when we hear the baby's first cry, when we place the baby in the other's arms and share in her relief and joy, we experience the great satisfaction of knowing that what we did must have been exactly the right thing to do."Doesn't this just cut to the chase of all the non-evidence based traditions of midwives and obstetricians, and even the nature of what we believe is evidence based?
Isn't it true that most of the time the baby is healthy and we love taking credit for it and believing that we had something to do with it? (Judy's interviewed midwives delivered healthy babies in the worst of conditions, in great poverty, and to what would now be considered incredibly high risk women.)
And yet, most of the time, as with today, the baby was fine.
This might be the greatest piece of wisdom I took from this book- women just work and their bodies just work and the birth process just works- most of the time.
In the end, maybe it is really the women and their babies that have something to teach us about life, control, luck, beauty, and birth.
So people- read this book! Buy this book! Share this book! Ask your library to get this book!
We can't do everything. I don't speak Spanish and I have never been to Mexico. But I do believe that if we share this book and the treasures within it, we can have a small part in preserving the memories and wisdom of the often forgotten and quickly disappearing past.