Oiapoque Midwives - State of Amapa, Brasil - July 1998
- What is the position in which the women give birth, among you?
- It’s more or less sitting down.
- It’s more like the way she is squatting down here.
- Then the baby came, when the baby starts to be born, they told the women to make an effort. It’s all the same thing.
Maria Inês dos Santos:
- Then I felt that pain came really hard, I looked for a position. I felt the child coming, I helped the child, the child comes, comes. I felt it was being born, being born, I went backwards, look! When I went backwards there was nobody to help me, then I took the child with my own hands, took it away. When it was born I took it and put it over my belly. It remained the placenta. Then the child cried. That was the way in which I got a baby.
- How many children did you have?
- I had three miscarriages, I have 10 alive, 13 in all.
- After having the baby, you took the child, cut the umbilical cord and tied it. You took a little tissue, dried it, and we lied down. It was... that was our bed. Those weeds that scratch you in the fields, like the rushes. We make those matts all twined, with pieces of vine. We put those on the floor, some tissues, that’s where we lie. With tissues.
Josefa dos Santos:
- A woman should rest for eight days. She gets up from lying down only to eat, and to pee. During eight days she lies there. After eight days she could get up, but really slowly, you know? To walk and everything. And she had to stay there for 40 days. That’s are well taken care of, during 40 days.
- After the eight days the husband must go to the woods and take those barks that are astringent, you know? They clean it well, put them inside a pan, boil it, it is really astringent. They make a bath. Put in on a basin or, if they don’t have it, put it inside a “cruatá”. “Cruatá” a fruit from the “inajá” tree, we Indians like it very much, it has a fruit that is good to eat. We cut the “cruatá” like a basin, very beautiful. They put inside that water for the bath. When it is warm, the woman sits inside. She gets water up to this. It closes her uterus. Closes everything. The woman gets well closed up.
Inês talks in patois to exclaim what she said:
Woman with a flowered dress:
- It’s like this... like this... to take our own baby, it’s like this, look here. When the baby comes, we have to take it here and the other person gets it here close to the floor.
- Another midwife.
- Yes, another midwife.
- Yes, then we take the baby, it’s born.
- There is no maternity there.
- No, there’s no maternity there.
- On the Indian area there’s not.
- What medications do you use?
- It’s medication from cashew fruit, from the mangoes...
- Mango bark.
- Yes, mango bark, cashew bark, gwava bark...
- There are medications we make at home so that the person won’t have children anymore. Without being operated, without touching her with anything from the whites. We do it, we do.
- You have to cook the medications at home. Put it to cook to take it after. We will never have children again. Yes, we know about it on our village. We know those medications there.
- With me it was the same thing. I had thirteen births, three abortions and ten born alive. And then, soon, I took those home-made medications. I took the baths, tea, I took everything. Soon I stopped having children. My smallest one even has a child of his own.
- The way the whites give birth is totally different from ours. We have the patience to wait for the child’s time, and the whites don’t have it.
- They don’t have it. They soon cut the woman, on those places of the woman. You know how many times the woman is cut and we aren’t.
- When they see that the woman is making much effort, and it’s taking a long time, they take the scissors...
- They cut.
- They cut so that the child comes out soon. We use oil, we use creams, there are the vaginal creams. We can use those too, to lubricate the woman, to give space. And that’ s what we use, we have to wait until it’s time for the baby to be born, and all the children are born, with God’s grace without cutting anybody. There are girls of 12 of 13 years old giving birth and they have normal childbirths. The ones that go to the doctors, the doctors cut them. They say the baby cannot be born, so they say, don’t they?
- Yes, it takes a little longer, they cut them. The child comes to be born, soon they cut the woman. First child of a woman? For instance, I am pregnant, I have never had a child? Then I go to the hospital, after I feel the pains, that the child is going to be born, and the doctor soon cuts us. And we suffer with those... that big wound, those stitches they give, it makes the woman suffer. The Indians don’t need to be cut.
- The first child of my daughter, the doctor insisted that she couldn’t have a normal childbirth. I couldn’t, I couldn’t. When she started to feel the pains, he did a surgery on her. He cut her. Took the baby out. Then on her second child I said: "My daughter, you will not be cut anymore."
- "No, my mother."
My son-in-lay said: "But mother-in-law, the doctor said she cannot have a normal childbirth. She will have to be cut with every child that she has."
I said: "My daughter won’t. I will be responsible for it. If she dies, I will be responsible, but I won’t let her be cut."
When the month came for her to have a baby, I went there. I arrived, she felt the pain. Three days later, she had the pain. It started at seven in morning; at midday the baby was born. The baby was born, I took it, the doctor had already set the day for the surgery. I took in to the hospital. The doctor came: "My God, who has got a baby?"
I said: "My daughter."
I told him her name, Eliane. I told him the name. He said: "But is it true, she had a baby? Who made the surgery?"
I said: "I am a midwife. She had a normal childbirth. Do you want to see my certification? I am a midwife."
He said: "No, you don’t need to show it to me. So she had a normal birth?"
The child weighed four kilos seven hundred grams. And it was a normal birth. He said: "I thought she was never going to have a normal birth..."
- "So you see, boy..."
- For how long have you been helping in childbirth?
- For eighteen years. And I am already fifty-eight. Many of those I made and I am still helping those mothers again.
- Have you lost many babies at childbirth?
- No, it would be hard for that to happen.
- It’s hard. And it’s very hard for a woman to die, no, sir, not when we are helping her.
- You know, there’s a prayer my grandmother taught me, my aunt taught me. They help when the placenta doesn’t come out after the child is born, so we pray to Saint Marguerite over the woman’s belly, so that the placenta will come out soon.
- My Saint Marguerite, I am not pregnant nor have given birth, take away this rotten meat from this woman’s belly. My Saint Marguerite, I am not pregnant nor have given birth, take away this rotten from the woman’s belly.
- And what medications do you use for after the childbirth?
- We take the anani barks, the fidji is very well known, that it grows over a tree, it’s beautiful, its roots grow down until it touches the soil, the roots grow down. Those roots that touch the soil have three points, you can see: north, south, north. You take it, careful so that it won’t fall down, you tie it up, and you say: “I hope this medication is good for this woman for whom I am making this medication”. You make the medication, put it in a bottle and give it to her. A little glass every day.
- You get it, tie it well, take off the bark like I said, south, north. You take the bark from that side, and from this side, and tear down this vine that wants to get to the soil. I have a lot of practice with that. You tear it down, take the bark and tie it up, very well tied. You wash it very well, put it in a pan to make the medication which you put in a bottle so that the woman will drink it when she menstruates. Then she stops having child. And even during childbirth, you take the bark from those I talked about, the breu, the cuuba, other things, that we know of, many of them. You wash it well, cook in a pan to put the woman sitting down in a basin. Up to here. Before she sits down, she must take three gulps with her left hand. And the man mustn’t come close to her before the 40 days. After 40 days, she is cured, everything is closed, she is well. Then the man can use her.
- The way the whites have of having a baby is completely different. They don’t use homemade medications, they don’t clean the woman up. Well, with all that, the person… the Indians don’t have all that! They don’t have anything of that. And the husband goes away, if the woman gets too large. He will not leave his Indian wife to go with a white woman that is larger! No, no way!
- Can you explain that again?
- There was a time in which my husband came here. He is a nurse there. He came here and there was a woman that said to him:
- Hey, tell me, how many children have your wife had? Is she an Indian?
- Yes. My wife has 11 kids, he said.
- My God, that woman is no good. You cannot even have sex with her, you don’t feel any pleasure.
- My daughter, let me tell you one thing, my woman is much more valued than you are, and I am certain that you are much larger than she is.
- There. The woman didn’t speak again.
- Let’s go away.