Catalina Guzmán: A midwife from the jungle of Chiapas, Me
Amalia Pérez Hernández
Catalina has been a midwife since she was 15 years old and has helped hundreds of women give birth. She is originally from the community of Samaria, in the municipality of Ocosingo, Chiapas. She was born on September 16, 1951. For Catalina, the midwives’ work is to help and contribute to improving other people’s lives.
She grew up with her grandmother, who was a midwife both in and outside of the community. She gave her all of her knowledge. “I grew up with my grandma because my parents moved to another community looking for a place to settle and cultivate,” she remembers. She had a happy childhood as she lived surrounded by nature and community life. Part of this happiness was because her grandmother instilled in her the interest in being a midwife to serve and defend women’s lives. Catalina did not go to school. Instead, her family educated her based on their community’s traditional values.
Getting started in midwifery
At the age of 14, Catalina got married. Women did not live through prolonged adolescence, as it is crucial to learn housework to start a new family. One of the moments that marked her life is her grandmother’s death. “This experience motivated me to use the knowledge that she had taught me,” she commented.
Her work as a midwife began from a personal experience. At 15 years old, she gave birth to her first child alone because nobody could help her out. “I had my baby completely alone. My neighbor arrived after the baby was already in my arms,” she said.
Catalina assumed the responsibility of being a mother and wife from a very young age. When she started her work as a midwife, she earned respect and admiration in her community and farther away. For Catalina, helping with birth is to form lifelong ties with another family. She consistently receives little tokens of appreciation, not in the form of money but rather something from the family’s harvest. “I have already seen the births of different generations. I have received so many grandchildren in my hands, tenderly giving them their first gesture of love and welcoming them to this world.”
Her work and her fight
In her first years of working alongside women, she noticed the painful situation they faced upon conception, reflecting numerous deaths of women and neonatal boys and girls.
Beyond uncovering the reality that women in Indigenous communities live through, Catalina questioned the machismo mentality and practices in the conservative culture in her community. In 2000, she started a mentorship and training program for women in her community, promoting the care of backyard animals, balanced nutrition through organic farming, and proper birth control planning.
Maria Morales Cruz is a Tzeltal woman from the community of Ojo de Agua. She has four children, born with Catalina’s help. She told us: “I thank Catalina because she helped in my house and helps women. She doesn’t do it for money but for the sake of helping.”
For Maria, going to a hospital is very expensive. There is a risk of not receiving proper care and being subjected to Cesarean or unwanted sterilization surgery, causing problems with partners. Maria is grateful for Catalina’s experience and work because she helped her with her pregnancies, deliveries, and deciding how many children to have.
Challenges in her work as a midwife
Not everything has been easy for Catalina. She has faced challenges, including language barriers and interaction with men. On occasions, she has been the victim of discrimination for not communicating with people trained differently.
Working with men is another problem that Catalina has experienced. Still, her work and words have given confidence to communities and been a bridge allowing other women to join local movements. Beyond her work as a midwife, Catalina tends to organic and diverse agriculture, takes care of animals, plants, gardens, and produces natural medicine.
Midwifery is not as valued nowadays as it once was, but it comes from ancestral tradition. Midwives are women surrounded by love and community respect. The community thanks Catalina for her work, and as proof of their appreciation, families bring her fruits, corn, beans, animal products, among others.
At 69 years of age, Catalina has set an example as a constant fighter. She is a beloved woman, respected by all, and known as everyone’s mother and grandmother. Catalina is satisfied with her work and family. Her greatest dream is to leave her legacy to other women to continue the work of traditional midwifery.